Immuno-Surveillance As A Solution To Sustaining The Economy

28/10/2020 08:30 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Dato’ Ts. Madani Sahari

At the time of writing, Malaysia is going through yet another wave of COVID-19 cases. While the spike in cases is controlled within a few states of Malaysia, it somewhat has reintroduced the impacts faced by Malaysians during the first surge of the coronavirus.

Schools in red zones have been ordered to close, not only pausing education of children but also disrupting workflows of parents.

Numerous shopping malls around the Klang Valley have been put on high alert due to sporadic cases among its tenants - also causing consumers to shy away from such buildings, causing disruption to sales in an economic sector that is already straining small businesses.

The state of Sabah has become its own island in the Borneo region, with recent cases rising above national averages when the coronavirus first hit the nation.

World’s first

In my numerous writings, I have addressed the notion for new technologies to enhance contact tracing, and also a new outlook on the methodology in health screening to deliver accurate and fast means of determining exposure levels of an individual to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In May, MARii and Sengenics Sdn Bhd signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the development of products, services and technology related to health management systems.

At the end of last month, MARii and Sengenics announced a breakthrough in their collaboration - the announcement of the IMMUSAFE COVID19 biochip Test kit and Tracker.

ImmuSAFE is the world’s first lab-based, multi-antigen and multi-domain COVID-19 serology test (examination of blood serum) comprising nine functionally validated domains or regions of the N and S protein of SARS-CoV-2 expressed using Sengenics’ KREX protein folding technology.

The test is fully quantitative, enabling high-throughput screening of COVID-19 samples for diagnosis of current or prior infection, as well as for quantitation and localisation of antibody binding, thereby providing a means to identify antibody correlates of ongoing protection and development of durable immunity against future SARS-CoV-2 infection. This makes it an ideal platform for applications in both COVID-19 seroprevalence studies and vaccine clinical trials.

The key breakthrough from the announcement is that the ImmuSAFE test has a sensitivity and specificity of 100% - and has been validated by the Institute of Medical Research (IMR), an agency under the Ministry of Health (MOH). Based on tests conducted on 5,000 samples during the development of ImmuSAFE, the test results can be obtained in only a few hours.

Determine levels of antibodies

With the ability to running parallel to the RT-PCR test, the ImmuSAFE test kit focuses primarily to ensure inclusive testing - which means it serves to determine if individuals can be re-included into society and return to work, instead of remaining exclusive out of the community.

The test works to determine the levels of antibodies that one has developed against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Therefore, even if someone has been historically determined to be a positive carrier, the test results provide a better picture of his/her immunity to the virus.

This "passport to work" is key as we undergo prolonged exposure to the pandemic, as economic lockdown continually evolves to become a non-option for the average Malaysian.

At the same time, MARii has developed the ImmuSAFE Tracker, an application that has intelligent contact tracing capabilities based on MARii’s readily available big data analytics and artificial intelligence platforms. This application offers the capability to track the mobility and contact tracing information of individuals, as well as employee logs, supply chain information, SOP enforcement of businesses – all the forementioned in real-time.

The application can also be integrated with more advanced tracing technology such as facial recognition and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping. The big data analytics technology would enable predictive modelling and simulations of outbreak patterns from new infection clusters.

The combination of the ImmuSAFE Test Kit and Tracker has allowed for a solution in economic immunosurveillance - in which health management is balanced against economic sustainability based on technology that provide accurate, data driven decisions for health professionals, businesses and the government.

It provides a long-term, national level understanding of events, patterns and trends with respect to the pandemic - which is important for predicting new clusters or even infection waves with a clear perspective of risks and hazards associated in any course of action taken by authorities.

In these times of new norms, we have learned that disruptions are inevitable. However, until we see a workable vaccine on the horizon, we must learn how to address and manage disruptions - as health management and the economy can no longer be a zero-sum game.

The breakthrough we have recently seen in ImmuSAFE poses a solution to balance such as need to keep Malaysians safe, while sustaining the economy.


Dato’ Madani Sahari is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)