National Biotechnology Development Agency makes breakthrough in making Covid-19 test kits

NIGERIAN scientists could be on the verge of making a dramatic breakthrough in the attempt to manufacture locally-produced coronavirus testing kits after the National Biotechnology Development Agency reported that its prototype passed the first phase.


Like most developing nations, Nigeria was caught totally off-guard by the coronavirus pandemic as the nation does not manufacture any health equipment. With even industrialised nations struggling to manufacture enough testing kits, ventilators and facemasks for their own domestic use, there has been very little available for export.


This has forced countries like Nigeria to step up the local production of health equipment, with the National Biotechnology Development Agency (Nabda) in Abuja taking centre stage. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) it has validated the first phase of the viral Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) extraction of this new kit, which would enable local production en mass.


Nabda director-general Professor Alex Akpa, said that the success was important to the African continent. He added that the development shall enable Nabda to massively produce test kits so that more people would be tested for Covid-19, not only in Nigeria but across Africa.


Professor Akpa said: "The immediate aim is to produce reagents for real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and remember, recently the lack of reagents stalled work in Kano and molecular diagnosis could no longer take place. This project is, therefore, designed to enable not only Nigeria but the whole of Africa to put the issue of shortage of reagents behind us."


He added that the project was a pan-African one whose partners include Ethiopia, the NCDC and the University of Sheffield, UK, among others, with funding from African Development Bank. Dr Ndodo Nnaemeka, the chief molecular bioengineer at the NCDC's national reference laboratory, hailed the project as wonderful


Dr Nnaemeka said it was designed to solve the problem of RNA extraction kit which had become a global issue. He noted that there were serious concerns for the need to have more extraction kits in-country and that there was growing demand worldwide for them.


“The western world prioritises their own interest first by making sure that they meet their local needs before exporting to other countries, so there was really need for it. This first phase of the evaluation results carried out with the Nabda scientific team was awesome and successful," Dr Nnaemeka said.


He added that the kits compete favourably well with other international kits and in fact, scored highly in purity and in quantity of extraction. According to Dr Nnaemeka to be able to conduct tests, the viral information which comes as the RNA has to first be extracted as without this extraction, no test can be conducted.