Reason to hope: Covid-19 testing shortfall tackled by local genomics labBy Ryan Noik 22 July 2020 | Categories: feature articles
Every problem, logic demands, must have a solution, whether it is discovered or not. So is the case with the problem of testing for a rapidly proliferating viral infection during a pandemic. However, new solutions are seldom found in isolation, but emerge from collaboration, and often diverse companies working together in tandem.
That is certainly the case here, with Microsoft4Afrika, the Centre for Proteomic & Genomic Research and Thasa Technologies all part and parcel of addressing one of the thorny issues around stopping the spread of the Coronavirus.
When the Centre for Proteomic & Genomic Research (CPGR) realised that there was a testing shortfall for Covid-19 in March this year, the organisation looked to create a solution that would be suitable for rapid production and rollout in South Africa.
The CPGR has since developed a testing solution to help identify Covid-19 infections through its commercial entity, Artisan Biomed. To find the right ICT partner for this project, the CPGR turned to its long-standing technology supporter Microsoft to find a suitable match within the Microsoft partner ecosystem.
The Microsoft 4Afrika team introduced CPGR to Thasa Technologies, whose product, Chiron One Cloud Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) – with its basis in Microsoft Azure – offered a secure and scalable platform. Chiron One aggregates and distributes lab test results in a cloud-based manner, meaning that reporting of results to other labs or doctors is fast and secure.
Following implementation, Artisan Biomed has used the LIMS to connect with partner facilities, such as HamidiLab, and many hospitals across South Africa. Using Thasa Technologies, Chiron LIMS has allowed Artisan Biomed to deploy Covid-19 testing solutions in a rapid and secure fashion, across South Africa, and with potential to scale across Africa by leveraging its cloud technology.
To boost the development of scalable Covid-19 testing, Microsoft supported the pilot implementation as well as project planning and execution. The results were a successful pilot and technical validation within two weeks, followed by a rapid production rollout to support the emergency testing shortfall in the Western Cape, which has been one of South Africa’s primary hotspots for Covid-19 cases.
“The long-term relationship with Microsoft 4Afrika has been beneficial to CPGR in a number of ways. Firstly, we get access to a scalable and cost-effective cloud solution that allows the generation, analysis and storage of data in South Africa; secondly, we have derived in-kind support to pilot and test a number of technical solutions, for example in support of Covid-19 testing; thirdly, working with Microsoft 4Afrika provides access to an entire ecosystem of solutions and companies who effectively use the MS Azure cloud platform, in turn adding value to our customers and partners”, commented Judith Hornby, Managing Director, CPGR.
This is not the first time we have heard interesting things from the CPGR, in conjunction with Microsoft. Microsoft, through its 4Afrika initiative, first partnered with the CPGR in 2018, when they embarked on a joint project bringing together the intelligent cloud and genomics research to create a scalable, cost-effective technology platform to power advanced medical analysis and research. This platform is enabled by Microsoft Azure and allows African scientists to perform and collaborate on ground-breaking genomics research.
Hopefully, more solutions to the very real and all too frightening problem of this pandemic, will emerge in the weeks, months, and quite possibly, year to come. One thing is roundly agreed upon: testing is a critical component to curbing Covid-19 infections, and if we are to succeed at doing so, then collaboration - between companies and nations - is key. It’s good to know that there is progress happening locally on that front.
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