The Filipino scientist who invented the low-cost COVID-19 testing kits

The Filipino scientist who invented the low-cost COVID-19 testing kits

We have always been the source of workers in the different parts of the world, name the profession most likely the chances of a Filipino working in that field in another country is high.
Amidst the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus 2019, the Philippines more than ever needs its professionals and scientists because with the global impact of the disease other countries cannot readily spare what they have since their plate is also full.

Thank God for Dr. Raul Destura and his team of UP scientistsas they are giving the nation and the rest of the world a reason to hope.
Philippines own testing kit for the Covid-19 and its project head Dr. Raul Destura
(photo credit to owner)
In article published in the ABS-CBN news website, microbiology and biotechnology Dr. Destura knew as soon as the Covid-19 news broke, they will be confronted with a tough but important mission for the country.

There is a need for a Covid-19 testing kit, as the country has a limited number in its stock, and that unverified reports are coming in that other countries can no longer provide theirs as they are also needing it for their own use.
“He already knew that this day will happen,” UP Manila Chancellor Dr. Carmencita Padilla reveals at the media briefing on UP’s reponse to COVID-19 held at the Philippine Genome Center in UP Diliman. As early as February, Padilla was taking note of the rising number of COVID-19 cases around the world. “So when UP was summoned at the Senate and was asked what the UP-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and UP Manila-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) can do, our executive director Dr. Eva Maria C. Cutiongco-dela Paz and our scientist Dr. Raul Destura already informed the Senate that we shall ready the testing kit.”

As the Deputy Executive Director of the Philippine Genome Center, Destura likens himself to being the conductor of a symphony. “Kailangan meron kang idea, meron kang experimental design. Bawat proseso, may team of scientists. This is the part you will do, this is the part he will do. And then we convene—umaga tanghali, gabi, madaling-araw—kasi we lack time!” he says. 
Like any scientific study, Dr. Destura says the whole process of developing the kit was very tedious. One simple test clearly was not enough; they had to keep repeating every step of the way, 40 to 60 times, to prove the technology’s sensitivity and specificity. Dr. Destura’s role to the team is to validate their findings, challenge the results, and “give solutions when they’re hitting a wall.”

In the process of developing the kit, putting the acid together was the biggest challenge. “Yung nanduon na lahat ng components. Titimplahin mo kasi lahat ng conditions isa-isa. Aside from that, gagawan mo ngayon ng perturbations yung mga conditions mo. Maapektuhan ba sya pag tumaas ito? Maaapektuhan ba sya pag binawasan mo nito? Lahat yun kailangan mong gawin. Nakakaubos sya ng buhok,” says the doctor, eliciting some laughter from the audience. In the media briefing, Dr. Destura seems to be a mild mannered man, has a cheerful disposition, is well-loved by those around him, and yes, there’s not very much hair on that head anymore. 

Filipino Technology

During a media briefing, Dr. Destura presented the result of his and his team’s hard work: the GenAmplify COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit, which will help in the early detection and effective treatment of COVID-19. 
The testing can be done in two (2) ways—via nasopharyngeal brush and throat swab, wherein samples are taken from inside the nose and from the back of the throat. The specimen is placed in a sealed container and sent to the laboratory where it will be examined by the medical technologist.
Dr. Destura explains that like the existing COVID-19 kits, the GenAmplify COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit uses the same PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology. But unlike the others that require the test to be done thrice (for a total of about six hours), this version employs a single step multiple detection system, which has a turnaround time of 1 to 2 hours. “Pag tech developer ka, iisipin mo ang sitwasyon ng lugar na mag-aadopt ng tech—kulang sa tao, kapos sa oras,” says the doctor, describing our local healthcare system under the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak. “Yung ibang platform, kailangan mong gawin yung test ng tatlong beses. Ito, ginawa nating isang beses.”

Dr. Destura made the testing kit with the Filipino in mind, because comparatively it is more cheaper than the imported ones, it will cost only around P1,320 per test, in contrast to the  imported foreign kit which costs around P8,500 per test.
Around 200 GenAmplify kits can be produced in a week, and enough kits are in stock now for around 6,000 tests, with more orders for around 20,000 tests already expected.

Field Testing

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already gave the green light for its field testing, the reason why Destura and his group are asking for more patience.
“Hindi puwedeng bara-bara, hindi pwedeng shortcut. Our intention is to protect the public by developing technology. Ano ba ang mga criteria na kailangang sundin? Una, sensitivity at specificity—lahat yan kailangan paulit-ulit mong gagawin,” he stresses.
The field validation testing for the kit, which will be done on selected centers representing Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Destura says it will probably take about 2 to 3 weeks to complete the needed sample size to calculate the diagnostic clinical sensibility. “Ito na yung final phase para maging commercialized version na sya,” he says.

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Report from ABS-CBN News

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