Unlike Traditional Systems, Our Coronavirus Tests Only Take 30 Minutes - RDIF Head
The Rossiya Segodnya international media agency, which Sputnik is part of, said on Friday it had joined the recently established business-led 'Alliance Against COVID-19' to carry out coverage of its projects.
The alliance was established on 19 March by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Yandex and the Mail.ru Group. Its purpose is to facilitate timely public testing in Russia and shield business operations from pandemic-related disruptions.
We have decided to join the alliance in order to use all our capacities and all the resources of our international agency to ensure that people get informed as quickly and reliably as possible during this difficult period and also to look for new practices to fight the coronavirus. It is our professional duty now and our common responsibility," Rossiya Segodnya Director General Dmitry Kiselev was quoted as saying by the press service.
RDIF Chief Kirill Dmitriev has welcomed the Rossiya Segodnya agency's joining the alliance and explained its goals in an interview with Reuters.
How It All Started
In January, thanks to our partners, we began to understand the coronavirus situation clearly, and have since been very focused on it. We began to study the experience of other countries in terms of their response to the coronavirus because we realized that it was a huge issue. We have studied all the existing test systems, their pros and cons, the world’s best manufacturers, and all the parameters.
There are conventional PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) systems that detect the virus with an accuracy of 100 copies, that is, actually on the first day of infection. What we have are accelerated test systems. Traditional systems produce test results in two hours, while our systems only require 30 minutes. Additionally, our testing station has a unique mobile feature. It needs half an hour to perform the test, which can be done both in the laboratory or using the mobile station. There is also a third type of tests, ELISA (the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), designed for detecting antibodies in the blood. They are cheaper, and they are produced by many manufacturers. ELISA tests do not detect the virus itself but the antibodies that are produced to fight the virus, and they start working at their best a week after the infection with an accuracy of up to 80–85%. We looked at the bid picture and saw where we could be useful.
We realized that ELISA tests are useful in case of a mass infection as they help identify who has developed immunity and who has not, but they do not produce the desired result from day one. On the other hand, there are standard PCR tests, manufactured by Vector. These are robust and efficient tests that will be the principal ones to be introduced in Russia on a mass scale. In addition to that, there are our tests, which are fast and mobile.
For example, we have already used our tests on Wednesday at Phosagro, where one person tested positive. We sent healthcare professionals with our tests there, they tested about 100 people and identified a few other infected persons. We hope we have helped to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the single-industry town. In fact, we managed to quickly understand who has contracted the infection from their circle of contacts. The same testing is currently being conducted in some other single-industry towns which our specialist team is visiting.
The tests were certified by the Russian health regulator, Roszdravnadzor, approved by Vector and validated in the United Arab Emirates and Austria. Of course, there is very strong demand for these tests both in Russia and globally.
In Russia, the demand is primarily from large corporate clients who would like to provide testing for their employees and prevent the spread of the virus in single-industry towns. The demand is also from laboratories and clinics in Moscow.
It is not yet a matter of wide-scale testing in companies. Many companies are now interested in organizing testing for their employees, and, at a minimum, this is an opportunity to quickly respond to the challenges related to identifying the contact circle of employees that have tested positive for the coronavirus.
About 500,000 tests have already been produced. Soon, we will be able to produce 2.5 million tests and more than 1,000 portable laboratories per week.
Our tests were validated by many countries, and we have confirmed the most important feature - being able to detect 100 copies of the virus in 30 minutes. We are confident that our technology is one of the most advanced in the world at the moment.
How to Test?
There is no need to conduct the testing of the entire Russian population. It is necessary to use the successful experience of countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, which managed to stop the spread of the virus better than others. This is a very positive message. There are several countries that have managed to stop the spread of the virus, and there are countries that have suffered it worst of all, such as Italy and Spain. We believe that there could also be a significant increase in the number of cases in the US due to the lack of wide-scale testing. The Russian government is very clearly focused on the population receiving accurate and clear information. Nobody is going to hide anything.
This accurate information includes the fact that this coronavirus is not dangerous and does not cause serious diseases for 80% of the population or more. However, for 20% of people, it may cause major complications. This is a large number of people, which can overwhelm hospitals. That is why the measures which are being taken by the Russian government and the Moscow administration - for example, to limit contacts with people over 65 years old and others - are very important.
Our testing system will allow conducting tests faster that in the laboratories and to use mobile laboratories. In a month, we will be ready to have a fast, mass product for wide-scale testing. We are one of the elements of the testing system in Russia.
In South Korea, 6,700 people per 1 million were tested. It is essential to test the most vulnerable categories of the population that are most exposed to the risk immediately, as well as those who have had close contact with persons who have tested positive.
In April, we will launch a joint program with Yandex and Mail.ru. If anybody wants to take the test, they will have the opportunity to order a test to be delivered at home. It will give them peace of mind and a certain degree of confidence. Therefore, there is no need for rolling out large-scale testing. We will need to proceed wisely, on a selective basis, just like it was done in other countries which have successfully combatted the virus, such as Hong Kong and South Korea.
Based on the publicly available data, we can see that in many countries the number of confirmed cases skyrockets exponentially at the beginning. Countries that are implementing active test policies and are proactive in curbing the spread of the virus demonstrate the slowdown of the exponential growth. Although we are facing a situation where a number of coronavirus cases have already been identified, we see that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin are doing their best to control the spread of the virus. We hope to see a downward trend soon, but still a lot will depend on how well the measures will work.
We believe that our test is as precise as the ones carried by state research centre Vector and officials from Vector had confirmed that. These are the most precise tests in the world. For experiment’s sake, it is possible to carry out tests several times. But for now, we believe that one test is enough.
The key differentiator for our tests related to the many other testing activities in place, including utilizing ELISA that detects antibodies one week after the infection.
We have sold the tests to Moscow at a 30-40% discount compared to our corporate customers. We did that as we recognize our social responsibility.
Our tests are five or more times cheaper compared to the European market price. We will rely on corporate customers and laboratories that are capable of conducting various tests, choose the best options for them, and they will then make a decision. Now, of course, the demand for our tests is several times higher than the supply potential in the next month.
What we are currently building with Yandex and Mail.ru is not aimed at making the tests expensive. No one is going to make money from this project. On the contrary, we are developing a programme with RUIE to encourage RUIE companies to sponsor these tests for socially vulnerable groups of the population. This will be conducted in April.
The main test available in Russia is the Vector test, so people will have an opportunity to select either the Vector test or our test, which will provide faster results. In April, we will discuss our pricing strategy with Yandex and Mail.ru. But no one is going to make money from this project because everyone understands their social responsibility.
We don’t think that there should be wide-scale testing for the entire Moscow population. We believe that many people are anxious to get their test results and that the Moscow government is equally anxious to know exactly who is infected and who is not, and this can drastically contain the spread of the infection and alleviate the burden from hospitals because as we know the overwhelmed healthcare system poses the biggest risk.
I appreciate the efforts of the people at Mayor’s Office, they have really done a great job, they focused on the task, studied the international experience, and now are very aggressively purchasing the tests. I hope they keep being as effective further on. The Fund is promoting one of the technologies that may be of high demand in the future.
We hope that this difficult situation will stop in the coming months, and we will be able to return to normal life.
We believe that we will be able to allocate as many tests as will be needed, as part of this smooth transition testing program. The focus, however, will be placed on addressing the Russian market; we are planning to supply foreign markets with no more than 30% of our products. Currently, we are implementing a joint pilot scheme in partnership with Yandex to measure how much we will need for this program and will increase the production volume if necessary, on a monthly basis. Because, of course, the demand for these tests has exceeded what was planned before.
Tests for the Recovering
We have a number of partnerships on ELISA tests, including with Asian manufacturers. We know that there are also Russian producers of ELISA tests, these tests have already been developed and are being analyzed by Vector. We also plan to invest in ELISA developers and are looking for the best partner.
In England, for example, they plan to use ELISA tests selectively to find out what percent of the population has already developed immunity to the disease. It is possible that ELISA will be used as a mass testing tool to measure the immunity of those who have recovered. This is also an important task.
Strengthening Quarantine Measures
This is a question to be answered by the state. It can take various approaches. Of course, what has happened in China and some other countries, show that some elements of quarantine can be pretty effective. I believe that in this sense, Russia is better prepared than many other countries and the Russian mobilization model in various areas will help us get through this situation better than many, if not most European countries.
Our tests were carried out on live strains of viruses, on real patients. Since they are manufactured in partnership with Japan, we began testing them during the Diamond Princess cruise ship case in Japan, as well as in other countries, such as Austria, the United Arab Emirates and several other countries. We brought the tests both to the UAE and to Austria ourselves. Our tests were first tried out on Diamond Princess passengers.
Does Your Test Work?
We have proved that our test works, we can find 100 strains of the virus. This was confirmed not only in Russia but also in Austria and in the UAE, in a large number of tests.
The Federal Service for Surveillance in Healthcare (Roszdravnadzor) wouldn't have given us permission without the relevant approval and confirmation from Vector. We have filed an application for FDA approval.
The sensitivity is 100 copies of the virus in a unit. Our tests have been validated in Russia, the UAE and Austria as the most accurate tests available. Otherwise, corporations and countries wouldn’t be ordering from us.
Risk of the Italian Scenario
The government puts every effort to prevent this from happening, the protection of health specialist is the key here. The main problem in Italy was that the medical staff did not wear protective suits. In Russia, we are taking measures to provide our medical professionals with everything they need.
These people perform the most important duty on our behalf and I hope that the measures that are being taken to protect medical personnel will allow Russia to get through the crisis, having learned from other countries experiences.
Role of Alexei Kozlov, Sibur Board Member, in Test Development
Alexey (Kozlov) and I have known each other for a long time; he has delivered a number of innovative projects. We were monitoring the system that they were developing for testing seasonal flu, that they began to study this testing technology with Japanese colleagues.
We were not excitement around this until the coronavirus hit. We then saw that the technology worked and decided to invest. This project has nothing to do with Sibur, it is Alexei's personal project on flu diagnosis.
Joint Actions in the Economy
In order to defeat the virus, joint coordinated actions of different countries are required. It is no coincidence that the G20 meeting took place via video conference on Thursday, it is no coincidence that we have made such progress regarding the virus thanks to our partners, and I believe that just as we - the Russian soldiers in league with the American soldiers - fought during World War II, now it is high time to tackle this virus together. We are now at a unique time and it is precisely the occasion to leave behind any geopolitical differences and unite efforts, because universal human values require it.
Relations With the US, Global Economy, Russia
Efforts to re-establish relations between Russia and the USA are now especially topical, and we will make a concerted effort, and hope that the USA will also understand that this is necessary on their part too. It is very important to understand that for many people the virus will have no consequences regarding their health, but this virus is going to have a huge impact on the economy. Due to all the quarantines introduced in the world, GDP will slow sharply and probably fall. The (global) debt-to-GDP ratio is now 323%, and at the time of the 2008 crisis it was only 230%; the economy is very much leveraged.
A crisis in the global economy is inevitable, and it strikes me that many people in the market are not seeing it. When there is such a large debt burden, assets will become very cheap. That is absolutely as clear that as it was in the 2007-2008 crisis in the mortgage market when many people saw that assets were improperly securitized. The same drop in value, supported by the fact that there is a break in production chains due to the quarantine, will lead to crisis in the global economy.
The Russian economy has protection mechanisms: low debt levels, which is mostly domestic and not external. The situation with the Russian ruble and devaluation is also the element of shock reduction. Recession in the global economy is inevitable, but Russia, thanks to these existing mechanisms, can pass through the crisis better than other countries.
The Russian Central Bank has shown successful experience in responding to difficult situations. The Central Bank has accumulated significant reserves, one of the largest in the world, and it has room to manoeuvre - which other countries do not have.
In the USA the interest rates are close to zero – it cannot go any lower, and as such the Fed’s room to manoeuvre is limited: when the rate reaches zero, almost nothing can be done.
Joint Efforts and Opec+
We believe that this (the impact of COVID19) will lead a crisis of the global economy which will cause a recession. The virus has become an ideal storm which will trigger this. In order to restore the economy, joint efforts from nations will be needed, to address the economy – as well as in the virus. These actions are also possible as part of the OPEC+ deal. We were great supporters of the OPEC+ deal and played a key role there, including its initiation. The deal brought over RUB10 trillion to the Russian budget and resulted in more than 25% rise in profit of the Russian companies.
It was not Russia that made a decision to increase production and exit OPEC+, but we (RDIF) believe that we can resume this deal. We are in contact with Saudi Arabia and in touch with a number of other countries. From these contacts, we can see that if the OPEC+ member circle expands and accommodates other countries, then it is conceivable that a general agreement on stabilization of crude oil markets might be achieved.
Now the priority task is mainly for other countries (non-OPEC+ members) to analyze how they would see approaches to market stabilization and probably consider the ways how they can take part in the new OPEC+ deal.
My opinion, as a person who communicates with key players is that the deal may somehow be resumed, but in doing so the involvement of other states is important.
Relations With Saudi Arabia
We have maintained good and positive relations with our Saudi partners: we agreed that the energy story is off the table and we are continuing our joint investments and joint projects. On top of that they (Saudi Arabia) will purchase some of our COVID19 tests. The thing is that each country has its own national interests.