Healthcare giant Roche gives key Covid-19 test formula to government

Dr. Milly Haverkort, an infectious diseases and internal medicine specialist, demonstrates a coronavirus exam at the GGD Kennemerland. February 2020.
Dr. Milly Haverkort, an infectious diseases and internal medicine specialist, demonstrates a coronavirus exam at the GGD Kennemerland. February 2020.Ministerie VWSMinisterie VWS

Swiss pharmaceutical and diagnostics giant, Roche, has made the formula of a key coronavirus test component available to the Dutch government, the company announced on Friday. Roche said in a statement that it is aware of the “huge demand” for coronavirus tests in the Netherlands, and that it “wants to do everything in its power to support patients and caregivers.”

The component in question is known as a lysis buffer, a solution that allows scientists to break open cells and to study their contents more closely. Roche recommended the use of its own buffer in machines it produced for use in many laboratories in the Netherlands. The equipment can also be used to conduct the coronavirus tests, but the lack of availability of Roche's lysis buffer was one reason the Netherlands had been limited in conducting tests on a larger number of people.

"Roche is sharing the composition and recipe of a liquid required for corona tests with the Dutch government," the company said. It made the statement the same day that its facility in Almere was vandalized by someone who spray painted, "How many dead?" on its wall. Also a sign saying, "Fuck Roche profit" was left at the building.

“At this time, there is no shortage of Roche's lysis buffer solution,” the company said in a statement issued Friday evening. “There is also no patent protection on the lysis buffer itself. In close collaboration with the government, Roche will be searching for parties that are able to produce lysis buffer safely and reliably.”

The government is seeking to increase its Covid-19 testing capacity and has turned to the private sector in order to help bring this about. It has appointed the former head of health and sciences firm DSM to be the country's envoy for resolving many of these issues. Within days of Feike Sijbesma getting the job, Roche released the formula to the Dutch government.

For the time being, Roche says that it is in the midst of trying to make testing ingredients more and more widely available. “Our teams continue to work hard to enable hospitals and laboratories around the world to perform as many tests as possible,” the statement adds.

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