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After a pause to correct what has been described as a minor problem, local biotechnology company Manila HealthTek Inc. has received the green light from the Department of Health for the commercial release of its GenAmplify coronavirus detection kit.

GenAmplify offers the so-called gold standard in testing for coronavirus disease 2019: the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test for the actual presence of SARS-coronavirus-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19. Without value-added tax, GenAmplify is priced at over P1,300. For commercial sale, with VAT, the price could go up to over P1,800. This, however, is still way below the price tags for imported RT-PCR tests, which range from about P4,000 to P6,500.

The RT-PCR is needed to validate positive results in the rapid tests for the presence of antibodies, which are now being used in offices, public facilities such as railway services, and in free drive-through testing sites.

Health experts have stressed the importance of effective, widespread testing for COVID to curb the contagion. With Manila HealthTek launching its kit as the pandemic was starting, the government resorted to importation of PCR kits from countries with products that had already been vetted by the appropriate testing agencies.

With Manila HealthTek now getting the go-signal for the commercial release of its product, however, the local company deserves the support of both the government and the private sector. GenAmplify was developed by a group of 15 scientists from the Philippine Genome Center led by Dr. Raul Destura and the University of the Philippines Manila’s National Institutes of Health.

The product, with its lower cost for the same gold standard test, deserves priority over imports. Its development should also prod both Malacañang and Congress to provide more funds for research and development to the Department of Science and Technology as well as to private biotech startups. This is one positive reform that should arise from this ruinous pandemic.