Nusanticsc completes a working prototype for a real-time polymerase chain reaction testing kit for detecting the Sars-CoV-2 virus on April 9. (Photo courtesy of East Venture)

Bio Farma to Produce Locally-Made PCR Test Kits for Covid-19

BY :THEREIS LOVE KALLA

APRIL 21, 2020

Jakarta. State-controlled pharmaceutical holding company Bio Farma is set to produce a real-time polymerase chain reaction testing kit for detecting Sars-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease, based on a prototype developed by Indonesian startup company Nusantics.

Honesti Basyir, Bio Farma's president director, said the company would receive the prototype soon and use it for mass production using the company's production facility in Bandung.

Honesti said Bio Farma is capable of producing 15,000 test kits packed in 600 boxes per day.

"We will receive the prototype soon from Indonesian startup company Nusantics," Honesti said in a statement on Monday. 

"We will mass-produce the test kit in large quantities at our existing production facilities. We'll do everything from testing to quality control, packaging and distribution," Honesti said. 

Indonesia currently relies on imported Covid-19 testing kits, limiting its capability to detect and trace the coronavirus, which has infected more than 7100 people and killed 616 in the country.

So far the Covid-19 Task Force has not been able to achieve the target of 10,000 PCR tests per day set by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. 

Established in 2019, Nusantics has been developing genomics-based tech for local skincare products.

The company secured an undisclosed amount of seed capital from venture capital East Ventures in March.

On March 30, East Ventures started the "Pasti Bisa" initiative to raise funds for Nusantics' involvement in developing the coronavirus testing kits as part of the Covid-19 Research and Technology Innovation Task Force (TFRIC19) formed by Indonesia's Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT).

Nusantics completed a working prototype for the test kit on April 9, according to a statement from East Ventures.

The prototype, called Nusantara TFRIC19, uses genomic information from the Sars-CoV-2 Asia strains for its development and validation. 

East Venture said the Pasti Bisa initiative had raised Rp 6.98 billion from around 1,300 donors by April 7 out of its target of Rp 10 billion.

The initiative would disburse Rp 5 billion to buy primers, probes and master-mixes to produce 50,000 test kits, the venture capital company said in a statement. 

Wilson Cuaca, East Venture's co-founder and managing partner, said the raw materials would arrive at the Bio Farma plant within the next two or three weeks.

"Hopefully, this will be a good start for building a sustainable, resilient Indonesian healthcare," Willson said. 

BPPT Head Hammam Riza said the institution has worked in close coordination with the Eijkman Molecular Biology Institute to gain access to the Indonesian Covid-19 RNA sample. The sample was key for validating Nusantics's test kit. 

Also, Hammam said he greatly appreciated the donation from the East Venture initiative that allowed the test kit's development to move quickly. 

"Community donations through the Pasti Bisa initiative have given us an extraordinary boost to produce our own domestically produced PCR test kit. This will definitely strengthen our ability to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic," Hammam said. 

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