True to its role as a leading research university responding to the health problems and needs of Filipinos, UP Manila’s early response to the Covid pandemic was the development of the first RT-PCR local testing kit for the Covid-19 virus. The kit was developed by Dr. Raul Destura, an infectious disease specialist who is UP Manila NIH Director of National Training Center for Biosafety and Biosecurity and the Deputy Director of Philippine Genome Center. The development of the testing kit has proven that even in a resource-limited setting such as the Philippines, an appropriate technology can be done in a few weeks in response to a health emergency, providing a concrete example of the capabilities of the local science and technology environment.
The testing kits are now being rolled out as part of the national government efforts to curb the further spread of the virus through expanded testing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially announced its approval of the testing kit, GenAmplifyTM Corona Virus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) RT-PCR Detection Kit on 3 April 2020 after three weeks of field validation.
The testing kits are being manufactured by the Manila Health Tek, Inc, the first university spin-off company that was established after the development of the Biotek M Aqua, a cheaper and faster dengue local testing kit, in 2017 by the same team of researchers. The approval and eventual roll out of the testing kits were encouraging and welcome developments as the country at that time was about to commence expanded testing starting on April 14. The expanded testing prioritizes Covid 19 probable cases (Persons Under Investigation under the old DOH classification and Covid-19 suspects (Persons under Monitoring), according to the Department of Health.
The Manila Health Tek, Inc., reported that the first batch of reagents that arrived soon after enabled them to start the manufacturing process to create testing kits that can accommodate up to 120,000 tests. Testing kits that can do up to 26,000 tests were prioritized by the Department of Science and Technology for field implementation and distribution to the Philippine General Hospital, Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Southern Philippines Medical Center, and Baguio General Hospital.
The remaining testing kits that are good for around 94,000 tests will be sold commercially by Manila Health Tek at around P1,250 per kit which is cheaper than the units currently being used in hospitals which cost about P8,000. The Manila Health Tek said it has enough orders from the private sector which then intend to donate them to the DOH and other hospitals.
Published in the UP Manila Healthscape Special COVID-19 Issue (No.1, 18 April 2020)