Researchers are producing faster local Covid-19 test kits

CAPE TOWN- Senior researchers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) said with highly efficient technology they are able to produce an enzyme that can allow for a faster, one-step Covid-19 test by the end of the year.

The enzyme can make one billion chemical reactions that can be applied in Covid-19 testing. While this step does not equate to a billion Covid-19 tests for people because diagnostic tests must be carefully repeated several times for each patient to ensure accurate results, it could mean that a huge amount of this important compound is available locally and affordably.

Senior researcher Dr Lusisizwe Kwezi said, “the CSIR has already established a highly efficient technology to produce the enzyme needed for the second step. This enzyme is known as DNA Taq polymerase, and just three grams of the protein, produced in E. coli bacteria in as little as three days, is enough for a billion PCR reactions”.

Earlier this month, Kwezi said the CSIR delivered a 3 g batch to local company CapeBio Technologies, which has licensed and commercialised the technology. It will be rolled out to support the national testing effort as soon as CapeBio gets approval from the South African Health Products Regulation Authority (SAHPRA).

The antibody will be produced in plants rather than in E. coli, and Kwezi says the resulting one-step kit could be ready for national roll-out within six months, pending SAHPRA approval.

He said local availability of large amounts of such affordable ‘plug-and-play’ reagents, which also allow for faster results delivered to patients, will be critical in managing the pandemic in the long-term.

A reliable local supply of sample purification reagents also addresses the specific problem of patient swabs becoming non-viable for testing because of the lengthy backlogs caused by a lack of reagents. Not only do such long waiting periods compromise test results for individual patients, it compromises the entire disease management process that relies on quarantine along with quick contact tracing and testing.

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