In an interview, CCMB chief Rakesh Mishra talks about the Hyderabad institute’s new test kit as well as their work on a vaccine that could be ready within a year.
Hyderabad: A new Covid-19 test developed by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) can test 20,000-50,000 Covid-19 samples daily — a “breakthrough” that could significantly enhance India’s testing capacity, according to the institute’s director Rakesh Mishra.
In an interview to ThePrint, Mishra said if all goes well, the new ‘Next Generation Sequencing’ (NGS) kit will be operational in about four weeks. “It will change the game,” he said.
Presently, cities like Hyderabad and Bengaluru are conducting about 1,000-2,000 tests every day, he said. In the last 24 hours, India conducted tests on 1.08 lakh samples.
According to Mishra, the new kit will offer diagnosis through sequencing of several pieces of the virus genetic material, and lessen the chances of inaccurate testing.
India is currently testing for Covid-19 through real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) technique. “In the current method, nasal swabs are taken from a person in VTM (viral transport medium). The liquid is taken from this, RNA (ribonucleic acid) is extracted and RT-PCR test is conducted,” said Mishra.
The isolation of RNA makes RT-PCR expensive and more time-consuming. The NGS technique will do away with that, he said.
“A collection centre can collect thousand samples in one go, as more than that can be a logistical problem, and we will collect samples from 20 to 50 centres,” said the CCMB chief. The test results would come in two days and at one-third the cost but with the “same amount of efficiency”, he added.
The new testing module will also help in surveillance of Covid-19 suspects, he said. “The ‘Next Generation Sequencing’ will help in diagnosis and surveying the disease at a much faster rate,” Mishra told ThePrint.
The RT-PCR test works by sequencing and then testing with a fluorescent dye just one sample at a time. The NGS tests are done under a similar mechanism, but the difference between it and single DNA sequencing (called Sanger sequencing) is the volume. The NGS method allows for virologists and technicians to sequence hundreds of thousands of samples in parallel due to the improved design of sequencing machines, which can hold multiple samples instead of just one.
This is a ‘high-throughput’ process that saves both time and cost. Additionally, the improved machines also come with improved sensitivity and are capable of detecting the virus RNA with fewer chances of a false negative.
The project is in collaboration with Syngene, a Bengaluru-based company. The process for the kit’s approval from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India’s nodal Covid-19 testing body, is underway, said the CCMB director.
The effort has come from the Hyderabad-based primary research institute, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) centre, which has been working on enhancing Covid-19 testing in India.