Phase Scientific International (PSI), a Hong Kong medical diagnostic products maker, has automated a key Covid-19 testing process, allowing it to improve the speed and reliability of the tests. It has also entered into an exclusive partnership with a local laboratory to offer the tests at a much lower cost.
PSI said that ONCO Medical Laboratory, which last week was added to the list of laboratories recognised by the Hong Kong government for nucleic acid Covid-19 testing, will only use the company’s products for these tests.
“Through this collaboration … we are now involved in serving end users in the local market,” said Ricky Chiu Yin-to, founder and CEO of PSI.
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The biotech start-up has been selling its test kits and reagents to laboratories in India, Brazil, the US and Hong Kong. Since the firm has received funding from the Hong Kong government, the collaboration has allowed it to step up its contribution towards the local community’s effort to fight the pandemic, he added.
PSI and ONCO join a growing number of companies offering Covid-19 tests, in a bid to capture opportunities from rising demand for tests from the upcoming Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble and the government’s planned stepped-up testing initiative to meet its goal of zero new cases to facilitate reopening of the city’s border with mainland China.
A total of 19 private hospitals and laboratories are now part of the government’s recognised list, including ONCO.
The long-awaited travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore starts on November 22, with the number of people allowed to move quarantine-free in each direction initially limited to 200 per day via designated flights.
Finance chief Paul Chan Mo-po and Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee made clear their positions on the zero daily local infections target through blog posts over the weekend, as the government looks to reinvigorate the battered economy.
“High-risk” groups in Hong Kong have been required to comply with mandatory Covid-19 screening under new measures that came into effect on Sunday.
Helped by a grant of just over HK$1 million (US$129,000) from the Hong Kong government’s Innovation and Technology Bureau, PSI has designed a machine that automated the previously manually-handled RNA extraction process. It received a similar amount of funding to develop reagents used in Covid tests.
With two machines deployed at its laboratory, ONCO is capable of handling 10,000 samples per day.
PSI has patented a sample preparation methodology that Chiu claimed can improve the accuracy of its biological diagnostic tests by concentrating the target molecules tenfold.
“This gives us a competitive advantage when it comes to doing mass Covid-19 testing, where sample pooling – typically mixing 10 people’s samples – is deployed to shorten the turnaround time but which results in lower test sensitivity,” he said. “Our methodology can enhance a laboratory’s capacity without compromising on accuracy.”
PSI and ONCO will offer a 24-hour Covid test for less than HK$1,000, compared to around HK$1,500 in private clinics, Chiu said. They will also offer a six-hour service, which costs more.
Currently, four community service centres offer Covid-19 tests for HK$240, but the waiting times can be long.
Some 235,000 Covid-19 tests were conducted in September and around 274,000 in October, government data shows. A total of 3.75 million tests have been conducted so far since the outbreak.
Phase Scientific has since inception raised US$23 million from backers including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, US government agencies the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Health, and Joseph Tam, founder of Hong Kong-based test laboratory DiagCor Bioscience.
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