(CNN)In the first week of January, reports emerged that a mysterious new form of pneumonia had affected dozens of people in China. Some were in a critical condition, and a number had invasive lesions on both lungs.
Thousands of miles away in Berlin, German scientist Olfert Landt was already on alert. For 30 years, he had worked on diagnosing emerging diseases, including Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). He wanted to make a test kit to help doctors diagnose the disease -- and he wanted to do it fast.
Virologists usually wait until the genetic material of a new virus is sequenced to start working on a test. This time, Landt and his 30-strong company TIB Molbiol got started early. By January 9 they had designed their first test kit using SARS and other known coronaviruses as references. Along with scientists from a local university hospital, he designed three kits, meaning once the sequence was published, they could pick the one that worked best.
Olfert Landt with his coronavirus diagnostic test kit at his production facility in Berlin, Germany, on March 6, 2020.
On January 11, Landt sent his kit to Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control and diagnostic company Roche in Hong Kong. He didn't know for certain that it would work, and he hadn't even prepared instructions.
Over the weekend, he worked up a manual and emailed it over. "We said, listen, you have six tubes without any instructions," he recalls. "Give them to the test laboratory, you can test patients with this."
In the end, the test he sent over was perfect, he said. On January 17, the World Health Organization (WHO) published Landt's protocol online, making it the first test to be shared by the organization.
Landt estimates he has manufactured four million tests by the end of February, and another 1.5 million each week since then. Each kit -- which includes 100 tests -- has sold for at least 160 euro ($173) each to clients in Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Australia, Europe, with his two adult children helping label and ..
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