Hong Kong Scientists Develop Technology to Detect COVID-19 and Other Viruses But Denied Funding

February 14, 2020 Updated: February 14, 2020
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The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) announced on Feb. 11 that it has developed a fully automated, rapid, multi-diagnostic system that can detect 30 to 40 pathogens involved in respiratory infections within an hour, including the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

According to a press release by PolyU, the technology consists of a fully automated machine with a multiplex full-screening panel for the point-of-care genetic testing (POCT) of respiratory infectious disease. The system can test 30 to 40 kinds of pathogens in one test within an hour, including seasonal influenza viruses (such as H1, H2 and H3 influenza A), avian flu (H5 and H7 and H9), respiratory syncytial virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS, SARS-CoV), the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and COVID-19.

The system can be operated by clinic nurses or laboratory assistants, as the operator only needs to place a patient’s specimen into the device to get the testing going.

PolyU collaborated with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 2015 to establish a respiratory virus research fund dedicated to the research and development of various innovative technologies.

The research team was led by professor Terence Lau Lok-Ting, Director of Innovation and Technology Development at PolyU. He said the cost of each test is about 200 to 300 HK dollars ($25.70 to $38.62), an expense the general public would be able to afford.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, Chairman of Infectious Diseases at HKU, played an important role in supporting the research team. He said the versatility and detection capability of the system “will provide for comprehensive monitoring during disease outbreaks or routine surveillance. It will become a crucial technology for ensuring the effective control of infectious diseases, medical diagnosis, and treatment,” according to the report.

The research team received support from Avalon Biomedical Management, a local biotechnology company, the report said. “We are honored to be able to participate in this project and are delighted to see this important milestone in the collaboration between Professor Lau and Professor Yuen. We believe this advanced point-of-care diagnostic system can revolutionize the current diagnostic paradigm and provide a powerful tool to fight against infectious diseases,” said Dr. Manson Fok, Chairman of the Board of the company, and the Dean of the University Hospital at Macau University of Science and Technology.

According to the report, the project applied for funding from the Hong Kong government’s Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) but received no support, said Fok. He expressed hope that the authorities would pay more attention to important scientific achievements, especially from the city’s “top scientists.”

The press release did not mention why the project was denied funding.