CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan moves closer to developing COVID-19 rapid screening reagent

03/08/2020 06:06 PM
Photo from Pixabay for illustrative purposes only
Photo from Pixabay for illustrative purposes only

Taipei, March 8 (CNA) Taiwan's Academic Sinica has synthesized monoclonal antibodies that are able to identify the protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), an important step in the direction of producing a rapid screening reagent for the fast spreading pathogenic virus.

The potential reagent, if successfully mass produced in the future, will shorten the test for the new coronavirus from about 4 hours to 15-20 minutes, significantly improving screening efficiency, the top academic research institution in the nation said in a statement on Sunday.

Yang An-suei (楊安綏), an Academic Sinica research fellow at the Genomics Research Center who heads the research team that achieved the synthesis, said the key for rapid screening to work lies in the relevant reagent being able to identify the new coronavirus accurately.

In just 19 days, the team produced 46 monoclonal antibodies, each at least one milligram in size, based on seven human coronavirus nucleocapsid protein antigens, according to Yang.

He said one of the antibodies demonstrates "perfect" efficiency in identifying the new coronavirus because it does not react to other members of the coronavirus family, including those that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), or other respiratory diseases.

Academia Sinica President James Liao (廖俊智) said the data will be placed on the COVID-19 platform the institution built to share information with domestic academic and science research institutes, to speed up the development of rapid screening kits, drugs and vaccines to combat the deadly epidemic.

Yang's team "achieved the goal two months ahead of schedule," Liao said.

Assisted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the research team will hold talks with several companies about the production of rapid screening kits based on its research results, according to Academic Sinica.

If everything goes smoothly, mass production could begin soon after the Ministry of Health and Welfare verifies and approves the reagent, within the next 3-4 months, the institution said.

There have been more than 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in over 80 countries and areas, including Taiwan, with 3,000-plus deaths, since the disease was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China last December.

(By Chang Hsiung-feng and Elizabeth Hsu)


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