Hopes rise that Government’s 100,000 testing target WILL be hit as academics unveil equipment that can process virus samples without using labs
- Major health tech firms pledged to help Government hit 100,000 testing target
- AstraZeneca, Cambridge University and GlaxoSmithKline have joined forces for a testing facility in Cambridge to produce accurate antibody test in weeks
- US giant Thermo Fisher Scientific also promised to produce antigen testing kits
Hopes were revived last night for a mass testing programme that could pave a way out of the coronavirus lockdown.
After weeks of sluggish progress and false dawns, signs were finally emerging that testing will accelerate in the coming days.
Major health tech firms and top academics yesterday pledged to help the Government hit its ambitious target of testing 100,000 people each day by the end of the month.
In a day of major advances:
- US giant Thermo Fisher Scientific promised to produce thousands of ‘antigen’ testing kits – the type that diagnoses if someone currently has the virus;
- Academics at Imperial College London and Cambridge University each unveiled rapid testing equipment that can process virus samples without using labs;
- British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca said it will have a validated antibody test within a month that can be delivered on a mass scale by the end of May. Antibody tests tell if someone has nations such as Germany, which has tested more than 70,000 a day.
The Government had previously identified nine companies that could supply antibody tests – and said it may order as many as 17.5million kits.
The IKEA store in Gateshead, where a coronavirus testing site for NHS staff has been set up in the store’s car park, with IKEA stating: ‘We are enormously proud of the NHS’
Matt Hancock (pictured) appealed to businesses and universities to help the UK hit its 100,000 a day testing target. The call has been met by big companies and Cambridge University
But this week officials admitted none of the tests had worked. So the development of a working antibody test by a major pharmaceutical firm is a huge boost.
Experts believe that, if used widely, it could eventually allow an early lifting of social distancing measures.
Professor Paul Hunter, infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said last night: ‘If we are able to roll out a good quality antibody test and find that a substantial proportion of the population is immune, then we will also be able to relax the current restrictions knowing that the infection would not spread as rapidly.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week appealed to businesses and universities to help the country hit its 100,000-a-day testing target. Until now the UK has tested no more than 14,000 people on any single day – a far lower count than nations such as Germany, which has tested more than 70,000 a day.
A specimen sample is dropped out of a car window into a test-kit drop off bin at a drive-through testing centre at the Cardiff City stadium
Mr Hancock has set up a ‘testing taskforce’ of more than 100 companies but it was only yesterday that solid progress was made. AstraZeneca, Cambridge University and GlaxoSmithKline have joined forces for a testing facility in Cambridge.
Tom Keith-Roach, of AstraZeneca UK, said the team is now confident of delivering an accurate antibody test in the coming weeks.
He explained: ‘We are working to deliver a validated test by the beginning of May that we could then scale up by the end of the month.’
The team is also working on antigen testing – which will process 1,000 to 2,000 daily tests by mid-April and aims to ‘ramp up progressively’ to 30,000 in the first week of May. Mr Keith-Roach added: ‘I see an extraordinary kind of pulling-together, of collective effort from all of the stakeholders involved in delivering these solutions on behalf of the Government and the NHS.’
Mark Stevenson, of Thermo Fisher Scientific, said his firm could get the Government to its 100,000 antigen tests per day target.
Meanwhile, Imperial College London yesterday announced the development of a lab-free Covid-19 test which delivers results in just over an hour.
The Government has already obtained 10,000 of the DnaNudge ‘Lab-in-Cartridge’ test with a view to securing far more if it is shown to be a success.
A Government adviser last night insisted he was very confident the 100,000- a-day testing target would be hit within the next three weeks.