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Coronavirus

Japan readies 30-minute saliva test for all international travelers

Shionogi to mass-produce coronavirus kits in preparation for fall

Japan seeks a coronavirus test that is easier and faster than the PCR diagnostic exam. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- Japanese pharmaceutical company Shionogi will sign a licensing agreement this month aimed at mass-producing a proposed coronavirus test that provides faster results without requiring special equipment or technicians, the company announced on Monday.

The test was developed by Nihon University professor Masayasu Kuwahara and his team. If it proves effective, Shionogi will seek approval from Japan's health ministry, hoping to commercialize the test this fall.

When Japan eases travel restrictions this summer, it will require every international arrival to take a polymerase chain reaction test. But PCR diagnostic tests can take three to five hours for results, and they require specialized equipment and staff.

The government seeks a faster alternative that can be conducted in larger volumes to prevent travel bottlenecks. A quick and easy test also could help Japan better handle a second wave of infections, seen as likely to accompany the resumption of economic activities.

The new test uses saliva samples heated at 95 C for two minutes, then placed in a reagent that changes color depending on the results in 20 to 25 minutes. It is based on the signal amplification by the ternary initiation complexes, or SATIC, method discovered by Kuwahara's team.

The test is much quicker and needs no specialized equipment because it does not require amplifying genetic material like the PCR test, those familiar with the matter say.

Regarding use of the SATIC method, Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato told lawmakers on Monday, "If it can be effective on the medical fronts, we will actively use it."

Shionogi shares were up nearly 3% from the previous close on the news in Monday afternoon trading in Tokyo.

Research into this new method has been funded by the state-backed Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development and other organizations. Nihon University and Tokyo Medical University jointly applied for a patent in May.

Japan has the capacity for up to 28,000 PCR tests a day, though fewer than 10,000 are conducted. Such limits mean that only about 250 foreign visitors are expected to be admitted daily once the country eases travel restrictions.

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