U.P. scientists develop test kit for novel coronavirus

MANILA, Philippines – Scientists at the National Institutes of Health of the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila said they have developed a test kit that would help the Department of Health (DOH) confirm more cases of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the country.

The test kit will be released next week for evaluation of the DOH, said scientist Raul Destura during a Senate hearing assessing the government's response to 2019-nCoV on Tuesday, February 4.

"Hopefully by next week, it will be ready for the DOH to verify and validate before they give their recommendation for use in the country," Destura said.

He added that UP scientists developed the test kit after Chinese scientists released the whole genome sequence of the virus to the public.

The test kit would allow the DOH to more rapidly detect the presence of 2019-nCoV in samples taken from patients "under investigation" or observation, which are now at 105.

Currently, the DOH is using the primer it had acquired from Japan, which allows its research arm, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, to determine "within 48 hours" whether samples are positive for 2019-nCoV.

"[What we're using is] like a code that more or less it will guide us to identify [the virus]. This is exactly the virus that's similar to the one in Wuhan," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

But the primer is not yet commercially available, making it difficult for the DOH to acquire it in big batches.

World Health Organization country representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe said several research groups around the world are still racing to develop rapid test kits for the virus.

"Test kits will not be completed for about another week to 10 days, after which we have agreed that we will provide the test kits to the Philippines and other member states that are at risk," he said.

Senators on Tuesday criticized the DOH for apparent lapses in leadership especially in its protocols for contact tracing. In about a week, the health department has only traced 17% or around 50 of the 331 people who came into contact with the Philippines' two confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV.

Duque blamed the lapses on incompetent individuals in the DOH's Epidemiology Bureau. He also promised "aggressive contact tracing" which would involve police.

As of Tuesday, the virus has infected more than 20,000 and killed over 400, nearly all in China. (READ: World currently 'not in a pandemic' of China virus – WHO) – Rappler.com