A Chinese company has delivered kits for 1,000 coronavirus tests to Maryland through the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, according to Dr. Robert Gallo, the eminent virologist who leads the institute in downtown Baltimore.
“They are offering tests directly to the state,” Gallo said Monday. “They contacted us and not the [federal] government.”
The tests, approved last week for marketing and use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, arrived in Baltimore on Saturday. The company that produced them donated them. On Monday, Gallo was making arrangements for their distribution.
Maryland got the tests in part because of Gallo’s renown and the consortium of international virologists he helped establish nine years ago.
Co-discoverer of the virus that causes AIDS, Gallo is co-founder and director of the IHV and a professor in the school of medicine. In 2011, he and two other doctors established the Global Virus Network, a collaboration of experts studying viral disease around the world.
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The network now has centers and affiliates in 32 countries, including China. A GVN board member, Liqun “Henry” Huang, is a major stakeholder in BGI Genomics, one of the world’s largest genome sequencing companies and among the first Chinese companies to develop the coronavirus test. Its tests have been used hundreds of thousands of times since January.
Last Wednesday, BGI's American subsidiary reported that its coronavirus-detection kit had been approved for sale in the U.S.
"Our goal is to deploy our maximum capability to support efforts to contain the virus worldwide,” BGI CEO, Yin Ye, said in a company press release. “Our technology has been put to the test on the front lines of fighting this novel coronavirus outside the U.S. We are now bringing rapid and accurate testing capability at scale to bolster detection efforts throughout the U.S. and help more patients receive accurate diagnosis.”
According to Dr. Wuyuan Lu, assistant director of the IHV and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, the relationship between BGI and the institute has been developing for a few years.
“And since the outbreak of the [coronavirus], they realized they had some role to play in the U.S,” Lu said.
When it became clear that the early test for coronavirus in the U.S. was flawed, Lu noted, BGI sought FDA approval for its test. The company is now seeking to market the test through laboratories across the U.S, including the IHV.
BGI says it is in the process of distributing test kits to more than 50 countries.