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Covid-19: Country needs 10 times more testing: CCMB Director

G Naga Sridhar Hyderabad | Updated on July 01, 2020 Published on July 01, 2020

Rakesh K Mishra, Director - Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology   -  The Hindu

The CSIR lab suggests a new method of testing to ICMR

When it comes to relief from Covid-19, there has always been talk of flattening the curve.

This actually means either a slowdown or a reduction in the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But is it scientific to hope for a flattening of the curve when nobody exactly knows what is the peak?

“Without knowing what is the peak, the peaking or flattening of the Covid-19 curve does not happen naturally. The only way is to do a lot of testing; the country needs 10 times more testing than what is being done,” Rakesh K Mishra, Director - Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), told BusinessLine.

CCMB, a Hyderabad-based laboratory of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has been one of the agencies in the forefront of fighting Covid-19 in the country by designing new strategies, testing samples and validating testing kits, among others.

With an unabated increase in the number of Covid-19-positive cases in the country in the past one month, there is a need to ramp up testing of samples, the scientist said.

“We have to do a lot of testing. Whoever is tested positive, his contacts should be traced and isolated to ensure that the infection dies down,” he said.

The effective flattening of the curve is tracing the infection and containing it, failing which it may keep spreading for a few more months, Mishra added.

The CCMB is conducting about 400 tests a day and has the capacity to undertake nearly 1,000 tests.

New method

CCMB has also come up with a new low-cost method of testing that significantly cuts the time taken for a test.

“We have found out a simple method that can increase the testing capacity with existing systems and technology,” the Director said.

Currently, the swab is collected in a tube that contains 3 ml of viral transfer medium (VTM). “We are suggesting that there’s no need for VTM; just put the dry swab in a tube and send it to the testing centre. So, you don’t have to transfer the liquid; and the swab is just like an ear bud. This is very safe and does not leak,” he explained.

When the sample reaches the test centre, it will be much safer for the individual to handle it.

The laboratory has written to ICMR to simplify the sample collection process and cut the step of the RNA extraction from the test and waiting period for the response.

Vaccine

Even though there are silver linings to the dark clouds with regard to making a vaccine against Covid-19, it may take time.

While some drugs have been given emergency approval to treat Coronavirus-positive patients, the development of a vaccine will surely take some more time, according to Mishra.

“I don’t think vaccines can be made available in less than a year from now. The simple steps required in making a vaccine will take that much time. The fastest vaccine may be ready by early next year; then production too would take a few months,” he said.

CCMB has also been working on developing vaccines/drugs to tame the dreaded virus.

“We have collaborated with a company and have something to tell, but CSIR will announce (it). Our approach is to use an inactive virus as a vaccine. Many companies are using others such as a purified antigen. But we are going for a whole inactivated virus. Hopefully it will work,” he added.

Published on July 01, 2020
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