The announced commercial availability of the VereFlu™ test marks a significant advancement in diagnostic capability for veterinarians and physicians. The product has resulted from a joint development program between STMicroelectronics, a Swiss-based multinational (NYSE : STM) with sales of $10 billion per year, and Veredus Laboratories, a Singapore company specializing in adapting innovative technology to medical applications. The field deployable device incorporates a thumbnail sized “laboratory on a chip” capable of identifying strains of influenza virus with extreme sensitivity and specificity within two hours. The VereFlu™ system has been evaluated and validated by the National University Hospital of Singapore which is at the forefront of influenza research in Asia.
The device is based on the In-Check™ platform developed by STM. Minute quantities of blood or respiratory exudate are introduced into the system for processing using patented microfluidic technology. The disposable chip is virtually a miniature laboratory which can identify strands of RNA specific to influenza viruses. The components to conduct the assay are etched onto the surface of the chip which measures 3" x 1". The DNA or RNA in the sample, depending on pathogen, is amplified by PCR and the product is matched with genetic profiles resulting in fluorescence which is determined using an optical reader. Unlike conventional solid state antigen capture assay kits which can detect influenza-A virus only on a qualitative basis the VeruFlu™ system can identify specific strains. This feature is probably of greater significance to physicians faced with disease in human patients than a veterinarian confronted with high mortality in poultry in an area with endemic H5N1 AI. Although samples derived from disease outbreaks in flocks can be characterized in reference laboratories the time involved in assay may delay the imposition of quarantine and eradication measures to control outbreaks.
The advent of the VereFlu™ system illustrates the value of combining the resources of research and development groups with converging technology. The synergy resulting from combining nanotechnology and molecular biology is evident in this product. The commercial launch of the diagnostic system demonstrates the value of linking basic research and innovation with practical application. It is anticipated that additional tests will become available for poultry diseases since Veredus is currently testing modules for malaria and dengue fever for humans.
It is noteworthy that the VereFlu™ system was the product of commercial enterprise and did not emanate from a government institution or receive public sector funding. Clearly recognition of a need and the ability to supply an appropriate product are sufficient motivation to introduce new products in a market driven economy.