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Coronavirus

Takara Bio to boost domestic capacity of COVID test reagents 8-fold

Japan government to support drugmaker to prevent supply disruption amid pandemic

Takara Bio will ramp up its domestic capacity to produce reagents for PCR tests to 8 million specimens a month, eight times more than the current level. (Source photos by Shihoko Nakaoka)

KYOTO -- Takara Bio will ramp up its domestic capacity to produce reagents for PCR tests to 8 million specimens a month, eight times more than the current level, as early as this summer.

The move comes as the company aims to build a stable supply of reagents for PCR tests without relying on supplies from Western reagent makers. The government will support the plan through subsidies.

Takara Bio will stop importing reagents from China as soon as it ramps up its domestic production. The entire domestic supply will come from a factory in Shiga Prefecture. It also plans to introduce state-of-the-art facilities in the factory to lower production costs to the same level as reagents produced overseas.

The company will export reagents to other Asian countries, including China. For example, there are no major test reagent producers in Southeast Asia, and therefore the countries in the region are highly dependent on supplies from Western countries.

Test reagents are used to amplify genes in collected specimens. It is believed that around 150,000 reagents are used daily for PCR tests in Japan, including those not covered by insurance. 

Globally, European and American companies have a high market share. Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche supplies reagents and PCR tests. U.S. biotechnology company Thermo Fisher Scientific is also a leading company in this field. 

In 2020, Japan had a temporary shortage of reagents for PCR tests amid the pandemic. Although concerns over the supply shortage have eased, the problem has remained of how to build a stable supply of reagents as new infection cases stay high in Western countries and COVID-19 variants have emerged in several parts of the world.

PCR tests are not only used for the diagnosis of COVID-19 but also for a wide range of infectious diseases.

Other Japanese companies have decided to ramp up production of reagents. Toyobo will double the production capacity in its facilities in Fukui Prefecture to 1 million specimens as early as this month. Shimadzu Corp. will also double production to 1.2 million specimens by the end of February, compared to the level of last fall.

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