NHS trusts buy their own antibody kits from Dutch firm to test staff

NHS trusts buy their own antibody kits from Dutch firm to test staff as dental practice in north London starts using same test for customers wanting their blood screened for £99

  • Biozek Medical and its UK distributor are currently in talks with five NHS Trusts
  • Its rapid finger-prick test has already been used on hundreds of NHS workers
  • The move comes as doctors grow increasingly frustrated with ministers’ delays
  • A dentist in Kilburn is also offering the test to customers for a staggering price 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Five trusts in England are in talks with Dutch firm Biozek Medical to buy thousands of its rapid finger-prick tests which give a diagnosis in a matter of minutes

NHS trusts have resorted to buying coronavirus antibody tests overseas in a bid to get their staff back to work, after becoming increasingly frustrated with delays in obtaining kits from the Government. 

Five trusts in England are in talks with Dutch firm Biozek Medical to buy thousands of its rapid finger-prick tests which give a diagnosis in a matter of minutes.

But hundreds of the tests have already been used on NHS staff in London, Manchester and Leicester as hospitals face a surge in demand at a time when up to a fifth of the workforce are off sick. 

A dental practice in London is offering Biozek’s antibody test, which its makers claim is 96 to 98 per cent accurate, to customers who want their blood screened at a cost of £99. 

Britain lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to antibody testing, with most of Europe, the US and Asia all launching large-scale trials.

Officials claim the tests they have looked at are not accurate enough to be used, but experts say even inaccurate tests are better than none because they help paint a better picture of how many people have been infected.

The tests scour blood for antibodies, which the immune system makes once infected to combat the disease.

If someone has COVID-19-specific antibodies, it means they have some form of immunity and can return to work.  

Dr Mohamed Roshan, a GP in Leicester and a professor at De Montfort University, who works in a group of five practices, has tested around 50 of his staff.

The Biozek test was also seen advertised by the David Saitowitz Dentistry practice on a high street in Kilburn, north-west London, for £99 today

He said: ‘We have many staff off work at the moment, around 10 to 20 per cent, who may have COVID-19, and although they have been self-isolating, we need to know whether they have the acute infection or whether they have antibodies in their blood, which means they are no longer infectious, and this test allows us to check that.

‘It’s a simple fingerprick test, and the blood sample is put in a small cassette, and within 10-15 minutes, it gives a result. 

‘This speeds things up a lot, as with the swab test, they have to be sent to a lab. From what we’ve seen, it seems to be accurate, and, if so, it could be a game-changer in the current crisis.’ 

GPs in Manchester have also been carrying out testing with the kit on around 200 NHS staff. 

An antibody test is one which tests whether someone’s immune system is equipped to fight a specific disease or infection.

When someone gets infected with a virus their immune system must work out how to fight it off and produce substances called antibodies.

These are extremely specific and are usually only able to tackle one strain of one virus. They are produced in a way which makes them able to latch onto that specific virus and destroy it.

For example, if someone catches COVID-19, they will develop COVID-19 antibodies for their body to use to fight it off.

The body then stores versions of these antibodies in the immune system so that if it comes into contact with that same virus again it will be able to fight it off straight away and probably avoid someone feeling any symptoms at all.

To test for these antibodies, medics or scientists can take a fluid sample from someone – usually blood – and mix it with part of the virus to see if there is a reaction between the two.

If there is a reaction, it means someone has the antibodies and their body knows how to fight off the infection – they are immune. If there is no reaction it means they have not had it yet.  

This week doctors at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in south-west London have also started using the test to check medical and nursing staff. 

A spokesman for the London hospital said: ‘We are trialling several devices at the hospital and we don’t usually comment until we’ve taken a view on them.’ 

The Biozek test was also seen advertised by the David Saitowitz Dentistry practice in Kilburn, north-west London, for £99 today.   

Dutch health authorities started using the kits in February and over 250,000 have been sold there.

The company has supplied more than five million tests to countries including the Netherlands, Israel, India, Kuwait, Andorra and Nigeria, and is in discussions with other European countries, including France, Spain and Italy. 

It has been approved by the Dutch health authorities, and has now been approved by one of the biggest hospitals in Italy and in Portugal, Macedonia and Saudi Arabia. The Vatican has also ordered 700 test kits, says the company.

The test is CE certified (to ensure it meets EU health and safety standards for marketing) and was approved last month by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for use in the UK by health professionals. 

The company has been in the rapid testing field for ten years, and the test approvals in more than 30 countries.

Dr Mohamed Roshan, a GP in Leicester and a professor at De Montfort University, who works in a group of five practices, has tested around 50 of his staff

In the Netherlands, the ministry of defence is currently using the test to assess all of its staff.

Irin Maini, director of Dawn Pharma, the UK distributor for Biozek Medical, one of nine companies in discussions with the Department of Health, said: ‘We are in talks with five NHS Trusts so far, two in London, two in the north-west and one in the Midlands. 

‘They have all approached us and are looking to do their own deals as they are just frustrated with the time it has taken for NHS England to at least test their own staff. We have been offering free testing in Manchester and Leicester as a trial.’

However, a DHSC spokesperson said: ‘The antibody tests that have gone through validation are not accurate enough to be rolled out publicly. It is also a fact that no government in the world has yet rolled out a full antibody testing programme. 

‘We are continuing to work closely with UK and international partners to develop a reliable test as soon as possible, and rapidly scaling up the national effort to boost testing capacity, and have had an impressive response from companies coming forward.

‘The DHSC has just launched a new business consortium, the UK Rapid Test Consortium, which includes Oxford University and a range of private firms working together to design and develop a new antibody test.’

Finally, health chiefs launch mass testing scheme: 1,000 households to get antibody tests to trace how far the killer disease has already spread – and 20,000 homes will get swab tests within DAYS 

Health chiefs have finally launched a mass coronavirus antibody testing study to trace how far the killer disease has already spread in Britain.

A thousand households will have their blood samples taken every month by a nurse or trained medic, the Department of Health last night announced.

Antibodies are substances made by the immune system in response to an infection and can be picked-up by a simple finger-prick blood test.

The announcement marks a step forward after months of the Government dragging its feet on a programme which scientists say is essential to ending lockdown because it’s the only way of getting a true picture of the size of the outbreak.

Antibody testing, which has been picked up on much larger scale in other countries, forms a vital part of the Government’s ‘five-pillar’ testing strategy – but officials have so far only managed 4,900 tests and just 51 were done yesterday.

Who takes responsibility for antibody testing remains unclear, with parts being done by Public Health England and the new scheme falling to scientists at the University of Oxford working on behalf of the Department of Health.

The UK’s scheme is dwarfed by one being carried out in the Italian region of Lombardy, for example, where medics now plan to do 20,000 tests per day. 

A separate scheme in the US will involve 40,000 healthcare workers, while Andorra has ordered enough antibody kits to test its population twice. 

British officials have also begun a separate scheme to carry out regular swab tests on 25,000 people, who will be tested around 15 times a year to see whether they have the disease, so the Government can keep track of its spread. 

Swab tests can only tell if someone is currently infected. They do not look for signs of past infection, like antibody tests. 

The Department of Health revealed up to 300,000 people are expected to take part in the swab testing scheme within the first year.

A technician scanning test tubes containing live samples during the opening of the new COVID-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Wednesday 

HOW WILL THE ANTIBODY TESTING SCHEME BE CARRIED OUT? 

A thousand households will have their blood samples taken every month by a trained medic, the Department of Health last night announced.

Nurses from the private firm IQVIA will carry out the antibody tests, to reduce the burden on NHS resources and personnel. 

Antibodies are substances made by the immune system in response to an infection and can be picked-up by just a finger-prick of blood. 

Ministers have not announced which company manufactures the test – but the results will be analysed by scientists at Oxford University. 

A letter seen by the Press Association news agency says those participating in the antibody testing scheme will not receive their results. 

Britain’s scheme is dwarfed by the programme in the Italian region of Lombardy, which is screening 20,000 blood samples each day. 

A separate scheme in the US involves 40,000 healthcare workers, while Andorra has ordered enough antibody kits to test its population twice. 

Health chiefs have yet to approve an antibody test for mass use, despite promises one would be available to buy from Amazon or Boots weeks ago. 

But officials claim the home tests they have looked at are not accurate enough to be used, saying they range from between 50 and 70 per cent. 

Ministers announced plans to enrol up to 20,000 people to carry out the immunity tests earlier this month, in its ‘Pillar 4’ plan.

It is unclear when the scheme will be increased in size, or if officials have opted to carry out a smaller surveillance study. 

As well as the separate study, Public Health England has been analysing blood tests for antibodies since the beginning of April.

Officials said they were expanding the programme during April ‘so that we have the potential to test around 5,000 samples per week’.

But with just a week until May, figures show fewer than 5,000 samples – including 51 on Tuesday – have been analysed at the Porton Down lab.

Antibody testing – known as the ‘have you had it’ test – is still a controversial subject in the UK and authorities have been accused of blocking out commercial tests which could be done at home en masse because they don’t think they’re good enough.

The scheme has been slow to get off the ground because of the Government’s insistence on high standards.

The 98 per cent accuracy demanded by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is higher than the majority of tests on the market and higher than the commercial test approved in the US. 

The new testing round will be done by scientists at the University of Oxford on behalf of the Government. 

Professor Ian Jones, a virus expert at the University of Reading, said today: ‘The newly announced tests should at last address the level of virus circulation in the community and, to a lesser extent, the level of past infections.

‘The infectivity tests, the “have you got it” tests, are possible as a result of the scaled up testing facilities now operating in the Lighthouse Labs.

‘The much lower number of antibody tests, the “have you had it” tests, reflect the fact that these tests are currently much less scalable, at least with an acceptable level of accuracy.

‘Together they will give important data on how prevalent the infection is and has been. Where this has been done elsewhere the level of infection has been 20 to 50 times higher than the known positives and we must wait to see if this is also the case in the UK.’

The hope for antibody testing is that, when widespread, it can give a clearer, faster picture of the size of the country’s outbreak.

Currently, the numbers of people in hospital is the most accurate day-by-day measure but this represents only a small proportion of patients and can be out of date because it may take a week or more for someone to end up in hospital. 

The Department of Health is funding the antibody and swab-testing study, which will be done alongside the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

As well as the separate study, Public Health England has been analysing blood tests for antibodies since the beginning of April.

Officials said they were expanding the programme during April ‘so that we have the potential to test around 5,000 samples per week’.

But with just a week until May, figures show fewer than 5,000 samples – including just 51 yesterday – have been analysed at the Porton Down laboratory.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Understanding more about the rate of COVID-19 infection in the general population, and the longer-term prevalence of antibodies, is a vital part of our ongoing response to this virus.

‘This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus.

‘Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments.’ 

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