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Crick and Cambridge help NHS to ramp up Covid-19 testing

Announcements follow widespread concerns over the limited availability of testing for NHS staff

The Francis Crick Institute and University College London Hospitals have teamed up to develop a Covid-19 testing service amid concerns over the availability of testing for NHS staff.

The biomedical research centre announced on 2 April that it had repurposed its laboratory facilities as a testing facility to boost testing for NHS staff and patients.

“We wanted to use our facilities and expertise to help, and we are proud to be able to support NHS staff on the front line who are battling this virus,” said Paul Nurse, the director of the institute.

“Testing is an essential part of the national effort to tackle the spread of Covid-19,” he added. “We wanted to use our facilities and expertise to help support NHS staff on the front line who are battling this virus.”

The announcement comes amid widespread concern over the availability of testing across the NHS, with many healthcare workers self-isolating with suspected symptoms or because family members are ill.

In addition to performing tests at the institute, more than 100 of the institute’s scientists have volunteered to perform shifts in Public Health England’s scale up testing labs.

Meanwhile, a University of Cambridge spinout company Diagnostics for the Real World has developed a new rapid test that can diagnose the infection in under 90 minutes. The test machines called Samba 2 are now being deployed at Cambridge hospitals.

“Our goal has always been to make cutting-edge technology so simple and robust that the Samba machine can be placed literally anywhere and operated by anyone with minimum training,” said Helen Lee, CEO of the Cambridge company.

“We urgently need rapid diagnostic tests to help the NHS and Public Health England manage the coronavirus outbreak and identify those patients at risk to themselves and to others,” said businessman and philanthropist Chris Hohn, who donated US$3 million (£2.4m) to purchase the first 100 machines. “This is a game changer.”

Elsewhere, four trade bodies representing the life sciences sector—including the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Association of British HealthTech Industries, the BioIndustry Association, and the British In Vitro Diagnostic Association, have released a joint statement on the availability of testing kits for Covid-19.

The organisations describe the urgent global need for components of testing kits and facilities as “unprecedented, with every country facing challenges to ensure that supply can meet the huge demand from health services”.

“Our companies are working flat out, 24 hours a day, increasing capacity for essential materials to tackle Covid-19 and providing government and the NHS with additional diagnostics, expertise and facilities so that patients, healthcare workers and other critical workers are prioritised for testing quickly and safely,” they said.

“It’s absolutely vital for patients in the UK that we all work together to understand how we can increase testing capacity even further, build on the NHS capability and mitigate any potential shortages that could arise.”