Rapid, high throughput diagnostics are a valuable tool, allowing the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in populations, in order to identify and isolate people with asymptomatic and symptomatic infections. Reagent shortages and restricted access to high throughput testing solutions have limited the effectiveness of conventional assays such as reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), particularly throughout the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We investigated the use of LamPORE, where loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) is coupled to nanopore sequencing technology, for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in symptomatic and asymptomatic populations. In an asymptomatic prospective cohort, for three weeks in September 2020 health care workers across four sites (Birmingham, Southampton, Basingstoke and Manchester) self-swabbed with nasopharyngeal swabs weekly and supplied a saliva specimen daily. These samples were tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA using the Oxford Nanopore LamPORE system and a reference RT-qPCR assay on extracted sample RNA. A second retrospective cohort of 848 patients with influenza like illness from March 2020 – June 2020, were similarly tested from nasopharyngeal swabs. In the asymptomatic cohort a total of 1200 participants supplied 23,427 samples (3,966 swab, 19,461 saliva) over a three-week period. The incidence of SARS-CoV-2 detection using LamPORE was 0.95%. Diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of LamPORE was >99.5% (reducing to ∼ 98% when clustered estimation was used) in both swab and saliva asymptomatic samples when compared to the reference RT-qPCR test. In the retrospective symptomatic cohort, the incidence was 13.4% and the sensitivity and specificity were 100%. LamPORE is a highly accurate methodology for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in both symptomatic and asymptomatic population settings and can be used as an alternative to RT-qPCR.
•Novel rapid RT-LAMP assay with diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of 97% and 99%.•Development of an RNA extraction free direct detection method for SARS-CoV-2.•Use case modelling for rapid direct RT-LAMP in near-patient clinical practice.•Developing diversity of testing modalities within a diagnostic laboratory during a pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of simple, rapid and accurate diagnostic testing. This study describes the validation of a new rapid SARS-CoV-2 RT-LAMP assay for use on extracted RNA or directly from swab offering an alternative diagnostic pathway that does not rely on traditional reagents that are often in short supply during a pandemic. Analytical specificity (ASp) of this new RT-LAMP assay was 100% and analytical sensitivity (ASe) was between 1 × 101 and 1 × 102 copies per reaction when using a synthetic DNA target. The overall diagnostic sensitivity (DSe) and specificity (DSp) of RNA RT-LAMP was 97% and 99% respectively, relative to the standard of care rRT-PCR. When a CT cut-off of 33 was employed, above which increasingly evidence suggests there is a low risk of patients shedding infectious virus, the diagnostic sensitivity was 100%. The DSe and DSp of Direct RT-LAMP (that does not require RNA extraction) was 67% and 97%, respectively. When setting CT cut-offs of ≤33 and ≤25, the DSe increased to 75% and 100%, respectively, time from swab-to-result, CT < 25, was < 15 min. We propose that RNA RT-LAMP could replace rRT-PCR where there is a need for increased sample throughput and Direct RT-LAMP as a near-patient screening tool to rapidly identify highly contagious individuals within emergency departments and care homes during times of increased disease prevalence ensuring negative results still get laboratory confirmation.