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SA government awards R18m to produce rapid COVID-19 tests

In a bid to ramp up South Africa's ability to produce reagents and test kits for COVID-19, R18m in funding has been awarded to local companies from the science & innovation department, the South African Medical Research Council and the Technology Innovation Agency. Funding recipients are set to commence with their responsibility immediately, with approximately six months to begin production, said Minister Blade Nzimande, according to a Business Tech report.

“South Africa currently sources these reagents from international companies, but increasing global demand, fluctuating exchange rates and limited transport options are affecting the supply – resulting in an urgent need to source these components locally,” he said.

The Minister said there was an urgent need to strengthen South Africa's capacity for identifying active cases of COVID-19, to allow for more effective contact tracing and quarantining. “To do this, the country needs to reduce the turnaround time for diagnosing active COVID-19 infections by developing point-of-care (PoC) kits for rapid, direct detection of the coronavirus,” he said.

Four projects will be supported for the development of rapid diagnostic kits, said Nzimande.

Some of the projects include: Medical Diagnostech has already begun developing an antigen-based rapid test for detecting acute cases of COVID-19. The test is designed to directly detect the COVID-19 spike glycoprotein S1 in saliva to determine whether a patient currently has an acute infection. It does not require trained lab staff or expensive machinery and is thus significantly more cost-effective than gold-standard testing, and production can be scaled up to 100 000 units per day at the company’s premises in Brackenfell, Cape Town.

Mintek was awarded funding for the development of a rapid test kit for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 viral antigen in PoC or near-patient settings. Nzimande said funding had also been given to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and a number of other companies for the development of “diagnostic reagents”.

[link url=""]Full Business Tech report[/link]

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