Simultaneous Evaluation of Diagnostic Assays for Pharyngeal and Rectal Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis Using a Master Protocol.



Pharyngeal and rectal Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis play important roles in infection and antibacterial resistance transmission, but no US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared assays for detection at these sites existed prior to this study. The objective was to estimate performance of assays to detect those infections in pharyngeal and rectal specimens to support regulatory submission.


We performed a cross-sectional, single-visit study of adults seeking sexually transmitted infection testing at 9 clinics in 7 states. We collected pharyngeal and rectal swabs from participants. The primary outcome was positive and negative percent agreement for detection of N. gonorrhoeae and C. trachomatis for 3 investigational assays compared to a composite reference. Secondary outcomes included positivity as well as positive and negative predictive values and likelihood ratios. Subgroup analyses included outcomes by symptom status and sex.


A total of 2598 participants (79% male) underwent testing. We observed N. gonorrhoeae positivity of 8.1% in the pharynx and 7.9% in the rectum and C. trachomatis positivity of 2.0% in the pharynx and 8.7% in the rectum. Positive percent agreement ranged from 84.8% to 96.5% for different anatomic site infection combinations, whereas negative percent agreement was 98.8% to 99.6%.


This study utilized a Master Protocol to generate diagnostic performance data for multiple assays from different manufacturers in a single study population, which ultimately supported first-in-class FDA clearance for extragenital assays. We observed very good positive percent agreement when compared to a composite reference method for the detection of both pharyngeal and rectal N. gonorrhoeae and C. trachomatis.

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Publication Info

Doernberg, Sarah B, Lauren Komarow, Thuy Tien T Tran, Zoe Sund, Mark W Pandori, David Jensen, Ephraim L Tsalik, Carolyn D Deal, et al. (2020). Simultaneous Evaluation of Diagnostic Assays for Pharyngeal and Rectal Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis Using a Master Protocol. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, 71(9). pp. 2314–2322. 10.1093/cid/ciz1105 Retrieved from

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Ephraim Tsalik

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine

My research at Duke has focused on understanding the dynamic between host and pathogen so as to discover and develop host-response markers that can diagnose and predict health and disease.  This new and evolving approach to diagnosing illness has the potential to significantly impact individual as well as public health considering the rise of antibiotic resistance.

With any potential infectious disease diagnosis, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine at the time of presentation what the underlying cause of illness is.  For example, acute respiratory illness is among the most frequent reasons for patients to seek care. These symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and fever may be due to a bacterial infection, viral infection, both, or a non-infectious condition such as asthma or allergies.  Given the difficulties in making the diagnosis, most patients are inappropriately given antibacterials.  However, each of these etiologies (bacteria, virus, or something else entirely) leaves a fingerprint embedded in the host’s response. We are very interested in finding those fingerprints and exploiting them to generate new approaches to understand, diagnose, and manage disease.

These principles also apply to sepsis, defined as life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Just as with acute respiratory illness, it is often difficult to identify whether infection is responsible for a patient’s critical illness.  We have embarked on a number of research programs that aim to better identify sepsis; define sepsis subtypes that can be used to guide future clinical research; and to better predict sepsis outcomes.  These efforts have focused on many systems biology modalities including transcriptomics, miRNA, metabolomics, and proteomics.  Consequently, our Data Science team has utilized these highly complex data to develop new statistical methods, furthering both the clinical and statistical research communities.

These examples are just a small sampling of the breadth of research Dr. Tsalik and his colleagues have conducted.  

In April 2022, Dr. Tsalik has joined Danaher Diagnostics as the VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Infectious Disease, where he is applying this experience in biomarkers and diagnostics to shape the future of diagnostics in ID. 

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