A home kit to test whether someone has cleared the coronavirus could be available by June to July.
The test – being produced by UK-based company Mologic – will determine whether someone had been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies to fight it. If someone has a good antibody response it would show that they are no longer infected.
There was some confusion on Wednesday when Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, said antibody tests would be available within days.
But Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, later said the tests were currently being evaluated and would only be ready when they had been rigorously tested.
Prof Whitty said the tests would “transform what we do” – doctors and nurses would know immediately whether they had had Covid-19, enabling them to get back to work sooner.
They would also know whether they had some degree of immunity to the disease.
The government has not identified the company producing the test mentioned by Prof Peacock.
Mologic said that its test would be available within about three months.
The company was awarded around £1million by the Department for International Development earlier this month to develop coronavirus tests that could be done at home and could produce results in 10 to 15 minutes. The tests will cost around £1 each and they are being aimed at people in low income countries.
Mologic’s prototype antibody test has been developed in record time and is currently being validated by researchers in Senegal, China and Brazil as well as at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and St George’s Hospital in London.
Professor Paul Davis, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Mologic, said that the antibody test would be available for use by June to July.
“This is an antibody test – it’s useful and worth having but it’s not the same as a test that will tell you whether you currently have the virus.
"Talking to my clinical colleagues it’s useful to know whether someone has had the disease and come out of the other side. If you have a good antibody response you can expect – although it’s not absolutely guaranteed – that they’re no longer infected,” he said.
Prof Davis added that “in the rush” to get a test out companies might not evaluate them properly.
He said that he had seen a test being produced by a company that had been tested on just 70 patients whereas the Mologic prototype would be tested on patients around the world.
Dr Joe Fitchett, medical director at Mologic, said it was important that companies had the ability to produce a test at scale.
“Research and development and regulatory approval is great but without manufacturing capacity to match it’s pointless. We’re working really hard behind the scenes not only to make the tests but we’re also working around the clock to scale up the manufacturing,” he said.
Prof Davis said that the test would be useful when a vaccine is produced as it would enable people to determine whether they needed to be inoculated or not.
“This test is for the long term – not just for the rest of this year. We have to assume that Covid-19 is here for the long term,” he said.
The company is also producing a rapid antigen test which will tell you whether you are currently infected with the virus and this will be ready by the end of the year, said Prof Davis.
This test will also be able to be performed at home and will give results within about 10 minutes.
Prof Davis, who developed the home pregnancy test as a researcher at Unilever, said the test would be as easy and simple to use as the home pregnancy test but would use saliva or blood rather than urine.
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