A kit will be produced at the Institut Pasteur in the capital jointly between the United Kingdom and Senegal to guarantee the availability of tests on the continent.
The race against the clock has started. The Institut Pasteur de Dakar, in partnership with the British company Mologic, has set itself the objective of bringing rapid tests to the market in June to diagnose people with Covid-19 in ten minutes. A prototype, made in the United Kingdom, is being evaluated in Senegal, Spain, China, Malaysia and Brazil.
“The tests will be readjusted based on the results. They must be effective and efficient above all , says Professor Amadou Sall, director of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, virologist and specialist in emerging diseases. When the prototype is sufficiently robust, we will produce it here to make it accessible in Africa . ”
This project is a response to the call from Doctor Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO): “ Test, test, test. Test all suspicious cases. “ The goal is to diagnose as many people infected, to isolate them and support them, and finally be able to control the transmission chain and halt the pandemic on the African continent. Already more than 11,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed there, causing the death of more than 500 people. If the WHO assured to have shipped nearly 1.5 million tests to 120 countries including Africans, it will take much more to the continent.
“As simple as a pregnancy test”
A British biotechnology company, Mologic specializes in rapid diagnostics for epidemics such as Ebola, measles, yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria. She received a grant of one million euros from the British government to work on this project in partnership with the Pasteur Institute in Dakar. ” Diagnosis is an essential weapon in the fight against this pandemic and, when ready, this test will allow an affordable, more precise and earlier diagnosis of the infection, limiting the spread of the disease, ” announced Professor Paul Davis. , co-founder and chief scientist at Mologic.
Today, two types of rapid tests are under development. One from blood samples, which wants to detect traces of antibodies signifying that the person was contaminated by Covid-19. The other from nasal swabs, which detects the virus in the respiratory tract. All this in ten minutes, compared to several hours for current molecular tests.
” It’s as easy to use as a pregnancy test ,” says Dr. Cheikh Tidiane Diagne, manager of the Senegalese platform Diatropix where the tests will be made once the prototypes have been validated. Created in December 2018, this production unit was designed to produce tests – usually inaccessible and too expensive – for the diagnosis and surveillance of neglected tropical diseases.
Between 2 and 4.5 million tests per year
These Covid-19 tests will cost less than a dollar, or ” 5 to 20 times cheaper than current molecular tests ,” said Diagne. To achieve this objective, Professor Sall explains that he relies on three levers. ” We produce according to demand to avoid losses, locally in Senegal with cheaper labor and proximity to export places and, last point, we are looking for donors and subsidies to support us “, details the professor with round glasses, dressed in his blue boubou in wax. The test will then be sold at cost based on the price of the inputs, for the time being still imported.
Professor Sall is uncompromising about the low price of the product. “ The current tests are too expensive for our health systems. And we want to make our rapid tests accessible to disadvantaged populations, with quality that meets international standards , he explains. The aim is also to decentralize screening and testing without the need for a laboratory, health infrastructure, electricity or specific skills. “
For the moment, the production capacity of the site is estimated between 2 and 4.5 million tests per year. ” We are currently thinking of increasing these capacities, ” announced Mr. Diagne of Diatropix. And this notably involves a phase of recruiting qualified and competent people, while some of the staff have already been trained at Mologic in the United Kingdom.
“ Senegal offers a remarkable history and tradition in research and development, education and in response to epidemics. The Institut Pasteur de Dakar is already producing a vaccine against yellow fever. It is even one of the four global manufacturers with prequalification by the WHO. Proof that the place has a unique set of skills that range from research to production, “said Joe Fitchett, medical director at Mologic.
This Covid-19 crisis could be an opportunity to show that ” the capacity for innovation is enormous in Africa ” and that it is essential ” to increase local production on the continent “, claims Professor Sall, proud of contribute globally to the fight against this pandemic.