BC boosts its COVID lab testing
June 24, 2020
SURREY, BC – A new instument at Surrey Memorial Hospital’s lab means a big boost for B.C.’s COVID-19 test capacity. The Roche Cobas 6800 analyzer system can do over 1,000 tests daily, meaning B.C. now has capacity for more than 7,700 COVID-19 tests each day and with faster results.
“These machines are in demand all over the world,” said Dr. Sam Krikler, regional medical director of laboratory services for Fraser Health. Now, B.C. has three – this one in Surrey, and two at St. Paul’s Hospital laboratory.
“Continuing to increase our test capacity province-wide means we’re better prepared to handle anything that might come at us,” Dr. Krikler said.
About the size of a small car and weighing in at over 3,500 lbs, the state-of-the-art system allows labs to fully automate the COVID-19 testing process, which is based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A batch of 96 samples are loaded in the machine, and then the lab sees the rest results three and a half hours later.
The lab team got up and running in record time, said Dr. Susan Roman, head of Fraser Health’s microbiology division. What would normally take five to six months of work was accomplished in just five weeks – from receiving and setting up the machine to rigorously validating accuracy and starting to test patient samples.
“We’ve been racing to get the right testing strategy up and running for our labs in Fraser Region, as part of B.C.’s province-wide lab network and COVID-19 response,” said Roman. “I’m so proud of everyone on our team who worked incredibly hard to accomplish something truly incredible.”
From early development of a test to building up a provincial lab network, B.C. labs have been on the forefront of COVID-testing nationally and internationally. The teamwork means labs have been able to quickly adapt to the changing pandemic situation and respond to problems more effectively together.
The Cobas system complements the rapid-testing GeneXpert machines that came online at Surrey Memorial’s lab in late April, and fits into the broader province-wide COVID-19 lab strategy.
Where the GeneXpert instrument provides a small number of results very quickly – in 50 minutes – the Cobas 6800 system returns hundreds of results in a matter of hours.
The combined lab network strategy and investments in new technology means faster results for patients in Fraser Health region while simultaneously increasing provincial capacity and readiness.
“This is an important step on B.C.’s provincial trajectory to continue to ramp up our test capacity and support our ongoing pandemic response and recovery,” said Dr. Krikler.
“Going forward, this instrument will allow the capability to test for other viruses,” he said. The system is traditionally used testing diseases including HIV and hepatitis B and can be used for influenza viruses in flu season.
And, if B.C. needs more COVID-19 testing in the future – or confronts a new unknown virus – the province’s lab network will be ready to respond.