Policemen in Lucknow help each other get their protective masks on
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New Delhi: The National Institute of Virology (NIV) is expected to give its go-ahead for domestic COVID-19 testing kits this week, allowing Indian manufacturers to step in and ensure there is no shortage. 

The NIV, which falls under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is currently examining potential diagnostic kits manufactured by several Indian companies. Once they are validated by the NIV, their manufacture can begin.

While the kits developed by six firms are under examination, the NIV has validated the kit manufactured by two private firms.

“We are expecting that the NIV will validate the application to manufacture diagnostic kits this week,” said Dr Renu Swarup, secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

“A few companies can be allowed to manufacture kits on priority basis. Currently, we have allowed companies to import and their licensing deal will be completed on high priority… Once the kit manufacturing begins, we can fulfil larger demand.”

India is currently using diagnostic kits developed by the NIV to detect COVID-19, which had infected 415 people in India by Monday. It is also importing kits developed by the Swiss healthcare company Roche through the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

While there is no case of community transmission — which means the source of transmission is unknown — so far, health experts have emphasised a higher degree of testing to ensure the pandemic’s spread is checked better. 

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The NIV and other government laboratories have 1 lakh testing kits, with the government ordering the import of 10 lakh probes — a component used in testing kits — from Germany to assemble more.

With exports of test kits shut down by most countries and reports of a global shortage, the DBT has asked the NIV and the Drugs Controller General of India to validate test kits on a priority basis. 

“Our focus is on developing better diagnostic kits, vaccine development and new molecules for treatment… Vaccine development will take time but we are coordinating with other countries in research… As soon as any country gets success, our licensing requirement will be ready,” said Swarup.

“A research proposal has been invited under the science and technology consortium (formed to deal with COVID-19, comprising the ICMR, the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology or IGIB, the Department of Science & Technology and the DBT) and the Union Science & Technology Ministry is coordinating efforts,” Swarup added.

Also Read: IIT-Delhi researchers develop ‘cheaper’ test kits for COVID-19, undergoing clinical trial

Looking for a cure

COVID-19, a highly-infectious disease, has claimed seven lives in India so far and led the central and state governments to impose strict social-distancing measures.

Officials in the ICMR told ThePrint that India is working on testing a kind of immunoglobulin therapy that is also being examined in Japan as a cure for COVID-19 — injecting blood plasma from recovered people into patients — but it is yet to take off in earnest. 

The officials said researchers were facing trouble getting plasma from cured people, adding that they were reluctant, but said that efforts continue.

There are also efforts by the Ministry of Science and Technology to devise an app that deploys artificial intelligence and travel data to trace possible COVID-19 patients. 

A similar app in South Korea is believed to have played a key role in checking its spread there.

“We have initiated efforts to develop such applications on priority basis… we are meeting industry people on a daily basis and a few companies are working to develop a solution to detect infected people based on artificial intelligence,” said Professor Ashutosh Sharma, secretary, Science and Technology Ministry. 

Also Read: Govt allows private labs to test for COVID-19, but its appeal for free tests has few takers

This report has been revised to update the number of firms whose testing kits have been cleared

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