Implementing the Government’s Coronavirus COVID-19 Testing Strategy

Implementing the Government’s Coronavirus COVID-19 Testing Strategy

We did not start this crisis with a large diagnostics industry, so instead we are going to have to build one.

We need a national effort to build testing capacity on a massive scale

A message to businesses and industry from Lord Bethell, the health minister leading the government’s testing strategy, first published in The Times Red Box.

If the past few weeks have shown anything, it is that we are steadfast as a country in our resolve to defeat this invisible enemy.

We understand why people are yearning for the certainty that good-quality testing can provide ? do I, or have I, had the virus?

A few days ago, the government set out a plan to meet the challenge of getting to 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month.

We can first ensure that testing is available for patients who need it, then expand testing of critical NHS staff and their families, followed by testing critical key workers, and then the community as a whole.

The plan includes a national effort for diagnostics, to build mass testing capacity at a totally new scale.

We did not start this crisis with a large diagnostics industry, so instead we are going to have to build one.

Just as our top-end manufacturers have joined the national effort to build ventilators, we are delighted the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries are already responding in unprecedented fashion to our call to arms.

The pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, with Cambridge University, have set up a new testing laboratory and are providing expert advice on automation and robotics to support the government’s new national testing centres for frontline NHS workers, helping to significantly expand our testing capacity to determine whether people have the virus.

Thermo Fisher has committed to supplying the UK with testing kits and is working to scale up manufacturing at its existing UK sites. And Oxford Nanopore’s sequencing technology is being used in British labs to rapidly sequence coronavirus.

At the same time, we are working to rapidly test, develop and roll out antibody tests which can determine whether someone has developed immunity after overcoming the virus.

So far, none of the antibody tests we’ve put through the validation process have been accurate enough to be deployed safely. No test is better than a bad test and we will not put people at risk.

So we are ramping up our efforts to develop a home-grown test. To boost these efforts, organisations may be able to access a range of support from government, including accelerated regulatory approval, centralised procurement support if appropriate and in some cases development grants.

We are supporting a business consortium, including Oxford University, Abingdon Health, BBI Solutions and CIGA Healthcare, which is already working to develop a reliable antibody test as quickly as possible that can be deployed safely to the wider population.

Whether it’s universities and labs donating testing capacity, or the development of new technology to help diagnose the virus more quickly, the whole industry has a part to play to build a large British diagnostics industry at pace.

To make this easier, we have launched an online portal ? please sign up today and join this national effort.

If we bring together the best minds and the best science this country has to offer then we can defeat this invisible killer.