Daily Record

Scotland could miss out on coronavirus antibody test made in Midlothian unless NHS strike deal soon

Daily Record logoDaily Record 24/05/2020 05:30:00 John Ferguson
a person standing in front of a refrigerator: Scientist Letizia Velotti takes blood from a centrifuge machine © Jamie WilliamsonScientist Letizia Velotti takes blood from a centrifuge machine

Scotland is in danger of ­missing out on a Covid-19 antibody test developed in a ­laboratory just 10 miles from Holyrood.

The Scottish Government has been in talks with blood analysis firm ­Quotient over the game-changing kit, which is 99.8 per cent accurate.

However, the company in Penicuik, Midlothian, is also locked in ­negotiations with other European countries and the United States.

NHS Scotland faces losing out on one of the firm's 12 testing machines unless a deal can be struck soon.

Quotient claims its world-leading diagnostics system can deliver 3000 results which tell whether someone has had coronavirus and is unlikely to catch it again or infect others.

Antibody tests have been described as "game-changing" by Prime ­Minister Boris Johnson.

The UK Government last week announced it had bought ­10million kits from Swiss ­pharmaceutical giant Roche and US-based Abbott, which will be used south of the Border.

But while the Scottish ­Government has held talks with Quotient, officials are yet to sign a contract, despite a limited number of testing machines being available.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Quotient's chief operating officer Ed Farrell with a piece of a test kit © Jamie WilliamsonQuotient's chief operating officer Ed Farrell with a piece of a test kit

Opposition politicians ­yesterday urged Health ­Secretary Jeane Freeman to make a quick decision on whether to place an order.

It comes as 16 more ­hospital patients who tested positive for Covid-19 died, taking the total to 2261 deaths in Scotland by that measure. Official figures also confirmed 15,041 people have had the virus, an increase of 72 from Friday.

Quotient's chief operating officer Ed Farrell has said orders for the "scarce resource" are filling up fast, with talks under way in several countries.

He added: "This really is a homegrown thing for ­Scotland - the project's lead scientist has a PhD from Glasgow and almost all of our lab people graduated from Scottish universities.

"We have a base in Switzerland but we trace our roots back to 1990 when we were part of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion ­Service.

"This team would be so proud if our product was used in Scotland to help with the Covid-19 response. I have relatives working in the NHS in Edinburgh and I'd love for it to be used here. But if other people want to buy from us, we need to help them too.

"We have 12 of these instruments available at the moment and we're in ­discussions with labs in France, Spain and in the US. We've already sold to a private lab in London.

"I'd describe it as a scarce resource so we need people to move relatively quickly if they want to adopt this ­technology.

"We have another 20 on order but it'll be four months before we have them."

Quotient's kit examines blood for Covid-19 antibodies. Samples are placed into cartridges and fed through a computer loaded with

software which has the ability to process results every 24 seconds.

After an initial start-up time of around 35 minutes, one machine can deliver 3000 results a day.

So far, the only NHS Covid-19 tests available are procedures to check if someone currently has the virus.

Farrell added: "We've performed our first level of evaluation with the Scottish Government. The initial ­verbal report back was that they thought it was a very good product.

"We recognise that ­everybody is busy and this is an unprecedented crisis - we're keen not to put extra ­pressure on people. All I can say is that we're here and want to help."

The firm estimated that two machines could test everyone in Scotland within a year and can be installed within five days.

Identifying who has Covid-19 antibodies could help ease social distancing by establishing who is at least risk of catching or spreading the virus.

Farrell added: "I believe the World Health Organisation and other ­bodies will say antibodies most likely provide a level of ­immunity.

"Antibody testing will be critical for getting people back to work. It'll give them confidence to be in close proximity without being at risk of making themselves or ­others ill."

a close up of a bottle: Blood vials used in the testing process © Jamie WilliamsonBlood vials used in the testing process

Quotient's system cost more than £300million to develop and was initially made to analyse blood to ensure it was safe for ­transfusions.

Farrell's team then worked "day and night" to design the additional tools needed for Covid-19 analysis.

He was unable to say what the exact cost would be, claiming ­several payment options are under consideration.

But he added: "We want to be in a range that isn't taking ­advantage of the situation. We're planning to be competitive with the price."

The SNP's Midlothian MP Owen Thompson backed the system. He said: "I've had some ­interactions with Quotient and the fact that it has managed to develop this test is fantastic and shows the strength of ability of the science that is taking place in Scotland.

"I'm hopeful it is successful in ­getting its test taken on board in Scotland and, if it is progressing well with the Scottish ­Government, that's encouraging."

The coronavirus death toll in the UK hit 36,393 yesterday after 351 more people died. But NHS ­England's medical director Prof Stephen Powis cautioned ­people against using antibody tests being sold by some ­retailers.

Lib Dem health ­spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: "We need a comprehensive testing regime in place for both health and care staff and the general public.

"That means both testing to ­discover who has the virus now but also securing antibody tests to find out who has had it in the past. The Scottish Government must act to ensure these tests are ready and available for those who need them."

Labour's health spokeswoman Monica Lennon added: "It's ­fantastic to have Scottish ­scientists working at the ­forefront of this technology and, as Health Secretary, Jeane ­Freeman needs to decide whether we want this testing system before it is no longer available.

"In England, there is an antibody testing programme being rolled out - it's ­reasonable to ask why is the same not ­happening in ­Scotland."

Superdrug became the first High Street retailer to offer a kit priced at £69, where blood ­samples are sent to a lab. Antibodies are made by our body as it learns to fight an infection.

Having ­antibodies does not automatically mean you­ ­cannot get sick or ­harbour the virus and pass it on but the vast majority of viruses follow this pattern.

A Scottish Government ­spokeswoman said: "Health ­Protection Scotland, with key partners, is assessing antibody tests from a number of ­organisations in order to identify which will work best in Scotland.

"This work is progressing ­rapidly and we will set out our next steps on utilising antibody tests in the near future."

24. toukokuuta 2020 8:30:00 Categories: Daily Record The New York Times

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