Indo-Israel rapid COVID-19 testing research to fructify in 'matter of days': Israeli envoy
New Delhi, Oct 9: A game-changer rapid COVID-19 testing technology being jointly developed by India and Israel should be ready for rollout in "a matter of days" and it will be able to give test results in less than a minute by simply requiring an individual to blow into a tube, the Israeli envoy to India has said.
Ambassador Ron Malka also said Israel would want India to become the manufacturing hub for this rapid testing kit and the two countries will also collaborate on vaccine development for this dreaded disease with India taking a key role in production given its "very strong relative advantage in manufacturing". He said the work on the rapid COVID-19 testing project is in a very advanced stage.
"I think it is a matter of days. What I hear from those involved in the process, it should not take more than 2-3 weeks to finalise that one reliable and accurate technology or a combination of more than one from amongst the four different technologies being analysed," Malka told PTI in an interview.
Indian and Israeli researchers have conducted trials after collecting a large number of samples in India for four different kinds of technologies, including a breath analyser and a voice test, that have the potential to detect COVID-19 rapidly. There is also isothermal testing that enables identification of the novel coronavirus in a saliva sample and a test using poly-amino acids that seeks to isolate proteins related to COVID-19.
Malka said he has been told by the scientists that tens of technologies were tested to short-list these four technologies, which have now gone through different stages as per different demands to reach the last stage. "I am optimistic as all threshold conditions have already been passed," he said.
The envoy said this new rapid test is going to be a game-changer and is "a shining example of how fruitful collaboration in science and technology between Israel and India can be." "It will be good news for the entire world. Until we manage to immunise the entire population, this joint operation, which we had named 'open skies', would literally open the skies in terms of international travel and other economic activities as this can be used at airports and other places by requiring a person just to blow into a tube and the result would be available in 30-40-50 seconds," he said.
In addition, this will be very cheap cost-wise as it gives the result locally without the logistical baggage of sending the sample to laboratories, Malka said.
Asked about collaboration on vaccine development, Malka said the two countries were always sharing research and technologies. Noting that India has a "very strong relative advantage in manufacturing", Malka said once the vaccine is ready, Israel is hopeful to get the advantage of that. "We are helping and supporting each other," he added.
"We understand that once there is a reliable vaccine that is safe and effective, it will be mostly produced in India," Malka said. Israel understands that when India will manufacture a vaccine, it will also take into consideration the needs of Israel, he added. The Israeli Ambassador also thanked authorities in India for the help and assistance they provided after the virus outbreak to evacuate thousands of Israelis stranded all over India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke to each other recently on the collaboration in combating the pandemic, he noted.
During their telephonic conversation earlier this month the two leaders had assessed the progress in bilateral cooperation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the fields of research, field trials of diagnostic tools and vaccine development. They agreed on the importance of close cooperation in these important areas not only for the benefit of the people of the two countries but also for the greater good of humanity. Malka said healthcare has become an immediate priority area of collaboration between India and Israel due to the pandemic.
Asserting that healthcare will be one of the main pillars of collaboration between Israel and India going forward, Malka said he has also been working closely with Ayushman Bharat CEO Indu Bhushan to explore ways to collaborate on the mission. Malka said Israel has always focussed on multi-use technologies and in the case of healthcare also it has been using some technologies used in security areas. He said India was the obvious choice for collaboration when Israel's defence research organisation decided to focus on rapid COVID-19 testing technology.
The rapid testing is being jointly developed in cooperation with the Defense Research and Development Directorate of the Israeli Ministry of Defence, India's Defence Research and Development Organisation, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Principal Scientific Advisor, India -- coordinated by the ministries of foreign affairs of Israel and India.
The samples were collected when a multi-pronged mission from Israel visited India to cooperate on COVID-19 research and development around July-end and early August.
"The joint research (on rapid testing) is a very successful operation. It was something remarkable to analyse 25,000 samples in nine days. It shows the great potential of the collaboration, expanding the mutual commitment, chemistry and trust between the two countries. Otherwise, we could not have succeeded in such a challenging operation," Malka said.
If good results are obtained on rapid testing, the manufacturing hub for such COVID test kits would be India, he said. He said that the special plane on which the Israeli research team had visited India had also brought advanced medical equipment developed especially for fighting COVID-19 in Israel. Malka said he personally collected the useful equipment from leading hospitals in Israel and brought them with him on board the special plane. "We also brought respirators at that time, though there was an export ban on them," the Israeli envoy said.