Roche, the Swiss pharma company, has developed what it believes is the first commercially available diagnostic test for coronavirus. It is already being used in hospitals and is highly effective, according to Thomas Schinecker, head of the company’s diagnostics division.
He said the test, developed with Tib Molbiol, a Berlin-based company that specialises in developing assays was “extremely precise”, involving multiple processes to differentiate between other coronarviruses and the current strain. While some hospitals had developed their own tests, the company’s was the first to be produced at scale, he suggested.
Earlier he had told a media briefing in Basel that the genetic sequence involved was “so related to other viruses; that is why you have to look at multiple parts of the gene to really identify the virus”. The company had a team in place constantly monitoring for signs that diseases around the world, such as the coronavirus, had mutated.
“These viruses constantly mutate so you need to make sure your test is appropriate, so we have a team that is constantly doing that and collecting all the data worldwide”, he added. Experience with SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks had shown “the diagnostic plays a hugely important role” in ensuring the right people were isolated.
“We are the ones reacting very fast”, he added, noting that Roche had donated “a lot of instruments and kits already in China” as well as to other parts of the world. However, Severin Schwan, Roche chief executive, warned that travel restrictions in place in China were affecting the company’s ability to get its testing kits where they were needed.
He said: “When it comes to diagnostic systems and tests, we still have to bring those to the point of care, to the hospitals”. Roche was working closely with the authorities “and they do find ways, but it is something we really have to focus on”, he added.