South Korea appears to be containing an epidemic relatively earlier than other countries, Myongji Hospital Chairman Lee Wang-jun said in an interview with Aju Business Daily. "This is because fast diagnostic kits were quickly created, allowing extensive examinations of suspected patients, resulting in early detection and isolation."
The hospital in Goyang, a western satellite city of Seoul, became aware of Corona 19 by accommodating the country's third patient who tested positive on January 26. Since then, the hospital has accumulated a lot of experience. Lee, 55, serves as a member of the crisis management committee of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
The total number of infections stood at 8,963 as of March 23. Thousands of patients showing minor symptoms have been treated at state-designated "life-care centers" which serve as temporary hospitals. Lee gave a cautious prediction that the epidemic may subside in South Korea in April, although sporadic community infections can continue for a while.
"The global pandemic is not temporary," Lee said, calling for a new strategy to combine responses to previous cases such as MERS and swine flu. "Right now, we need to make a situation turnover" because applying the paradigm of MERS to COVID-19 is an error, he said.
The reorganization of medical and quarantine systems has become "inevitable," Lee said, suggesting it is most efficient for local hub hospitals to serve as regional control towers and make clear judgment, not local governments. "Only then can critical patients be cared for at hospitals and minor patients can be sent to life-care centers."
"While preparing to return to daily life after mid-April, we should map out a long-term COVID-19 response strategy looking forward to more than two years,” Lee said. He said that private and public sectors should join forces to create a virtuous ecosystem for the development and commercialization of biotechnologies.
"We need to create an ecosystem that encompasses the entire cycle of research and development, clinic and investment," Lee said, stressing hospitals should act as a platform because researchers and clinical trials are an integral part of the bio-research and development process.
Through the treatment of COVID-19 earlier than other hospitals, Myongji was able to establish a response system and develop an independent diagnostic kit through cooperation with its sister bio company, Cancerrop, which is discussing export deals with partners in China, Southeast Asia, South Africa and Europe for quick commercialization.
Cancerrop's kit is competitive because it complied with the standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the company has produced enzymes, the most expensive element to make a diagnostic kit, Lee said.
In an effort to become a platform in the bioresearch industry, Lee's hospital will join hands with a medical device company to introduce a COVID-19 AI diagnosis service. "In the long run, we will try to predict prognosis with COVID-19 medical data and PCR data," Lee said. The real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method, which amplifies a specific DNA sample, has been adopted by KCDC.
(This interview was conducted by Aju Business Daily reporter Kim Tae-rim.)
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