Kochi-based TCM becomes first Kerala firm to roll out RT-PCR COVID test kits

A Kochi-based chemical manufacturer has rolled out RT-PCR test kits for detecting the novel coronavirus infection. TCM Ltd is producing the test kits branded as 'Covi-DetecT' on a commercial basis based on technology developed by IIT-Delhi, the company head said.

TCM Ltd is among six companies chosen by IIT-Delhi nationwide to manufacture the much-awaited COVID test kits.

TCM Ltd Managing Director Joseph Varghese said 'Covi-DetecT' has thus become the first and the only company in Kerala to manufacture Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test kits.

Their fully equipped unit in Kinfra Biotechnology and Industrial Zone here has already reached manufacturing capacity of 10,000 test kits per day and will increase it to 50,000 test kits per day in a week's time.

"Kerala is fully dependent on supplies from other states for COVID tests, which normally take 48 to 72 hours, some time even more, to reach the state through dry ice- pack journey.

"But we will be able to deliver the Kerala-made kits within 4-5 hours anywhere across the state. COVID-19 (RT-PCR) test kits are to be kept under minus 20 degree Celsius at all times and any variation will affect the quality. Also, local labs do not need to stock the test kits in large quantities now, as they are available now in close proximity," said Varghese.

Presently, Kerala's daily COVID tests number between 40,000 and 50,000 as against a national average of over 1 million tests per day.

"The aim should be to increase the number of tests done at government laboratories and hospitals at affordable costs and maximum reachability. We are ready to sell 'Covi-DetecT' to government at near-cost price," the company MD added.

Manju Abraham, Chief Scientific Officer, TCM Healthcare Pvt Ltd, a fully-owned subsidiary of TCM Ltd, said that the RT-PCR assay developed by IIT-Delhi is by far the surest method available in India as it identifies the presence of coronavirus by analysing RNA coding for spike glycoprotein, a protein expressed on the virus surface. “The biggest advantage of our test kit is that it also checks a human gene [GAPDH] along with the viral gene in the test and thus identifies any sample insufficiency which could have occurred due to improper sample collection, sample transport or RNA isolation. The Real time PCR kits largely used currently in India are not taking care of this sample insufficiency, which leads to false negative reporting. Also, the user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) software supplied along with the kits to the labs helps the management of data including result analysis, interpretation and segregation easier and faster. Normally, it takes hours to analyse the Real-time PCR data and with this GUI, it only takes minutes, Manju Abraham added.

Mr. Benny Joseph Country Head – Sales explained that the IIT-D developed kits do not depend on imported fluorescent probes, resulting in the cost difference. Once demand from south Indian states are met, the company wants to spread the production nationwide.

TCM Ltd was originally founded by Nobel-laureate physicist C V Raman way back in 1943.

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