Low-cost, rapid Covid-19 test kit on anvil

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on April 09, 2020 Published on April 09, 2020

A public-funded research institute and a private firm specialising in human and livestock disease diagnostic kits in Kerala have joined hands to develop a low-cost rapid diagnostic kit for novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The collaborative effort between the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), a Department of Biotechnology institute based in Thiruvananthapuram, and the privately-held uBio Biotechnology Systems, located at Kalamassery near Kochi, has succeeded in creating the test kit

Yet to be evaluated

The developers of the low-cost kit, which will cost less than ₹500 for a test, have clarified that while the kit looked promising in lab tests, it is yet to be evaluated by the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV), which has been assigned the job of approving diagnostic tools for Covid-19.

The new kit is based on antigen-antibody reactions. There are two ways of making such kits. The most commonly-used technique requires a number of samples available to the developers, said Radhakrishnan Nair, a senior RGCB scientist, who was involved in the project.

The team, however, used another method, which requires a lot of skills, but can be done without actual samples.

“If you know the viral genome, if you know the structure of the virus, either out of experience or by sheer luck, you can identify the proteins that have the ability to elicit immune response in the host, in this case, human beings,” said.

Genome-based analysis

With the World Health Organisation and open access National Centre for Biotechnology Information, maintained by the US National Institutes of Health, publishing the genome of the virus, the RGCB scientists, led by Nair, who earlier identified proteins with antigenic properties – called epitopes – looked for the sections of the genome that code for these proteins. Using their expertise in genome-based analysis, they identified genes for two such proteins and synthesised them to create the proteins.

“This part of the work was done by the RGCB scientists. The uBio team took over from there and developed an excellent probe,” said Nair. He said they decided to use not one, but two protein molecules because having more than one would increase specificity of the probe along with sensitivity.

VI Bishor, MD and CEO of uBio, refused to say much about the kit as it is still to be evaluated, but said the work is supported by Defence Research and Development Organisation and a couple of major corporate houses.

Ubio, founded in 2008, is a prominent manufactuer of human livetock diagnostic products with an export base of 25 countries. Its production facility in Kinfra Park at Kalamassery can produce 7 million kits a month.

Published on April 09, 2020

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