Very soon, the population will have access to a new test capable of identifying suspected cases of Covid-19 from saliva. The institution at the head of this innovation is the Center for the Study of the Human Genome and Stem Cells of the Biosciences Institute at the University of São Paulo – USP, with support of JBS and the Research Support Foundation of the State of S. Paulo (Fapesp). This is an alternative to the RT-PCR, the global benchmark test today for detecting active cases of the new coronavirus. RT-Lamp, as it is known, is now in the final phase of development.
The donations to science are part of a nationwide effort by JBS to combat Covid-19 through the “Good Deeds Are Good – Feeding the World with Solidarity” program which is injecting R$ 50 million in scientific projects and research in this area throughout Brazil. The Company’s donation is contributing to important technological progress for Brazil in the search to develop a new, simpler method of diagnosis than RT-PCR; one that is quick and which would eliminate the acquisition of more expensive imported inputs for doing the testing, or the majority of them.
The system provides for patients to collect the sample themselves in a painless and non-invasive manner by providing the saliva in a test tube. This reduces contagion risk as it will no longer be necessary to have a healthcare professional present to take nasopharyngeal swabs. Moreover, using saliva eliminates the need for cotton ear swabs for testing. The result is expected to be available within 30 to 40 minutes.
Now, the challenge for researchers is to move ahead in the test standardization phase using chemical solutions that maintain the virus stable without being affected by the action of the enzymes present in the saliva. The molecular analysis process of the RT-Lamp is similar to the PCR, but without the need to extract the ribonucleic acid (RNA, compound “cousin” of DNA) from the samples.
To avoid making the research expensive, the scientists are also heading up the production of chemical reagents in the laboratory itself so as not to depend on imported commercial enzymes. To also overcome the barrier of the lack of reagents, the project is counting on the collaboration of the USP Institute of Chemistry.
For Maria Rita Passos-Bueno, researcher at the Center of Human Genome Studies, the saliva test will cost 1/4 of the price of the RT-PCR, which is currently priced in Brazilian laboratories at between R$ 350 and R$ 400. “Simplifying the methods for collection and analysis affects the final costs of the test. This way, we can expand the benefit to the population, which will then have a more affordable and quicker option for testing”, she explains. One of the project’s objectives is to offer the test in locations where infrastructure for collection and analysis is deficient, by including the benchmark laboratories of universities to expand the testing capacity of the country.
JBS has already channeled R$ 35 million to scientific studies and research in Brazil
The Company’s donation program has already earmarked 70% of the R$ 50 million to be allocated to the field of science within the program of R$ 400 million in donations which the Company is channeling to fighting the new coronavirus in Brazil. Projects are selected by the program’s scientific committee consisting of independent specialists and its focus in on the fields of research into the new coronavirus.
All projects supported have links to universities such as USP, Unesp, UFMG, UFMS, UFPE, UFPI and UFPel; well-known research institutes like Fiocruz; healthcare entities like the São Paulo Clinics Hospital and the Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brazilian Albert Einstein (Einstein Hospital), as well as projects selected in a call from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).
“The main purpose of the program is to help save lives, and investing in science is one of the best ways to do this today while also leaving Brazil a permanent legacy”, Joanita Maestri Karoleski, manager of the “Good Deeds Are Good” program. “The advancement of science is undoubtedly one of the key achievements we can bequeath to future generations. We have already approved support for 37 studies and research programs in Brazil and we are working on selecting other projects aligned with the diagnostic of the priority requirements for different regions of the country”, she adds.
The “Good Deeds Are Good – Feeding the World with Solidarity” program of JBS has a team of 30 Team Members engaged full time in the initiative. Besides the R$ 50 million earmarked to support scientific research, another R$ 330 million are being applied in Brazil’s public healthcare system and R$ 20 million in support of social projects, amounting to R$ 400 million in donations to fight the pandemic in Brazil. The consultants Tyno, in the administration area, and Grant Thornton in auditing the donations, are supporting the program pro bono.
It is estimated that the Company’s actions will benefit 76 million people. For further information go to: jbs.com.br/fazerobemfazbem/en/.