AIIMS to buy 300 Covid-19 rapid test kits from China’s Nantong Egens

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on April 13, 2020

AIIMS had earlier decided to temporarily suspend routine walk-in OPD registration of patients from March 23. File Photo   -  The Hindu

Amid the shortage of rapid test kits for detecting Covid-19 , the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has placed an order for 300 kits directly from Nantong Egens Biotechnology of China.

Confirming this to BusinessLine, a source in AIIMS, who is involved in this procurement, said that the deliveries had not been made. “We are procuring the kits for research purposes,” the source said.

KV Jeganathan, who represents Nantong Egens in India, the kits would be delivered any time now, because the company is not covered under the Chinese ban on exporting the kits, which was done upon reports of exported kits being faulty. Nantong’s kits, Jeganathan said, are available at a very low price — $8 apiece, FOB. Several leading Indian hospitals have shown interesting in placing orders on Nantong, he said.

Quick results

Nantong Egen makes antibody-based test kits — dealing with the IgM and IgG antibodies (Ig stands for ‘immunogloulin’, which are antibodies or proteins produced by the human cells to kill marauding antigens such as bacteria and viruses). These are rapid tests, which can give the results in a matter of hours — although, experts say, they are not foolproof in terms of accuracy. On the other hand, the RT-PCR test equipment, which take a peek into the genetic make of the invading antigens, is 100 per cent confirmatory, but they take a couple of days to deliver results.

The RT-PCR equipment are all imported and expensive. There are some efforts towards quick local manufacturing of this product. Bhopal-based 3B Black Biotech India, a subsidiary of the BSE-listed Kilpest India, has developed a RT-PCR machine and has just received approval from the Indian Council for Medical Research.

Kit exports

The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has said that two of its laboratories, Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Services (INMAS) and Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Services (DIPAS) have capacity to do 700 tests a day, but did not specify the kind of tests.

However, since for the first level of screening, the antibody tests are fine, India has wanted to import the rapid test kits. Order for 5,00,000 kits were placed on Chinese companies by the government-owned HLL Lifecare Ltd (formerly, Hindustan Latex Ltd) but the kits have not arrived because China has banned export of the kits upon the feedback that many of them were faulty; only a few companies, such as Nantong Egens, are allowed to export.

If AIIMS finds Nantong’s kits acceptable, it could open up a key source of supply of this crucial product at a time when India is facing a shortage.

Published on April 13, 2020

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