Background: Testing for SARS-CoV-2, together with vaccination, is one of the most vital strategies in curbing the current COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has led to an unprecedented need for diagnostic testing and the rapid emergence of an abundance of commercial assays on the market. Due to the nature of the pandemic and in the interest of health protection, many of these assays received provisional authorisation for emergency use without thorough validation. To limit false negative and false positive results, it is key to define common criteria that SARS-CoV-2 assays need to fulfil. VALCOR or "VALidation of SARS-CORona Virus-2 assays" is a protocol designed to set up a framework for test validation of SARS-CoV-2 virus assays.
Objectives: VALCOR is a study protocol for the validation of assays used for confirmation of the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in patients with COVID-19 disease or the screening of carriers of SARS-CoV-2 virus by the identification of viral RNA in oropharyngeal and/or nasopharyngeal specimens or other specimens from the human respiratory tract.
Methods: The VALCOR panel of samples will contain clinical human specimens and standardised artificial specimens. The collection of clinical specimens will include nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal specimens or other specimens from the respiratory tract obtained from COVID-19 patients and healthy carriers of SARS-CoV-2 as well as specimens from subjects not carrying SARS-CoV-2. Artificial specimens include calibrated amounts of viral RNA of SARS-CoV-2 sequences provided by established competent agencies that produce reference materials for the assessment of the limit of detection of each assay. The panel of samples are sent from a central reference laboratory (having access to biobanks of clinical specimens tested already for SARS-CoV-2 with a reference comparator assay) to participating laboratories for testing with a SARS-CoV-2 index assay that requires evaluation.
Discussion: VALCOR provides a harmonised and standard framework to benchmark the testing performance of SARS-CoV-2 assays that are rapidly evolving. As the pandemic incited an urgent need for testing capacity, there is a gap in the comprehensive validation of SARS-CoV-2 assays. This study will generate comprehensive validation data for assays used for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 and may serve as a basis for other validation protocols.