New Delhi: Tata Sons has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research for the ‘licencing of knowhow’ of a paper test kit for Covid-19, which could make mass testing for the novel coronavirus possible.
The kit, developed by CSIR’s constituent lab Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) in New Delhi, is called FNCAS9 Editor Linked Uniform Detection Assay or ‘Feluda’, after the fictional detective created by Bengali filmmaker and author Satyajit Ray. ThePrint had reported the development of the kit on 18 April.
The licence shall include “transfer of the knowledge for scaling up the knowhow in the form of a kit”, that can be deployed for Covid-19 testing on the ground as early as the end of May.
Banmali Agrawala, president, Infrastructure and Defence & Aerospace, Tata Sons, said: “We are happy to enter into a partnership with IGIB of CSIR for further development and commercialisation of CRISPR-based technology for Covid-19 detection.
“It uses a test protocol that is simple to administer and easy to interpret, enabling results to be made available to the medical fraternity in relatively lesser time, as compared to other test protocols. We believe that CRISPR is futuristic technology that can also be configured for detection of multiple other pathogens in the future.”
Shekhar Mande, the director general of CSIR, said: “CSIR labs such as CSIR-IGIB have been working on deep science and developing cutting edge technology and I am happy to see that the Tata group is partnering towards its deployment.”
What is ‘Feluda’?
The ‘Feluda’ test strip was invented by a team led by two Bengali-origin scientists — Dr Souvik Maiti and Dr Debojyoti Chakraborty — at CSIR-IGIB.
The simple paper-based test strip could reduce Covid-19 testing costs — the real-time polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR) used currently requires machinery worth lakhs of rupees and its price is capped at Rs 4,500 in private labs, but the ‘Feluda’ test could cost as little as Rs 500.
It can be used in a way similar to pregnancy test strips widely available over the counter.
“This strip will just change colour, and can be used in a simple pathological lab. The most important part is it will be 100 per cent accurate,” Mande had told ThePrint last month.
Dr Chakraborty, meanwhile, had said it would detect the presence of the novel coronavirus in just minutes, “just like Feluda” in Satyajit Ray’s stories and films.
“We were experimenting on sickle cell anaemia for the last two years. When Covid-19 cases rose in China, we started to experiment to see how mutations take place in the coronavirus. For the last two months, we have been working 20 hours a day to develop it,” he explained.
Mande and Chakraborty said the ‘Feluda’ kit uses CRISPR gene-editing technology to get results. This technology recognises specific genetic sequences and cuts them in short time.
“(Our strip) uses cutting-edge gene-editing CRISPR-CAS-9 technology to target and identify genomic sequence of the novel coronavirus in suspected individuals. No other laboratory in India is developing test kit using CRISPR technology,” Mande said.
Anurag Agrawal, director of CSIR-IGIB, added: “A few other labs have been developing test kits, but they are largely based on PCR technology, which is costly. Our paper strip does not require any ‘level 2’ or ‘level 3’ lab to test, and can be done in any simple pathological lab.”