Brisbane, Australia; April 29, 2020 – Federal Minister for Health,the Hon Greg Hunt MP, and Minderoo Foundation Chairman, Dr Andrew Forrest AO,have announced the ground-breaking partnership formed between theAustralian Federal Government and Minderoo Foundation to secure an abundance ofCOVID-19 testing kits and other equipment, in a mission to eliminate COVID-19in Australia.
Global genomics leader BGI Group (BGI) has joined the initiative named“Security Through Accelerated Testing” (STAT). The STAT initiative aims to substantiallyexpand Australia’s testing capacity by an additional 54,000 tests per day, a morethan three-fold increase from the current daily COVID-19 testing capacityacross Australia.
Minderoo is Australia’s largest international philanthropic organisation andmade a generous donation to Wuhan at the height of China’s COVID-19 crisis. Withfirm support from the Australian Federal Government, Minderoo has set up theSTAT initiative and is injecting significant capital to fund the project,aiming to address the urgent need forpopulation-scale detection and diagnosis of COVID-19 across the nation. In collaboration with medical diagnostics providers Sonic Healthcare(Sonic) and Healius, and backed by the State Governments and the FederalGovernment, installation of 11 new testing labs is nearing completion after merelythree weeks. Covering Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Wollongong,and Hobart, these sites are being established to process and test samples fromall states and territories in a timely fashion. The STAT project relies on theexisting clinical pathology infrastructure provided by Sonic and Healius, andemploys a highly specialised process to rapidly detect the presence ofSARS-CoV-2 viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) in a patient’s swab sample, usingTGA-approved equipment and reagent supplies provided by BGI.
BGI believes its COVID-19 laboratorysolution is key to the successful implementation of the population testinitiative. Initially designed to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak in China, BGIdevised the Huo-Yan (“Fire-Eye”) laboratory solution comprised of the real-timeSARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR test kit, high-throughput automated sample preparationsystem MGISP-960,and the sample extraction kit. This solution has proven effective incontributing to China’s speedy recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak. Othercountries have also set up Huo-Yan labs to assist with large-scale screeningand diagnoses.
With urgent TGA approvals in place, critical BGI lab equipment hasbeen transported from China on Minderoo’s 10 chartered flights, along with ateam of experienced BGI technical specialists and engineers who hail fromvarious parts of China to provide training and technical support to the localAustralian counterparts. In an effort to bolster Australia’s COVID-19 screeningand surveillance capability as it moves towards a new phase of a broadertesting regime, BGI has committed to supplying a massive amount of RT-qPCR testkits to ensure adequate access to tests for nearly half of the Australian population.One third of these test kits have already arrived in Australia.
Huo-Yan Laboratoriesinstalled in Australia by BGI team
Minister Hunt commented that the work of the Minderoo Foundation “inhelping to secure these high quality PCR tests and equipment helps protect theAustralian public, diversifies supply lines and provides Australia with afundamental testing capacity for COVID-19”. He also said: “As we move to thenext stage of our recovery, further expanding testing capacity and caseascertainment is one of the three critical steps we can take to protectAustralians, avoid further spikes in community transmission and assist ineasing restrictions.” Ina conversation with Dr Wang Jian, Minister Huntexpressed appreciation for his work on the environment, within BGI, and for thepartnership with Minderoo in Australia allowing increased testing and tracing of the virus, and therefore allowing Australia to return toits full and best self as soon as possible.
Speakingat the press conference today with Minister Hunt and Dr Forrest, Consul-Generalof People’s Republic of China in Melbourne, Mr Zhou Long acknowledgedthe partnership to be “a major step forward between China and Australia withregard to the vital bilateral relationship, to jointly fight the COVID-19pandemic”.
"Letme on behalf of the Chinese Ambassador, and on my own behalf, express our warmcongratulations and heart felt appreciations to Minderoo and BGI for valuablecontribution in this regard," Consul Long said.
(Left to Right) Minderoo Chairman Dr AndrewForrest; Director of BGI Australia Dr Bicheng Yang; Health Minister Mr GregHunt; Decode Science Director Dr Josh Warburton
Commenting on the significance of STAT initiative, Dr Forrest said: “There are many reasons that increasing testingcapacity is so critical. It allows the Government to isolate the virus insteadof the entire population and extinguish its growth instead of our economy. STATalso protects our courageous healthcare workers on the frontline and makes sureour healthcare systems remain strong and resilient to future challenges. It providesthe confidence the Government requires to lift restrictions to rapidly expeditegetting the country back to work.” According to Dr Steve Burnell, who headsMinderoo’s COVID-19 response, in the likely event of COVID-19 resurgence, or othercontagious and lethal biologic threats, Minderoo envisages that the STATinfrastructure will help protect Australia not just from COVID-19, but will remaina valuable asset protecting Australia from other pandemics well into thefuture.
Dr Forrest also paid tribute to the Chairman and Co-founder of BGI,Dr Wang Jian, who showed great resilience and commitment to Australia inprioritising its critical supply chains between the two countries, and thanked DrWang Jian’s entire BGI crew for the huge effort to make these incredibly rarehigh-throughput machines and associated reagents available to Australia inrecord time.
Dr Wang Jian said: “Australia and Dr Forrest supported China in ourhour of need. We simply committed to doing the same, and our goal is that these labs and reagents, which provedeffective in controlling the crisis in China, will support Australia to emergefrom its outbreak with the confidence this testing capacity brings. Based onthe strength of the relationship, we were able to protect supply chains forthis extremely rare equipment, and have Dr Forrest deliver it straight toAustralia. I have been calling the ten million tests ‘the Twiggy Tests’ and Ihope they will be used to clear Australia of this virus. It is my dearest wishthat Dr Forrest’s effort, and that of the Minderoo Foundation and theAustralian Government, make Australia the first country to join China’s strongrecovery from COVID-19.”
(Left to Right) Chairman & Co-founder ofBGI Group, Dr Wang Jian, CEO of BGI Group, Dr Xu Xun, connected remotely withMinderoo Foundation Chairman, Dr Andrew Forrest, in a video discussion.
About BGI’s COVID-19 Response
BGI Group has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 inChina since the outbreak started in January 2020 and is now playing asignificant role in the worldwide response, deploying not only its BGI testsbut also its MGI laboratory platforms to automate sample preparation andpowerful sequencers to track virus mutations. BGI has announced that it hasreached a daily manufacturing capacity of 2 million reactions, and is activelyscaling up to meet the rapidly-growing global demand. BGI has manufactured over10 million tests, and performed over 600,000 SARS-CoV-2 tests in its owncentral laboratories in China and is distributing its SARS-CoV-2 detection kitsto more than 80 countries and regions around the clock.
BGI is one of the few companies in the world whose products arecertified for use in China, the European Union, the United States, Japan andAustralia. BGI's SARS-CoV-2RT-qPCR test has been approved by the US FDA (Emergency Use Authorization),European CE-IVD, Chinese NMPA, Japanese PMDA and Australian TGA.
Huo-Yan(Fire-Eye) is an emergency test lab empowered by BGI’s RT-PCR kits andautomated nucleic acid extraction systems such as MGISP-960. The Huo-YanLaboratories have now been set up in Asia, US, Europe, and the Middle East.Construction and discussions for 40 additional Huo-Yan Laboratories arecurrently underway in more than 10 countries and regions, bringing BGI’sbattle-proven experience in population-scale detection and diagnosis ofCOVID-19 to the world.
About Minderoo Foundation:
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, Minderoo Foundation is a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.