A multicentre national programme of research has been launched to evaluate how new diagnostic tests for COVID-19 perform in hospitals, general practices and care homes, in the hope of making testing quicker, more convenient and more accurate.

The main test currently used to detect coronavirus infection (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction [RT-PCR]) involves sending samples away to laboratories, which can take up to 72 hours to provide results.

The life sciences industry has developed new diagnostic tests both to detect current coronavirus infection and to find out if someone has previously been infected.

These new tests - some of which may be able to provide near immediate results at the bedside in hospitals, in GP surgeries or during home visits - have the potential to increase the speed and convenience of testing.

However, many of these have yet to be thoroughly evaluated in the settings where they're most likely to be used.

The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR) - funded by the National Institute for Health Research, UK Research and Innovation, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation - will establish a single national route for evaluating new diagnostic tests in hospitals and in community healthcare settings.

The research team will work with the government and its scientific advisors to identify which new commercially developed diagnostic tests could be most valuable in the NHS.

“While a new diagnostic test might work well in a lab under controlled conditions, there are many different factors that could make it less accurate when you take that test out of the lab and into the real world. These include the range of ways that COVID-19 can present itself, from non-symptomatic carriers to post-symptomatic people who have recovered, the range of other illnesses people might have and the challenges of performing tests in a busy clinical environment,” said co-primary investigator Professor Gail Hayward, Associate Professor at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and Deputy Director of the NIHR Community Healthcare MedTech and IVD Co-operative.

“Right now there’s a critical gap in how we road-test new diagnostics for COVID-19. By robustly evaluating these diagnostics in health and care settings, the CONDOR programme will help the government and clinicians to understand the real-world accuracy of these tests in patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms in the NHS.”

Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “I’m delighted we’re committing £1.3 million to this brilliant new national research programme, to evaluate how new diagnostic tests perform in health and social care settings – so we can track levels of infection and immunity across the country and help keep people safe.”