Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan announced that Feluda paper strip for Covid-19 testing would be launched soon. This is especially important when India has the second-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world, and any support can help the country on its road to recovery. Although the current reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is reliable and accurate, it requires advanced infrastructure and up to 24 hours to deliver results. This is a drawback at a time when there is an increasing need for extensive testing.
An acronym for FNCAS9 Editor Linked Uniform Detection Assay, Feluda is also a tribute to Satyajit Ray’s famous fictional detective of the same name. The test is based on a gene-editing technology called CRISPR and scientists estimate that the kit would return results in under an hour. The test is one of the first to use a special Cas9 protein to detect the virus. The sample collection for the Feluda test is similar to that of a PCR test — a nasal swab inserted a few inches into the nose to check for the virus in the back of the nasal passage. Like a pregnancy detection test, two blue lines indicate a positive diagnosis.
Developed by a research team at the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Feluda has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for a commercial launch. Perhaps the world’s first paper-based Covid-19 test, the test strip will be manufactured by Tata Group. The kit would most likely be available for Rs 500 in the market. Other Covid-19 tests are currently priced between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000.
Feluda has been tested on about 2,000 patients, including those who were already tested positive for Covid-19. Several companies and research labs in the US and the UK are developing similar paper strips that are affordable and can be mass-produced.