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Tokyo firm develops test kits to detect coronavirus antigens in 15 mins

The building housing the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Clinical diagnostics firm Fujirebio Inc. announced on April 28 that it had developed test kits that can detect coronavirus antigens in about 15 minutes.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has already begun procedures to approve the kits for clinical use, and they are expected to be covered by public health insurance by the end of May at the earliest.

Tokyo-based Fujirebio says it can produce 200,000 test kits per week at its factory, and they could lead to more robust coronavirus testing in clinical environments as compared to the low number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests being conducted.

The antigen tests work in the same way as widely used flu tests. Doctors collect a sample by inserting a swab into the back of a patient's nostril, and wait about 10 to 15 minutes to see the result of the test. Doctors can see on-site if a person has the novel coronavirus, as opposed to PCR tests, which require sending the samples to facilities with special machines, plus a wait of several hours to get a result.

But some have pointed out that antigen tests are not as accurate as PCR tests. Fujirebio says that in one case, a patient with only trace amounts of novel coronavirus tested negative.

Company head Goki Ishikawa said, "We are in discussions with the health ministry and relevant academic associations, including on how to differentiate its (the antigen test's) use from PCR tests. If we can conduct more tests at a faster pace, we could use our medical resources more efficiently and effectively, and contribute to proper diagnoses."

(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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