NIMR launches Nigeria’s first locally produced COVID-19 extraction test kits

The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research has launched the country’s first set of local Ribonucleic Acid extraction kits to help expand the nation’s capacity to test for COVID-19.

In his address at the official commissioning of the kits on Tuesday, Director-General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako explained that the local RNA kits would address the perennial problem of test kits shortage in the country and help ramp up daily testing capacity for COVID-19.

“The idea of producing the local Ribonucleic Acid extraction kits was conceived after we noticed how its scarcity was delaying tests and other backlogs of samples,” he said.

While conceding that one or two reagents needed for the production are still being imported, the NIMR boss disclosed that arrangement is in place to commence production of the chemicals on a large scale once the institute secure a market for the kits

“RNA extraction kits are needed across the globe for the continual diagnosis of COVID-19. It is only when Nigeria starts using it that we can improve on it in terms of quality standard and quantity,” he said.

Salako stated that the novel coronavirus has brought up a reawakening of sort among corporate organisations and private bodies, adding that many of them now see the need to partner with the health sector.

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“This is why I find it ridiculous that many Nigerians still don’t believe in anything locally produced in this country; just as they don’t believe in the existence of COVID-19.

“I want to use this opportunity to appeal that any local product, once proven to be effective, should be patronised instead of seeking forex to ship in imported ones,” he admonished.

When asked the economic value of the local samples of the RNA extraction kits produced, a Research Fellow in Molecular Biology & Biotechnology, Dr. Muinah Fowora told PUNCH HealthWise that scientific innovation is difficult to quantify.

She, however, disclosed that the production of each extraction kit costs NIMR about N700 in terms of chemicals, packaging and other logistics.

Explaining the role of a typical extraction kit, Fowora stressed that since COVID-19 is an RNA virus, there is a need to first extract the ribonucleic acid before the actual testing can be conducted.

She said the project that culminated in the local production of the extraction kits started in April with several trials before the actual breakthrough was recorded in May.

“We are proud to be the first institute to pioneer the research and commence local production of these kits, which we have achieved today. As you are aware, most of the ones we have been using were imported or donated to us by foreign bodies.

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Our RNA kit is cheap, safe and has proven to be accurate. We are ready to send in sample kits for people to test and validate its quality. Above all, we are hopeful that it will solve the problem of scarcity in the country,” she said.

On April 29, PUNCH HealthWise reported how foreign manufacturers of the ribonucleic acid extraction kits lamented global scarcity of the kits after the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced that it was desperately looking for the products.

Specifying the preferred brand, the NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu mentioned Total viral RNA extraction kits (preferably spin column and with a lysis buffer), and named a handful of manufacturers such as Qiagen, Thermo Fischer, SeeGene, Inqaba, and LifeRiver.

In the light of the global challenge facing the manufacture and supply of the much sought-after products, our correspondent sent an email to each of the manufacturers, two of which had replied.

The Managing Director of Inqaba Biotec West Africa Limited, Mr. Lukman Abiodun Aroworamimo, said there were challenges with the RNA extraction kits.

In terms of global logistics, Aroworamimo noted, “As almost no airline is currently flying and most borders [are closed], movement of goods between countries has become a nightmare.

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“We therefore have to rely on irregular and unpredictable flights to bring the products in.”

Aroworamimo also disclosed that there is a huge demand for the products across the world, and that manufacturers must ensure that they distribute goods fairly among all nations.

Inqaba describes itself as Africa’s Genomics Company, with offices in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania.

The International Export Administrator at the UK office of ThermoFisher Scientific, Ms. Anne Mills, also responded to our email.

“As you are aware, the situation around the world regarding the Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) continues to grow more concerning and as a result, Fisher Scientific is seeing an exponential increase in demand for specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including respirators, surgical masks, coveralls, goggles, disposable face shields, gloves etc.

“We are actively working with our key manufacturers to secure supply and prioritize shipments both into our distribution centres and directly to customers,” she said.

However on May 22, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced that it has validated an RNA extraction kit developed by a United Kingdom-based Nigerian scientist, Dr. Alison Nwokeoji.

The product was christened RNAswift Test Kit for COVID-19.

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