A comprehensive antigen production and characterisation study for easy-to-implement, specific and quantitative SARS-CoV-2 serotests

Antibody tests are essential tools to investigate humoral immunity following SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination. While first-generation antibody tests have primarily provided qualitative results, accurate seroprevalence studies and tracking of antibody levels over time require highly specific, sensitive and quantitative test setups. We have developed two quantitative, easy-to-implement SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests, based on the spike receptor binding domain and the nucleocapsid protein. Comprehensive evaluation of antigens from several biotechnological platforms enabled the identification of superior antigen designs for reliable serodiagnostic. Cut-off modelling based on unprecedented large and heterogeneous multicentric validation cohorts allowed us to define optimal thresholds for the tests' broad applications in different aspects of clinical use, such as seroprevalence studies and convalescent plasma donor qualification. Both developed serotests individually performed similarly-well as fully-automated CE-marked test systems. Our described sensitivity-improved orthogonal test approach assures highest specificity (99.8%); thereby enabling robust serodiagnosis in low-prevalence settings with simple test formats. The inclusion of a calibrator permits accurate quantitative monitoring of antibody concentrations in samples collected at different time points during the acute and convalescent phase of COVID-19 and disclosed antibody level thresholds that correlate well with robust neutralization of authentic SARS-CoV-2 virus. We demonstrate that antigen source and purity strongly impact serotest performance. Comprehensive biotechnology-assisted selection of antigens and in-depth characterisation of the assays allowed us to overcome limitations of simple ELISA-based antibody test formats based on chromometric reporters, to yield comparable assay performance as fully-automated platforms.

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