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Coronavirus

No specialist needed: Fujifilm cuts coronavirus test to 75 minutes

New reagent enables automated PCR procedures

With Fujifilm's reagent, samples can be screened in just over an hour, compared with four to six hours for conventional tests.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Fujifilm Holdings has developed a chemical that makes possible automated coronavirus testing in just 75 minutes by eliminating a process performed by experienced lab technicians. 

The company plans to begin selling the reagent for polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing in Japan this month. The chemical can be used in equipment already installed at dozens of major hospitals to screen for tuberculosis. Such an automated machine can check samples for four patients in a single run. Conventional PCR tests take four to six hours.

The hope is that automation can cut down on delays as Japan expands testing as a step toward reopening its economy. PCR tests are mostly handled manually, but a shortage of the skilled technicians has led to the "personnel-related bottlenecks" acknowledged this week by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Companies are racing to develop technologies that will enable faster PCR testing. Japanese precision equipment maker Shimadzu, for example, has developed a one-hour test kit. 

Fujifilm's reagent is believed be the quickest option for fully automated screening, with a competing chemical from Roche requiring three hours or so.

Another Japanese company, Precision System Science, has developed equipment for automated PCR assays. The machines are now sold in France and elsewhere, and the company is working to make them available in Japan.

Japan has conducted 187.8 per tests per 100,000 people, compared with more than 1,000 per 100,000 in other major economies, according to a report released Monday by a government expert panel.

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