Healthcare professionals across South Africa, and the rest of Africa, are now able to use a locally developed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) test kit.
Approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, the MD SARS-nCOV-2 Antigen Device was developed by Ashley Uys (39) of Belhar in the Western Cape.
Antigen devices (also called ‘rapid diagnostic tests’) detect protein on the surface of the virus. These tests are inexpensive and the results are known within 15 to 30 minutes.
Uys is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Medical Diagnostech, a company that specialises in developing and manufacturing high-quality rapid diagnostic test kits.
“I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biotechnology from the University of the Western Cape, in 2002, and completed my Honours degree in Biotechnology, in 2003,” says Uys.
After completing his internship at the same university, he decided to start Real World Diagnostics (RWD) in 2006. The company distributed rapid medical and drug diagnostic kits – including drug and pregnancy tests – across South Africa.
In 2010, he started Medical Diagnostech and, using money generated from his first company, was able to secure a manufacturing facility, producing diagnostic test kits for HIV, malaria, pregnancy and STIs.
“I started working on the development of the COVID-19 antigen device about 19 months ago,” he says.
Uys adds that the fact that COVID-19 test kits were previously imported from outside Africa made them more expensive and cost African governments a lot of money.
The availability of a local test, he says, presents a cost-effective solution to fighting the virus on the continent. “It also means that we are able to develop our own intellectual property and products as African scientists,” says Uys.
He adds that companies across the country have already placed orders for the device. His company is able to produce 20 million units per year.
“We are in the process of scaling-up production capacity so that we can meet demand,” he says.
Uys is grateful to the South African Medical Research Council, the Department of Science and Innovation, and the Technology Innovation Agency, which provided R2.6 million in funding.
SAMRC Executive Director for Grants Innovation and Production Development Dr Michelle Mulder says this investment has enabled the final product development steps required to deliver an approved test kit.
Medical Diagnostech has 41 employees, which includes six scientists.
Uys says the company is currently developing a home test kit and an application for smartphones to interpret test results.