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The new test does not require additional gene sequencing to detect the Omicron variant and significantly shortens the time taken to receive Covid-19 test results

As the world battles the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, local home-grown biotechnology firm Bioacumen Global has launched Singapore’s first Omicron-specific Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kit.

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The new Bioa Omicron Detection Kit can detect the Omicron variant specifically and can differentiate between it and other variants of the coronavirus such as the Delta variant. 

Individuals who use this test will then receive one of three results. These are Covid-19 positive and Omicron positive, Covid-19 positive and Omicron negative or Covid-19 and Omicron negative.

Currently, PCR tests here that can detect the Omicron variant need an additional gene sequencing step to confirm the specific variant. This takes an extra day to detect and wastes precious time when it comes to isolating the individual. 

This new test kit will speed up the testing process and make it easier to contain the spread of the new variant in particular. 

Right now, some PCR kits such as those being used by medical technology firm Acumen Diagnostics and biotech firm Mirxes, can detect both the Delta and Omicron strains. However, they need extra time to conduct gene sequencing.

The Bioa Omicron test is also freeze-dried, or lyophilized. This means that it does not require refrigeration like some other wet PCR test kits.

This also means that storage and transportation can be simplified. The tests can also be stored at room temperature for up to a year. 

To use this test, a swab is simply added to pre-mixed medical ingredients and the mixture is put through the PCR machine. Results will be available about 90 minutes after the swab is collected.

Bioacumen Global started making these freeze-dried kits in May and now that we have a new variant, they began testing them with artificial known sequences of the Omicron spike gene.

It took the team about two weeks to develop and they are currently able to produce up to 8,000 freeze-dried tests in a day, compared with up to 25,000 a day of the traditional wet versions.

A freeze-dried Omicron-specific kit contains 40 individual tests and costs around $14 per test while the wet version typically costs around $11 per test.

Right now, mass production of the kit has begun and hopefully, it will be able to help Singapore and the region as they attempt to control the new variant. 

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