Roche launches new test for Sars

Sars has claimed the lives of over 800 people worldwide Keystone Archive

The Swiss pharmaceutical group, Roche, has launched a test to detect Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) - after developing it in record time.

This content was published on July 18, 2003 - 10:42

Sars has killed more than 800 people and infected nearly 8,500 worldwide since it emerged in southern China last November.

Roche, the world largest diagnostics firm, said the test could be used for research but needed regulatory approval before it could be used on the public.

The Basel-based company said the test had been developed in only eight weeks, the shortest time ever for a research product at Roche.

Roche added that it had worked closely with virologists, hospitals and government agencies in Sars hotspots.

Spokesman Baschi Dürr said that although the World Health Organization (WHO) had indicated that the number of Sars cases worldwide was falling, there was still a use for the test.

“Even if the infection rate with the Sars virus is regressive, we do not know if we will have to face another outbreak in the future,” Dürr told swissinfo.

“In the meantime, researchers can use our product to answer questions about Sars which are still open, like the incubation time and how long the virus can survive outside the body,” he added.

“Questions like that are still unanswered and there’s a lot of research still to do.”

Regulatory approval needed

But Dürr declined to say how exactly the test would be used if it received worldwide approval.

Dürr also played down the potential profits from the Sars test, saying that Roche expected a “single digit million figure”. Roche said the test kits are expected to cost €19 (SFr29.4) each.

The company said the aim had been to develop the test quickly and that it had a duty to come up with the diagnostic tool because of its patented Polymerise Chain Reaction (PCR) technology.

PCR technology is an advanced method of molecular diagnostics that allows the early detection of infectious agents in the infection cycle of a disease.

The WHO announced at the beginning of July that the Sars outbreak was stabilising. Taiwan, the last country on its list of infected areas, was given the all-clear on July 5.

The highly contagious flu-like illness has spread to over 30 countries, with Asia - especially Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong - being badly affected.

Scientists worldwide have been racing to produce quick, cheap and easy tests for the deadly virus.

A German biotech company, Artus, has already developed a Sars test based on PCR technology, but there is as yet no cure for the disease.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields and Isobel Johnson

Key facts

Sars death tolls worldwide:
World: 812
Mainland China: 348
Hong Kong: 298
Taiwan: 84
Singapore: 32
Canada: 38

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