When the news about the first death linked to the novel coronavirus broke out in China around mid-January 2020, the Philippine Genome Center and the University of the Philippines Manila’s National Institutes of Health had been on the lookout to develop their own test kits. They did so following the release of the whole genome sequence of the virus in the World Health Organization website, and in March they released an initial product to address the start of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Now after making adjustments in the product, the test kit called GenAmplify COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit version 2 is now commercially available for use, according to the Department of Health in a press release on July 19. It was said to offer “a real-time detection of novel coronavirus in respiratory samples using a one-step multiplex real-time PCR platform.”
The cost of the kit was initially pegged at P 1,320 per test during its launching, far cheaper from the foreign-made kits at P 8,500 per test. But according to the DOH’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, each costs P 1,828.40 for the ‘complete package’ inclusive of VAT.
In April, the test kits were issued with a certificate of product registration by the Food and Drug Administration. But upon validation of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, it was discovered that 30% of the test kits showed “indeterminate” results which wasn’t clear to state whether the sample is negative or positive of COVID-19, so the product was recalled in May.
By July 10, the defects have been fixed.
Makers of the GenAmplify COVID-19 RT-PCR Detection Kit are also the ones who developed the “Lab-in-a-Mug” test kits for dengue. They form the Manila HealthTek, Inc., a company dedicated to research and develop efforts in creating affordable, portable and reliable testing kits for infectious diseases.
“We appreciate the Manila HealthTek team for their commitment to excellence and safety, as they worked closely with our independent laboratory expert panel in addressing key issues of version 1 of GenAmplify,” the department said about the recent development.
Dr Raul V. Destura, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist who is also the current deputy executive director of the Philippine Genome Center, leads the Manila HealthTek team as its Chief Executive Officer. Much of his work revolves around developing low-cost technologies for the control of infectious diseases in the Philippines and the generation of new knowledge to find sustainable and equitable solutions to disease of poverty.
While we were able to have a locally-developed test kit for the novel coronavirus, it is only a tool to detect positive cases and a vaccine will still be the answer to this global pandemic. As of writing, the race towards the first to produce the cure to COVID-19 is still on.