BIOASSETS Corp., an animal health diagnostics company, said it is building up to six mobile biocontainment laboratories in 2023 to address a gap in the market for such services in the hog industry, which is currently dealing with an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF).

The company said the mobile labs can help local government units (LGUs) surveil diseases and respond to outbreaks upon detection.

The mobile laboratory project is supported by the Department of Science and Technology’s Science for Change Program, which hopes to harness innovation in science and technology.

The lab is the first of its kind in the Philippines and can serve between 5 and 10 farms per day for diagnostic testing. It is also equipped with a biocontainment facility for handling infectious diseases.

“The mobile labs will allow LGUs to protect the livelihood of many livestock producers, be they small or large scale,” according to Homer D. Pantua, president and co-founder of BioAssets.

“Protecting their livelihoods translates to supporting food security,” he said in an e-mail.

The company is also developing a platform that can perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in 15-20 minutes, with “comparable accuracy” to the standard, real-time PCR.

“We are in talks with several LGUs who have expressed interest in the platform,” Mr. Pantua told BusinessWorld, adding that each of these labs costs about P27 million, including starter kits. “They appreciate the potential contribution of the (lab) in addressing disease outbreaks in livestock and in protecting the livelihood of their constituents.”

While the initial plan is to serve hog and poultry breeders in Bukidnon, the company hopes to eventually supply its mobile labs to all 82 provincial veterinary offices.

In a March interview, a former Agriculture department consultant on ASF said farmers need better access to confirmatory tests for the disease.

“A lot of LGUs have very limited access to the confirmatory tests,” Fermin M. Diaz said.

The scarcity of testing facilities prolongs the time to confirm a diagnosis, he added. “Tantsiyahan na lang (They end up having to guess).”

The Bureau of Animal Industry reported the presence of ASF in more than three-fourths of the country’s provinces as of April 3.

The ASF genome was published by the BioAssets team in November 2022. This information, according to Mr. Pantua, will guide diagnostics design as well as vaccine development.

The first ASF outbreak was recorded in the Philippines in July 2019. — Patricia B. Mirasol