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Project Ark head looks at ‘innovations’ in coronavirus testing

/ 07:05 PM August 20, 2020

MANILA, Philippines—The head of Project Ark, a private sector initiative to conduct mass testing for coronavirus, is considering a push for other less expensive and quick testing methods, calling these “innovations.”

Businessman Joey Concepcion, also presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, said his group has been working with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Philippine Society of Pathologists Inc. (PSPI), Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) “and others who can help us.”

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At an online conference on Thursday (Aug. 20), Concepcion said antigen and saliva tests are being explored as alternative testing methods. He said he himself had tried to take an antigen test and it worked. In contrast with antibody tests, antigen tests try to detect foreign matter in the human body which would include viruses.

“These are all going to be what I call innovations in testing,” he said. He said many countries are now using antigen testing and Filipinos have started using it, too, “that’s why we’re going through the validation process also with the RITM.”

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“I tried antigen [testing] myself. It really works,” said Concepcion. “I think it’s another alternative especially in our tourism sector that is in great need for help,” he added. Results of antigen tests, he said, could be available in 15 to 30 minutes.

Tests using saliva as sample “is an innovation out of Israel,” Concepcion said. “We will not ignore that because the tourism sector is basically in a lot of stress [at] this point of time,” he said.

“We need quicker testing. In other words, instant testing, whereby at the airport you can get your results [right away],” he added.

Without going into specifics, Concepcion said he knew the local distributor for the saliva test. He said the distributor asked for Go Negosyo’s help, which was an advocacy launched by Concepcion in 2005.

“The local distributor here will bring some samples for testing so they requested Go Negosyo to help them go through the same process,” he said.

“I think between the antigen and the saliva tests that will enable us to create instant visibility. The moment we are able to do that, then it will be great,” he said.

Concepcion said this during the press briefing about the planned pilot pooled testing in Cebu City. Pooled testing was another testing method being pushed by Concepcion through Project Ark, a testing initiative he launched earlier this year.

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The pooled testing of 4,000 public market vendors will be done using equipment funded by BDO Foundation, Project Ark said in a statement.

A recent Project Ark-funded research recommended pooled testing to be done in pools of five.

During the briefing, Concepcion was asked how he would verify these new testing methods.

He had earlier pushed for companies to use rapid antibody test kits to screen workers who would be allowed to return to their jobs. But it was a testing method that the medical community had blamed for a spike in infections because of its tendency to be inaccurate.

Project Ark had so far ordered over a million rapid antibody test kits.

However, both the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Health have warned against using this testing method as a way detect carriers. Concepcion had again defended the use of these kits, saying the decision was the best at the time.

“First of all, it’s not a mistake. At that point in time, March 15, there was no testing. As I said earlier, the private sector had to use what it had at that point in time,” he said.

“[An] antibody test is basically spotting the antibody, not the virus. [RT-]PCR [reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction] spots the infection. It’s how you use it,” he said.

“Moving forward, we are not locked into any specific test. Each test has its own purpose. Antibody has its own purpose, PCR has its own purpose,” he said.

“So what I’m trying to get at here is we’re not closing the door into innovations that are being brought for by different countries with different scientists who are developing this technology,” he said, adding that his group will work with the DOH and doctors to be given guidance.

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TAGS: #COVID19PH, antibody, antigen, Concepcion, coronavirus Philippines, Health, pandemic, Project Ark, Quarantine, testing, workers
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