Home / News / India /  India, Israel developing covid-19 rapid testing kits: Commander Yaniv Meirman

NEW DELHI: India and Israel could soon be collaborating on mass production of some innovative tests kits to detect covid-19. The tests, including two saliva tests and a breathalyzer test, are currently being evaluated in four hospitals in New Delhi.

The USP of these tests, that began 28 July, is the speed with which results are obtained. It could mean that even one minute before boarding an aircraft, a test could tell whether a passenger is covid-19 positive or not, says Commander Yaniv Meirman from the Israeli Defense Research and Development department, one of key people involved in the project.

The idea to collaborate on the project emerged during one of three phone calls between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi who share a close rapport. So far, more than 24,000 people have been screened for covid-19 using these tests, says Meirman,

Edited excerpts from an interview.

How has the response from the Indian public been like so far? Are they excited or nervous?

I think most people are excited by the functionality of the tests, of the technology, their quick ability to have results in minutes or in some seconds. They are very impressed by this because they are standing in line for regular tests and they know how much of time it takes. And once they understand that these tests will be very rapid that they can have results in one minute or in one case in a few seconds, they are very impressed. And they have a lot of questions of where we are from, how are we doing this etc,

Which is the most popular among the tests with the people? When they sign up, do they do all the tests or only some of them?

According to ethical regulations, that we are following, in the beginning they sign a declaration allowing us to conduct all four tests. But for every case, the participant's consent is taken. But most volunteer to participate in all four technologies. It is not mandatory. We do not make anyone do things against their will.

Which is the most popular test among the people so far?

I think the most appealing test is the breathalyser test because it looks very similar to things that people already know and the product looks like what it will be in the final stages. It will look very similar in the future also. Some of the other tests they will have to use their imagination on how we are planning to do it. For example the saliva test that we use, is very similar to a pregnancy test. For now the breathalyser test, they would not need to imagine it. We know the technology going into a pregnancy test or a quick rapid test that you can find in the grocers’ pharmacy, you can test yourself at home. This is why it is more appealing for the people to go through the breathalyser test.

The gold standard test for covid-19 is the RT-PCR. The diagnostic tests that you are doing are preliminary right?

Actually they are not preliminary tests. You can call them intermediate tests because we have tested them in many places, initially in Israel and some other places in the world – some of them. But only in this place (India) we can test all four of the tests in the same place together. So they are not very preliminary.

So how many people will need to the RT-PCR test after these diagnostic tests?

First of all, part of the protocol is to have an RT-PCR test. Because it is the standard, we prepare our tests to the RT-PCR. So when a patient comes to be tested in our technology, we will also have an RT-PCR test. The only problem is that sometimes RT-PCR, which is the gold standard, its performance is not as good. But we will only know it over time. When you compare with gold standard there is 80% success or there is 90% success, it is difficult to differentiate between the 80% and 90%. But in later stages we will know it.

So if I ask you about the margin of error, if you want to quantify it, how much will it be? Between your diagnostic tests and the RT-PCR tests or even the antigen tests?

I will say that we are much better than the antigen tests but if you compare us with the RT PCR we will be better than the RT-PCR. Because we are at the R&D stage, it is difficult to say right now but we want to reach 90% and more. You have to be specific you know, not only accurate because we need to fight covid-19 not just the flu.

How do you see India as a technology partner here? You have developed these technologies, tests. So what is India’s contribution given that you have been in conversations with DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and Dr Vijay Raghavan?

We have had collaboration with DRDO and lately also with the principal scientific advisor, and I think India has excellent scientists and excellent potential. We have enjoyed the collaboration with Indian scientists. This effort to fight the coronavirus is done together. We are planning to utilise both our minds, our skills and our knowledge. We are very impressed with the technological capability of India. This is not new.

So what is it that specifically India brings to the table here?

I will give you one specific example. In the audio testing that you do, we collect data. We will have teams that will do the research to find the symptoms. Most of the technology involved is AI (artificial intelligence) so it is classified. So we are planning to do together, it’s a collaborative effort. So we are planning to share this information and will have a joint scheme to develop it. This is one example. In every criteria we have some collaboration. If you look ahead, because every technology is mass produced for the world not just for Israel and India, I think India has the infrastructure to support such an effort.

So you are looking to mass produce all the four diagnostic technologies with Indian collaboration? Is that what you are saying?

Yes, it is again one of the options that is being discussed. Of course you know, we are talking about the future. In the present, we are still in the R & D process. We go for R& D and then production. But we are looking forward to manufacturing in India and finishing the research with India. We are doing this together.

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