Israeli firm unveils kit to diagnose coronavirus, as 2nd team works on a vaccine

Announcement of BATM kit comes as officials struggle to balance need for rapid testing and worries over false positives; science minister hails institute’s progress toward vaccine

A man gets tested for COVID-19 in Algiers, Algeria, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP/Anis Belghoul)
A man gets tested for COVID-19 in Algiers, Algeria, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP/Anis Belghoul)

An Israeli firm said Thursday it has developed a kit to test for the coronavirus, sending its stocks soaring as the world hunts for an effective way to confirm who is carrying the fast-spreading contagion.

Hod Hasharon based BATM said production on the quick diagnostic kit was underway at a facility in Rome owned by Adaltis, which manufactures various medical testing devices.

Health officials have urged the development of rapid testing devices to screen who may have the virus, as questions have arisen about current diagnostic tools’ ability to flag carriers. Health officials have also worried about overtesting and deluging health systems with false positives that will lead to public panic.

The debate over testing has taken on added urgency as the number of cases worldwide has climbed past 82,000, including over 2,800 reported deaths, with cases now present on every continent and dozens of countries.

BATM said in a statement that its test’s ability to successfully screen those carrying COVID-19 had been verified by several labs and hospitals, and that customers in several countries had expressed interest. It did not provide details.

It said the test met criteria set out by the US-based Centers of Disease Control and that it was working with European research institutions to develop “a price point suitable for large scale production.”

The company’s stock rose 16.4% on the London Stock Exchange and 9.3% in Tel Aviv’s boursa Thursday, making it one of the few winners on an otherwise brutal day on the trading floor.

Vaccine hopes

Separately, Israel’s state-funded Migal Galilee Research Institute said it had identified similarities between COVID-19 and Infectious Bronchitis Virus, which affects poultry, that could allow it to develop a vaccine to battle the deadly outbreak. It said it was working to quickly adapt its IBV vaccine for use against COVID-19.

Human trials have not yet been approved.

A lab worker at Migal in an undated photo released by the research institute. (Courtesy: Lior Journo)

“Our goal is to produce the vaccine during the next 8-10 weeks, and to achieve safety approval in 90 days,” Migal CEO David Zigdon said in a statement.

Science Minister Ofer Akunis hailed the team’s work as an “exciting breakthrough” and said he was confident there would be “further rapid progress.”

Several other firms are also racing to develop a vaccine against the virus based on older cures, with most public health officials estimating that it may take a year or more before one reaches the market, accounting for time to develop, test and produce the medicine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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