Kiwi researcher developing Covid-19 saliva test says there's been interest from NZ

The Kiwi researcher heading the development of a new Covid-19 testing method using saliva says there’s been interest from New Zealand in the method. 

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Yale University researcher Dr Anne Wyllie’s method is less invasive than nasal swab tests. Source: Breakfast

Yale University epidemiology researcher Dr Anne Wyllie, originally from Auckland, has developed the SalivaDirect process. The method involves spitting into a tube. The test is less invasive than a nasal swab test, results come back faster and it costs less than current nasal tests. 

More than 350 labs around the world had already expressed interest in the testing method, Wyllie told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning. 

"We’re getting enquiries from all over the world, including New Zealand, and not just even for SalivaDirect, but saliva testing in general," she said.

"I know there’s definitely interest in New Zealand and trying out the different methods for processing saliva.

“Because if you just take a saliva sample, it just makes testing so much easier to do.” 

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Tests show the method is accurate and received emergency authorisation for use in the US in August. 

She said the saliva test "performed really well next to nasal swabs" when tested with NBA players.

The NBA noticed her lab’s work, and reached out to her to see how they could get their league back up and running, Wyllie said.   

"They knew that they needed a test that they could do regularly. They knew that swabs weren’t going to cut it - no one wanted to have a swab every couple of days."

She said while she would have liked to have tested the test in the community, “we’re a tiny research team and we have very limited bandwidth”.

"So, to suddenly be able to piggyback off the logistics of the entire NBA, it enabled us to do a study that we would not have been able to do by ourselves."

Wyllie said the method detects the virus in a similar way to naso-pharyngeal swabs by extracting Covid-19’s genetic material from RNA.

Then, like with nasal swab testing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to amplify RNA material by making copies of it, allowing labs to test for the virus. 

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Scientists at Yale University have developed a cheap and easy saliva test that's just been given emergency government clearance and they couldn't have done it without help from some NBA stars. Source: 1 NEWS

Wyllie said she wanted to make sure the test continued to be cheap and widely available, and isn’t seeking to commercialise SalivaDirect. 

Currently, her Yale lab charges about NZ$89 per test in the US, with further iterations of the test expected to eventually cost under NZ$7.50. The cost of processing nasal samples is about NZ$150 in the US. 

"We sort of just made a method for it - a recipe … we can just give this to other labs and it just helps them get up and running," Wyllie said.

"We did all the upfront validation work and did all the hard work for it."

Labs then had the ability to go straight to suppliers for the test without having to go through a middleman, she said.

"[It’s] just as a means to make testing more accessible and get more options out there because here [in the US], it’s still so desperately needed."

She said she was hoping the test could be rolled out more widely quickly, but it had taken longer than expected because of "regulatory hurdles".