Cov-MS: A Community-Based Template Assay for Mass-Spectrometry-Based Protein Detection in SARS-CoV-2 Patients


Rising population density and global mobility are among the reasons why pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spread so rapidly across the globe. The policy response to such pandemics will always have to include accurate monitoring of the spread, as this provides one of the few alternatives to total lockdown. However, COVID-19 diagnosis is currently performed almost exclusively by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Although this is efficient, automatable, and acceptably cheap, reliance on one type of technology comes with serious caveats, as illustrated by recurring reagent and test shortages. We therefore developed an alternative diagnostic test that detects proteolytically digested SARS-CoV-2 proteins using mass spectrometry (MS). We established the Cov-MS consortium, consisting of 15 academic laboratories and several industrial partners to increase applicability, accessibility, sensitivity, and robustness of this kind of SARS-CoV-2 detection. This, in turn, gave rise to the Cov-MS Digital Incubator that allows other laboratories to join the effort, navigate, and share their optimizations and translate the assay into their clinic. As this test relies on viral proteins instead of RNA, it provides an orthogonal and complementary approach to RT-PCR using other reagents that are relatively inexpensive and widely available, as well as orthogonally skilled personnel and different instruments. Data are available via ProteomeXchange with identifier PXD022550.