Coronavirus chief says antibody testing won’t start until late April

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The government’s coronavirus testing official says he doesn’t expect antibody testing to start before the end of April.

This means that none of the 100,000 tests a day promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock by the end of the month will be an antibody test.

Antibody tests determine if a patient has had the Covid-19 virus – and potentially show that they have immunity.

The tests currently being performed are antigenic tests – which only show if the patient is currently infected with the virus.

Developing an effective antibody test could be crucial to allow those who have had the coronavirus to return to work and work to end the national lockout.

Professor John Newton was appointed by Mr. Hancock to oversee government testing operations earlier this month.

He told a committee of MPs today: “Although the target set by the Secretary of State is not specific to different types of tests, we do not plan to do antibody tests by the end of April. “

He added, “We don’t count on antibody testing to achieve this goal. “



Covid-19 test. Image: NHS Ayrshire and Arran

The government would have struggled to find an antibody test that works reliably enough to be used by the general public.

Professor Newton continued: “There are of course antibody tests currently available, antibody tests are used to carry out epidemiological surveillance. These activities are therefore currently undertaken by Public Health England (PHE).

“Although a number of NHS laboratories are also building their capacity to undertake what is called the Eliza antibody test, it will therefore be laboratory antibody tests and these are beginning to be put in relatively small numbers. “

Professor Newton went on to say that PHE would be able to expand antibody testing fairly quickly once a reliable test becomes available.

And he said the government would seek to cancel orders and get refunds for thousands of tests purchased by the government, but which have proven to be unsuitable for their intended use.

Earlier, experts complained that the lack of blood samples from coronavirus patients was hampering efforts to validate antibody tests.

PHE currently has only a small number of positive blood samples for antibody testing to see if they work, while the Ministry of Health is trying to establish a blood bank.

Part of the problem, according to PHE, is that it takes time for an immune response to develop and that the blood of those who have suffered from Covid-19 only reaches the maturity necessary to be used in testing. antibody.

But some private labs say their efforts to validate tests that can then be used by front-line staff and the general public are hampered by the fact that PHE does not share its blood samples.

This is despite the fact that the government has called on the industry to help it expedite testing, including antibody testing, which is a way of bringing people back to their normal daily lives.

University of Oxford professor Sir John Bell, government life science advisor, said the university team was struggling to obtain PHE samples.

Oxford is leading test validation on behalf of the government and has yet to find a test that works.

But, PHE said that the University of Oxford had not been refused.

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He suggested that government departments, biotech companies and university research labs all face similar problems in the supply of positive blood samples.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced today that pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies are teaming up to deploy millions of antigen tests.

A new laboratory, to be created by AstraZeneca, GSK and the University of Cambridge, plans to run 30,000 tests per day by the end of May.

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