At the press conference held on 16 July 2020 at Thailand Science Park, NSTDA and Mahidol University announced an agreement between the two parties to collaborate on research and development in tropical diseases and unveiled two recent inventions to support the fight against COVID-19. The press conference was attended by executive officers of each party, including Prof. Banchong Mahaisavariya, President of Mahidol University; Asst. Prof. Weerapong Phumratanaprapin, Dean of Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, Dr. Narong Sirilertworakul, NSTDA President; Dr. Wonnop Visessanguan, Executive Director of BIOTEC-NSTDA; and Dr. Wannee Chinsirikul, Executive Director of NANOTEC-NSTDA.
The partnership will capitalize on the strengths of each party. The Faculty of Tropical Medicine, Mahidol University, possesses expertise in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of tropical diseases, as well as operates Tropical Medicine Diagnostic Reference Laboratory (TDMR), an essential infrastructure for diagnostic research and innovation. Since the onset of COVID-19 outbreak, TDMR has served as a SARS-CoV-2 testing laboratory - certified by the Department of Medical Sciences - using a real-time RT-PCR technique. The expertise brought in by NSTDA includes the specialization in biotechnology and nanotechnology, along with resources for fundamental and translational research in health and medicine. Representing NSTDA in this collaboration are two of its research centers, namely BIOTEC and NANOTEC.
NSTDA and Mahidol University also showcased two technologies resulting from recent collaboration of the two parties: an RNA extraction kit and a COVID-19 detection kit.
Developed by the National Omics Center of NSTDA, the RNA extraction kit can extract RNA of SARS -CoV-2 from simple samples. The performance of this method has been verified with samples provided by the Faculty of Tropical Medicine and the Department of Medical Sciences and demonstrated to be as efficient as imported extraction kits, but much cheaper and can be manufactured locally. This extraction method can be applied to other pathogenic viruses infecting human, plant and animal and therefore has a wide range of applications outside the COVID-19 management.
Developed by BIOTEC-NSTDA, COVID-19 XO-AMP colorimetric detection kit is a simple one-step LAMP method to detect SARS-CoV-2. This assay has been validated in collaboration with the Faculty of Tropical Medicine. The test has a 100% specificity, 92% sensitivity and 97% accuracy. The total assay time is 75 minutes, which is twice as fast as an RT-PCR method. Because the result can be visualized with naked eyes based on color change, the test does not require an expert to interpret the results. Compared to the RT-PCR method, equipment used for this assay costs around 10,000 THB - 100 times cheaper, and the cost of reagents is 3 times cheaper. Overall, this domestically manufactured test kit is 1.5 times cheaper than the imported LAMP-based test.
These two inventions will help the country reduce imports of medical supplies and can support the active case finding strategy and a large-scale testing should there be the 2nd wave of COVID-19 outbreak.
In addition, NSTDA and the Faculty of Tropical Medicine have a number of on-going projects, including a development of a rapid diagnostic test for antigen and a negative pressure helmet with NANOTEC-NSTDA.