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Validation of an automated, end-to-end metagenomic sequencing assay for agnostic detection of respiratory viruses.

BACKGROUND: Current molecular diagnostics are limited in the number and type of detectable pathogens. Metagenomic next generation sequencing (mNGS) is an emerging, and increasingly feasible, pathogen-agnostic diagnostic approach. Translational barriers prohibit the widespread adoption of this technology in clinical laboratories. We validate an end-to-end mNGS assay for detection of respiratory viruses. Our assay is optimized to reduce turnaround time, lower cost-per-sample, increase throughput, and deploy secure and actionable bioinformatic results.

METHODS: We validated our assay using residual nasopharyngeal swab specimens from Vancouver General Hospital (n = 359), RT-PCR-positive, or negative for Influenza, SARS-CoV-2, and RSV. We quantified sample stability, assay precision, the effect of background nucleic acid levels, and analytical limits of detection. Diagnostic performance metrics were estimated.

RESULTS: We report that our mNGS assay is highly precise, semi-quantitative, with analytical limits of detection ranging from 103-104 copies/mL. Our assay is highly specific (100%) and sensitive (61.9% Overall: 86.8%; RT-PCR Ct < 30). Multiplexing capabilities enable processing of up to 55-specimens simultaneously on an Oxford Nanopore GridION device, with results reported within 12-hours.

CONCLUSIONS: This study outlines the diagnostic performance and feasibility of mNGS for respiratory viral diagnostics, infection control, and public health surveillance. We addressed translational barriers to widespread mNGS adoption.

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