April 8, 2020
DOST

DOST COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Still Needs Field Testing — Destura

By EDD K. USMAN

Twitter: @edd1819, Instagram: @bluestar0910, Facebook: SDN — Science, Digital & Current Affairs

(SDN) — “THAT’S how bad it is.”

The statement is a presidential recognition of the ongoing spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte acknowledged the contagion’s spreading on March 10 when it was then 24 confirmed cases of the 2019-novel CoronaVirus among Filipinos, excluding those Philippine nationals abroad.

Latest this afternoon there are now 52 confirmed cases.

Now, presently, the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed COVID-19, the coronavirus’s official name, a “pandemic.” That’s after hesitating earlier.

“We have therefore made the assessment that #COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared on March 11.

Among the worries, big and small, of countries/governments across the world, including in the Philippines, is the global shortage of diagnostic tests for the virus.

The Department of Health (DOH) had acknowledged it only has 2,000 diagnostic kits for the coronavirus pathogen.

For Filipinos, there is a gleam of hope to address the lack of diagnostic tests as a team of scientists led by Dr. Raul V. Destura from the University of the Philippines (UP) through funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has developed diagnostic test for faster and cheaper virus analysis.

“The reason we did that is to shorten the process into a single platform, in one run all the processes are there, so you can save, your budget for three runs, for one run only (which is cheaper).

— Dr. Raul V. Destura.

 

His team did not start from scratch; they adopted platforms for coronavirus test from websites of big research centers that WHO provided.

The unnamed foreign research centers, he emphasized, developed the diagnostic tests.

Destura clarified issues surrounding the diagnostic test when he was interviewed over over Radio DZBB the other day.

“The reason we did that is to shorten the process into a single platform, in one run all the processes are there, so you can save, your budget for three runs, for one run only (which is cheaper).

“How we can make it faster, how we can make it cheaper, and still retains its power in diagnostic testing.”

The UP scientist, who is also the vice president of the National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP), and chairman of its Division III — Medical Services, explained the diagnostic test they are developing still have to go under a “field testing.”

This means, apparently, the DOST-UP diagnostic test is not yet ready for use public use.

“We have to conclude what we call ‘field testing’ which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required us to do. That’s our green light to be able for the technology to be tested in the field simultaneous with another confirmation.

“The purpose really is to protect the public, that the local technology is adequately responding to the needs of our country.

“And I think that’s OK. That’s important,” said Destura.

He expressed hopes the FDA would be able to give the green light by weekend. “Then we will deploy on Monday (March 17).”

The award-winning scientist further explained that a “test” is for one person while a “test kit” may contain from 1,000 to 2,000 individual tests in one box.

“That’s what we are trying to do now. But, of course, we need to field-test the technology in our country so we can reach our targeted sample size. It is because there is around 500 tests being calculated.

— Dr. Raul V. Destura

He also added that the DOST-UP diagnostic test is cheaper than those procured from foreign sources, saying test kit for 25 persons will cost Php28,000, which is just over Php1,000 per test per person. His team developed the test in 21 days.

The Filipino scientist assured that “Our manufacturing facility is really designed for manufacturing diagnostic tests like this. So, basically, we are capable of manufacturing 1,000 to 2,000 tests a week.”

DOST, COVID-19, field testing, coronavirus, pandemic
DOST and UP Manila Scientist Dr. Raul V. Destura in a photograph from Science.ph.

Thus, Destura clarified, “10,000 kits is extremely different from 10,000 tests.”

“That’s what we are trying to do now. But, of course, we need to field-test the technology in our country so we can reach our targeted sample size. It is because there is around 500 test being calculated.

Once the targeted tests is reached, he said, “clinical sensitivity” (and other parameters) will already be calculated.

He said on the same DZBB interview the “test is showing good. But we need to know how it will fare in the real world. With that many (field) tests hopefully it will not last very long.”

“But before we reach that (stage) we need ethics review, protocol, etc. We are hoping that approval part will be finished by the end of the week, and then we deploy (field testing) on Monday. Something like that,” Destura said.

Destura of UP Manila is a multi-awarded clinician and scientist; he is no stranger to developing diagnostic tests. He is a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist.

His areas of concern includes, but not limited to, low-technology driven diagnostic for infectious diseases, pathogenic mechanism of dengue infection, molecular basis of antimicrobial resistance.

He leads UP Mania’s National Institute for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology-National Institute of Health (NIMBB-NIH).

Related: Two Filipino inventions receive gold recognition in Geneva tilt

Recall that in 2018 his invention of a quick dengue diagnostic test dubbed Biotek-M Dengue Aqua Kit won a Gold Medal in the 46th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (Geneva Inventions) in Switzerland.

Both his dengue test and coronavirus test projects were funded by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).

News reports said that COVID-19 infections have already reached the Visayas and Mindanao.

In Manila, Duterte’s Cabinet is already affected, as Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade have gone on self-quarantine after being exposed to a coronavirus pathogen positive person.

Duterte also had himself tested by COVID-19 though he was not showing any symptoms of the virus.

Over at the Senate, Senators Win Gatchalian and Nancy Binay also imposed self-quarantine after a public hearing attended by resource person who was found to be coronavirus positive.

Across the world, confirmed coronavirus cases is now presently at 126,672 people with deaths reaching 4,717 according to a website of Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

On a positive (no pun intended), note 68,305 confirmed cases have recovered from the virus affliction. (SDN)

Featured image of coronavirus: Thanks to Matthew Afflecat on Pixabay.

 

 

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