The government has awarded R18m to seven local companies, organisations and researchers developing test kits and reagents for SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus since it emerged in China late in 2019 has precipitated a surge in demand for test kits and reagents, and sent governments around the world scrambling to source supplies. The global shortage is one of the biggest constraints facing both state and private sector laboratories, which are now rationing tests to ensure they reach the sickest and most vulnerable patients.
SA now sources all its reagents from international companies, but increasing global demand, fluctuating exchange rates and limited transport options are affecting supply, resulting in an urgent need to source components locally, higher education science and technology minister Blade Nzimande said in a statement.
The department issued a joint call for proposals with the Medical Research Council and the Technology Innovation and has made three awards for the development of reagents and four for rapid point-of-care test kits.
The National Health Laboratory Service and private laboratories have collectively conducted more than 1.83-million Covid-19 tests since the first case was confirmed in SA on March 5.
The recipients of the awards for developing diagnostic reagents are the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); a joint initiative between CapeBio Technologies and the CSIR; and the Biopharming Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. Biopharming uses genetically modified plants to produce pharmaceutical proteins.
The awards for developing rapid test kits, which are expected to deliver results within as little as 15 minutes have been made to Medical Diagnostech; Mintek; Gnowmix; and Diagnostic Aptamer Technologies-Aminotek.
The projects are expected to produce results within six months. Both test kits and reagents will have to be approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority before they can be marketed or sold in SA.