Jordan coronavirus kit ‘shows fruits of boosting research’

If successfully validated and patented, viral extraction kit could help country to be self-sufficient in testing for virus, say researchers 

May 20, 2020
Flag of Jordan
Source: iStock/sezer ozger

The development of potential alternatives to standard coronavirus testing technology by a team of scientists in Jordan shows the value to the Middle East of growing domestic research capacity, according to a leading molecular biologist from the region.

Researchers from the Jordan Society of Genetic Engineers developed the JOCOV-19 viral extraction kit, which they say could, if validated and mass produced, negate the need for the country to import other testing kits and materials.

They also claim it has the added benefit of being quicker than the standard methods for viral extraction – the process needed before actually testing for the SARS-CoV-2 – that are being used internationally.

The kit has only so far only been tested on a limited number of samples from a government laboratory and is still awaiting validation from Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration.

But Rana Dajani, president of the Society for the Advancement of Science, Technology and Innovation in the Arab World, said the project was a boost for Jordanian science and the wider region.

“This is great not only for its novelty for the world and science but especially now with a shortage of testing kits and equipment in general. There are monopolies by companies; countries are desperate [and] shipments are being hijacked,” she explained.  

“By developing this kit, Jordan, which has financial restrictions, does not have to be at the mercy of other countries but can be self-sufficient and even export to others in the region or the world,” she said.

Dr Dajani, associate professor of molecular cell biology at Jordan’s Hashemite University and currently a visiting scholar at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership, added that it also showed how developing research expertise in Jordan over many years had paid societal dividends.

“These scientists, of course, were prepared. They had spent years acquiring and keeping up with the science and had the right training, so when the right time came, they were ready,” she said.

“The graduates of genetic engineering and biotechnology programmes created a society of genetic engineering and advocated with the Ministry of Health for policies and regulations to help boost their profession. Today we see the fruits of their work.”

One of the scientists in the project, Walid Al-Zyoud, head of the biomedical engineering department at German Jordanian University, said it would help put the country’s universities on the global map in such disciplines.

“Our cost-effective and faster viral RNA extraction kit is the first in Jordan and even in the Middle East,” he said.

“This kind of manufacturing activity might provide Jordan with a nucleus to be self-dependent in the medical testing kits, especially that within this pandemic wave, there is a severe global shortage in these kinds of tools.”

However, although the project was an “excellent example of the link between academia and industry” in Jordan, researchers had still needed to partner with a company elsewhere in terms of seeking a patent and manufacturing the kit.

This showed that a developing research system such as Jordan still had a little way to go in terms of knowledge transfer, Dr Al-Zyoud said.

“Unfortunately, it seems that Jordan is still not mature enough on how to deal with such an invention step; there is no clear policy or mechanism of action on how to deal with such life-changing projects,” Dr Al-Zyoud added.

“Usually, such [a] kind of invention gets adopted by Western countries at the end. In our case, the kit has been adopted by a company from Finland,” he said.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

This article has been amended from the original to make clear that the kit is awaiting validation from the Jordan Food and Drug Administration and is a viral extraction kit rather than a full test for coronavirus.

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