Coronavirus: New rapid tests to be rolled out in NHS hospitals after government secures deal with British firm

Exclusive: Southampton-based company Primerdesign to provide 300 high-tech PCR testing devices for English hospitals

Samuel Lovett
Monday 28 September 2020 19:17
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Grant Shapps on PM's moonshot attempt: Something which doesn't exist at the moment

New rapid testing kits are set to be rolled out in hospitals across England as the government pushes ahead with its plans to deliver Covid-19 results to patients and medical staff within one hour.

Downing Street has signed a contract with the Southampton-based diagnostic firm Primerdesign for up to 300 high-tech PCR testing devices, which will be placed in NHS hospital settings from next month.

Once delivered and installed, the devices will be able to process roughly 60,000 samples a day.

One source said that the new machines “will make the difference” in hospital testing, allowing patients and staff to be quickly assessed prior to surgery or other procedures.

No 10 has ordered two different types of machine from Primerdesign – the genesig q16 platform, which is capable of running 150 tests a day, and the genesig q32, which can process around 300 tests a day.

The machines, which are expected to return results on the spot in under 90 minutes, are portable and will be operated from within hospitals, thereby removing the need for laboratory processing.

According to instruction manuals released by Primerdesign, the devices can be operated via a Mac or PC. There is no complex programming or data analysis required. DNA samples obtained via nasal swabs are placed into reaction tubes that are then processed by the machines on-site.

The sensitivity and specificity of the genesig devices in relation to Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is not known, but The Independent has been told they reach the threshold levels required for hospital testing.

The devices are still going undergoing the routine validation process which is administered to all new Covid-19 tests, with the government set to confirm the Primerdesign contract soon.

The new rapid testing kits are seen as an upgrade on existing devices that are currently being placed in hospitals across England.

Last month, the government announced that 5,000 DNA machines supplied by London-based health firm DnaNudge will provide 5.8 million tests in clinical settings over the winter period.

However, Primerdesign’s genesig models offer a better throughput rate that will enable hospitals to process a higher number of daily tests.

“They’ll make the difference because unlike the other rapid testing devices, both the Q16 and 32 have such high throughput rates,” a source told The Independent. “At almost 25x the test per day capability, all emergency admissions could be covered.”

Primerdesign, a subsidiary of Anglo-French biotechnology group Novacyt Group, was the first European medical device manufacturer to launch a detection test for Covid-19.

Under current targets, the Department for Health and Social Care aims to return tests results within 48 hours of a swab being taken by officials at regional testing sites, mobile testing sites, satellite centres or NHS facilities.

However, the government is now moving to deliver a ‘point of need’ approach in hospitals that will supplement the government’s ambitious Operation Moonshot, which plans to test 4.5 million people a day for Covid-19.

No 10 is continuing to look into other rapid testing technologies that will help to implement Moonshot, with ministers said to be in discussions with Halo, a British biotech company, to double the country’s saliva testing capacity to 500,000 tests a week.

Earlier this month, DHSC invited companies to submit proposals for the production of “circa 1.5 million swab collection kits per day”, as well as “circa 3.0 million saliva collection kits per day”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The UK government is continuing to scale up testing capacity for coronavirus, to protect the vulnerable, support our NHS, and ultimately save lives.

“This is a national effort and we are proud to be working with a number of partners on innovative solutions to increase capacity where it is needed.”

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