South-South Cooperation during Coronavirus Pandemic: India to look at test kits for COVID-19 from Argentina
Border tension with China may take a toll on India’s trade with Beijing, more so at a time when the country is fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Amid all this, India could possibly look at other alternatives than China to meet its need for COVID-19 testing kits. One such country is Argentina, which has recently launched its own “NEOKIT-COVID-19,” which costs around $8 and allows detection of the virus in less than two hours. After meeting their internal demands, the government of that country which has been receiving queries from across the globe will be ready to export.
Sources have confirmed that Argentina is one among other countries from where India is considering buying these testing kits as it will help in mass testing and is good for out patients. Financial Express Online had reported last month that, “The Ministry of External affairs (MEA) which has been in the forefront in the efforts of the government’s fight against the global pandemic COVID-19 has been looking around for medical suppliers across the globe. All the Indian Missions and Posts are getting in touch with the governments and companies in an effort to import testing kits and other supplies.”
Says Ravi Bangar, former ambassador to the region “It will be a good example of South-South Cooperation. India should produce under license as our domestic needs are and will remain high.”
Interview with one of the scientists’ involved in the development of the kit
Argentina based Carolina Carrillo, Ph.D talks with Financial Express Online about developing the test kit and if it will work across different humans. Following are excerpts:
How many scientists are behind this test kit?
It’s a group of five scientists – two men and three women: Santiago Werbajh (the scientist who started to design the new kit even before COVID-19 became a global pandemic), Luciana Larocca, Fabiana Stolowic, Adrián Vojnov (Project Director) and Carolina Carrillo. And the team works in R&D in molecular biology, at the César Milstein Institute of Science and Technology, (National Council for Scientific and Technical Research.) CONICET.
We have developed and analytically, clinically and regulatory validated this kit in around 50 days because we have been working with this technology from 2011 when we started to develop a diagnostic test for Chagas disease, a tropical disease originally from America (the continent) but now with a global profile.
While working on that test, we realized the power of the tool. So, we started to work with the concept of “technological platform” to replicate that experience to develop kits to detect different Pathogens.
What made the team develop this kit?
Argentina is a developing country, that needs diagnostic tests for a lot of pathogens, but these tests must be simple to operate and low cost to use – for field conditions and “Point of care”. Recently, the kit for Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue was ready for clinical validation when COVID-19 arrived in our lives.
All that experience, after several errors and successes and particularly the experience with Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue (that they are a virus with genomes codified in ARN molecules, as SARS-CoV-2) permitted us to be qualified to respond quickly to this sudden challenge.
The platform was planned in three steps:
1- How to obtain and manage the biological or clinical sample?
2- How to adapt the molecular amplification reaction to obtain the best result (in terms of sensitivity, specificity and robustness)?
3- How to make simplest the readout of the result?
When will it enter the market?
The first lot of product will be ready, in hands of the National Ministry of Health, in the coming week. It will be a batch of 10,000 kits. Then, the plan is to have around 500.000 kits per month, with the present capacities, and with possibilities to scale the production if needed.
How many trials before you achieved success?
The NEOKIT test was validated in a clinical trial with human samples, of course. The performance obtained was similar to that obtained with the rt-qPCR, considered the Gold Standard technique. That was the reason why the National Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology has approved its diagnostic use.
However, the NEOKIT test should be approved by the regulatory agencies in the other countries that would be interested in using it.
This kit is in the hands of our Ministry and our country’s needs will be first and foremost. It is our desire having NEOKIT reaching different points of the world, including India.
Why is NEOKIT special?
NEOKIT is special because is molecular (it says if the virus is present in the moment of the sampling), is sensible and specific, but also is simple, rapid and possible to use in a broad kind of health points (even if they do not have a PCR machine – something that is a common restriction in our country).