When the Centre for Proteomic & Genomic Research (CPGR) realised that there was an emergent testing shortfall for Covid-19 in March this year, the organisation sought to create a solution that would be suitable for rapid production and rollout in South Africa.

Through its commercial entity, Artisan Biomed, the CPGR has since developed a testing solution to help identify Covid-19 infections. The how of the testing was critically important to the team.

“When we decided to implement a Covid-19 test solution earlier this year, we wanted to implement a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) that would support the data management for it and come with a high degree of scalability, as well as ease of use,” explains Dr Lindsay Petersen, genomics manager at CPGR .

To make this a reality, the CPGR turned to long-standing technology supporter Microsoft to find a suitable match within the Microsoft partner ecosystem. The Microsoft 4Afrika team introduced CPGR to Thasa Technologies, whose product, Chiron One Cloud LIMS – with its basis in Microsoft Azure – offered a secure and scalable platform.

Chiron shipped with a pre-configured Molecular diagnostics module, which the team could use to adapt to CPGR’s requirements around Covid-19 testing. The LIMS is important because it specifically allows CPGR to make its Covid-19 test solution more broadly available by allowing the organisation to interact with a host of other organisations, and to scale the solution quickly.

Following implementation, Artisan Biomed has used the LIMS to connect with partner facilities, such as HamidiLab, and a large number of hospitals across South Africa.

Using Thasa Technologies, Chiron LIMS has allowed the company to deploy Covid-19 testing solutions in a rapid and secure fashion, across South Africa, and with potential to scale across Africa by leveraging its cloud technology.

Microsoft, through its 4Afrika initiative, first partnered with the CPGR in 2018, when they embarked on a joint project bringing together the intelligent cloud and genomics research to create a scalable, cost-effective technology platform to power advanced medical analysis and research.

This platform is enabled by Microsoft Azure – to support the data transfer, storage and processing capabilities for genomics datasets – and allows African scientists to perform and collaborate on ground-breaking genomics research.

To boost the development of scalable Covid-19 testing, Microsoft supported the pilot implementation as well as project planning and execution. The results were a successful pilot and technical validation within two weeks, followed by a rapid production rollout to support the emergency testing shortfall in the Western Cape, which is now South Africa’s primary hotspot for Covid-19 cases.

“The long-term relationship with Microsoft 4Afrika has been beneficial to CPGR in a number of ways,” says Judith Hornby, MD of CPGR. “Firstly, we get access to a scalable and cost-effective cloud solution that allows the generation, analysis and storage of data in South Africa; secondly, we have derived in-kind support to pilot and test a number of technical solutions, for example in support of stem cell typing and Covid-19 testing; thirdly, working with Microsoft 4Afrika provides access to an entire ecosystem of solutions and companies who effectively use the MS Azure cloud platform, in turn adding value to our customers and partners.”

Ryno Rijnsburger, chief technology officer at Microsoft 4Afrika, adds: “Microsoft 4Afrika regards the work that CPGR is doing as vital to expanding our understanding of complex medical issues, and we are proud to expand our partnership with them to advance the cutting-edge use of technology in healthcare in a way that will ultimately benefit countries across Africa.”