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Coronavirus: Private company rises to ‘exceptional challenge’ to double antigen testing | UK News

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The government’s early response to COVID-19 showed the “frailty” in our testing capacity, according to a private laboratory working with the NHS.

Source BioScience is one of a small number of private companies processing antigen tests for the government, letting NHS staff and patients know if they have COVID-19.

The chief operating officer at Source BioScience, Russell Wheatcroft, said he hopes the UK can learn from the pandemic and that there will be more “significant investments” in testing.

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Source BioScience is processing antigen tests for the government

Mr Wheatcroft said: “From a personal perspective I think [the testing infrastructure] does show some frailty, obviously there are businesses like ours that will capitalise to a point on some of that…

“It would be nice to see more significant investments so that, should this happen again, we’re in a better position. I do believe that we will be and that the blueprint has been written from a test perspective and a government perspective. If in hindsight we could move more quickly we’ll use these experiences.”

Source BioScience said scaling up testing at their lab has been “an exceptional challenge” and staff are working 24/7 for the first time.

Since the beginning of May they have doubled their capacity to around 1,000 tests a day and in the next four weeks they hope to be able to process up to 5,000 tests a day. They said what they have achieved in five weeks would normally take between six months to a year.

The prime minister has pledged to reach 200,000 tests a day by the end of May. When Mr Wheatcroft was asked if he would put a wager on the government target, he said he would “probably keep it to a pint, rather than a full barrel” but went on to say he thought what was an “insurmountable” target may now be achievable.

Mr Wheatcroft said: “From what we started out at here to be in a position where we are now employing 24 people and meeting a target of 1,500 tests a day, five weeks ago that was a complete pipe dream…at the end of the day [the government target is] an ambitious target, of course it is, but everybody is going to try to deliver on that.”

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The government has tested more than 1.8 million people for COVID-19 and on 17 May 100,678 tests were taken.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “We have set up the largest diagnostic testing industry in British history from scratch in a matter of weeks. We are working tirelessly to scale up capacity even further through home testing kits and regional drive-thru sites to make sure everyone who needs a test can get one.”

As well as the number of tests, scientists have argued that the time it takes to get results is vital.

Earlier this month a scientist advising the government warned that people at risk of COVID-19 need to be alerted within 24 hours for contact tracing to work. Professor Christophe Fraser, a University of Oxford epidemiologist, said the fact that coronavirus spread before people experienced symptoms made speed essential in tracing contacts.

Source BioScience is processing tests in 14 hours on average, but that doesn’t include the time it takes to get patient swabs to the lab. The company hope the process will be sped up by a solution that “deactivates” COVID-19, and makes tests easier to transport. They believe they are the first in the country to use the ‘transport medium’, which could be “revolutionary” for scaling up testing and getting results back faster.

Neil Ryan
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Neil Ryan is director of healthcare diagnostics at Source BioScience

Director of healthcare diagnostics at Source BioScience Neil Ryan said: “You need to know the result straight away because once you’ve taken that test within 12 hours your result might be different if you’ve come into contact with somebody… the transport medium takes an element of the processing out of the initial set up.

“Not only can we transport the virus at room temperature, which makes it far easier to get it in a courier up and down the motorway, it also deactivates the virus at the point the sample is put in the transport media that makes it a much safer environment for our staff handling it.”

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