Public Health England is hampering the development of game-changing anti-coronavirus antibody tests by not sharing blood samples from infected patients with private laboratories, according to a leaked memo.
Scientists are rushing to develop the tests, which can confirm if anyone has ever had COVID-19 and could be immune.
The tests are considered essential to getting the UK back on its feet and could, in the short term, help thousands of NHS doctors isolate themselves to return to the front line.
This process has now started in Italy, one of the most affected countries in the world, where medical personnel are being tested to end quarantine in the country.
And the University of Cambridge has revealed that it is setting up a coronavirus test lab with the help of two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, to help the British government.
But private labs say they are paralyzed by the fact that Public Health England has not responded to multiple requests to ask patients for blood samples.
One of the complaining laboratories at the University of Oxford is said to be the laboratory responsible for the evaluation of antibody tests on behalf of Public Health England (PHE).
PHE disputes the claim that it is useless and stated that it only had access to “a very small number of positive blood samples” and that more would be available through a blood bank in the weeks to come up.
Scientists are rushing to develop the tests, which can confirm if anyone has ever had Covid-19 and could be immune – potentially bringing thousands of self-isolating NHS doctors back to the front line. (In the photo: a patient has his measured blood oxygen saturation)
In a leaked email seen by The Telegraph, Oxford University professor and government adviser Sir John Bell said he was among those who had received no help from the authorities.
“We also couldn’t get them from PHE,” he wrote on Monday. “We collect ours one recovering patient at a time. Now having 15, soon will be over thirty. No generous samples, however.
A source at PHE said that the University of Oxford has already received samples and does not need further assistance.
Dr. Yvonne Doyle, medical director of PHE, said she wanted to help “as many laboratories as possible.”
“EPS only has a very small number of positive blood samples,” said Dr. Doyle.
“It takes time for an immune response to develop; for most people infected in the UK, this will have happened in the past six weeks and their blood has therefore only matured for use as such.
“A blood bank will be developed that companies can use to validate their technology.”
Professor Karol Sikora, Chief Physician of the main cancer care provider Rutherford Health and former Director of the World Health Organization, said it was only possible to produce enough tests help from private laboratories.
This came when the government called on British companies to work together to create an antibody test that can be used anytime, according to The Times.
Ministers want local test that can show if people got the virus and recovered – something considered key if the UK wants to find a way out of the lockout.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock should ask biotech companies to work with government scientists to make a British product that prioritizes national needs rather than buying more tests overseas.
A government source said, “We have some of the best scientific brains in the world working in different fields and we want to bring people together to deliver these tests. “
The University of Cambridge has set up a coronavirus testing laboratory to help meet the government’s target of 100,000 per day.
The installation of the university’s Anne McLaren laboratory is a “joint collaboration” with pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline as part of a “national effort” to increase testing capacity.
Antibody tests were part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s “five pillars” plan to increase testing
Scientists will test and work to identify alternative chemical reagents to those currently in use, which are rare.
The government has promised to run 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, and Foreign Minister Dominic Raab yesterday stressed that “good progress” is underway.
But chief medical officer Chris Whitty seemed to admit that there had been failures in the initial response to tests in this country.
Speaking at yesterday’s TV briefing, he added: “We all know that Germany has gotten ahead in terms of its ability to test for the virus and there is much to learn from that. . “
The 100,000 goal has been compromised because there is no successful antibody test, which establishes whether people have had the disease.
These tests were part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s “five pillars” plan to increase testing.
Raab did not mean to say if it meant that the government would now focus only on carrying out 100,000 antigen tests, which show if people have the virus.
He said, “A lot of these things are in high demand, but we are doing everything we can on all fronts to get all the testing capabilities we need. But yes, the health secretary’s goal of 100,000 a day is still valid.
NHS scientists said the health secretary’s pledge to hit 100,000 people a day at the end of April was impossible due to a lack of vital test equipment.
They said there was a major shortage of reagents – chemicals that extract the genetic code from the swab virus so they can be tested.
But the new Cambridge facility aims to overcome this problem by testing other chemicals.