Cheap antibody test sent for validation in coronavirus fight

Test tube with Corona virus name label is seen in this illustration taken on January 29, 2020. — Reuters pic
Test tube with Corona virus name label is seen in this illustration taken on January 29, 2020. — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 26 — A British company behind a 10-minute coronavirus antibody test, which will cost about a US$1, has begun sending prototypes to laboratories for validation, which could be a game-changer in the fight against the pandemic.

Health technology firm Mologic, which created one of the first at-home pregnancy tests, is aiming for the test to be rolled out by as early as June if the trials are successful.

Antibody tests are designed to establish whether people have previously been infected, as opposed to antigen tests which show if someone actually has the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.

Mologic said assessment and validation of its COVID-19 diagnostic test had begun this week at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and St Georges hospital, and that global partners would also examine the prototypes.

Joe Fitchett, Mologic medical director, said that while many companies were working on virus diagnostics, the aim was to create cheap, widely available tests.

“They must be made available to the vulnerable and most precious in society, in the UK or elsewhere,” he told Reuters.

“I would be really disappointed to see a good test that is shown to work to be sold on Amazon only be used by a tiny proportion of the population.”

Game-changer

Britain has bought 3.5 million antibody testing kits from different suppliers, and is currently making sure they work before distributing them.

A health official told lawmakers on Wednesday that such test kits would be available within days to be sent to households, perhaps via Amazon, saying that an unnamed prototype was being validated in Oxford this week.

But officials are cautious about the trade-off between producing something as quickly as possible and making sure that the tests work.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty later dampened expectations of quick widespread availability for the tests, saying inaccurate tests would be dangerous.

“(The) technology is quite close, and it’s being evaluated this week, but it’s not there... The one thing that’s worse than no test is a bad test,” Whitty said.

“I do not think... that this is something we’ll suddenly be ordering on the internet next week.”

Asked why Britain bought 3.5 million tests which might not work, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “If we are able to find an antibody test which works that could be a game-changer.”

“For that reason you will understand that government is doing everything that it can to seek to find a test which works,” he added.

Mologic, which is based near Bedford, north of London, said that after assessment in Britain, the prototypes would be shipped to validation partners in China, the United States, Malaysia, Spain, Brazil and Senegal.

Fitchett said his company had not received any orders from the UK government and was cautious that other tests may be ready to roll out in Britain in days.

“Where the confusion has been, it has been made to sound like it is confirmed or imminent. And for me that is very problematic,” he said. “You need to be clear about the validation requirements.” — Reuters

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