Swiss group says machines can conduct 30m virus antibody tests

Each Quotient antibody testing machine can conduct 3,000 tests a day. Quotient

A Swiss medical diagnostics company has said it is ready to ship high-capacity machines capable of more than 30m clinically accurate coronavirus antibody tests this year.

This content was published on April 8, 2020 - 11:25
Sam Jones, Financial Times

Eysins-based Quotient said its tests were ready for immediate use thanks to years of work developing a new serological screening machine, which it had intended to launch this summer. They will now be available from next week.

Over the past month Quotient has adapted the machines to test for coronavirus antibodies. Each machine can conduct 3,000 tests a day. 

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Experts say antibody testing will be a critical part of easing lockdowns around the world as countries seek to restart economies ravaged by the pandemic.

Antibody screening identifies who has already been exposed to the virus and developed immunity — a group likely to include millions of asymptomatic individuals and mild sufferers of Covid-19. 

Enormous demand

Quotient chief executive Franz Walt warned that the world was facing major shortages of the critical components needed to make the tests, amid widespread supply chain disruption and government hoarding. 

“Demand for antibody testing is going to be absolutely enormous in the next couple of months,” said Mr Walt.

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“I think we are a trailblazer here, but I really hope that more than one of us is moving on this because even we do not have the capacity to meet demand.

“There is a real shortage of supply of secondary reagents, biomarkers, specialised spare parts [for testing machines] and their components from China . . . supply chains are badly disrupted.” 

Even well-resourced companies will take months to ramp up antibody testing, he added. 

Mr Walt was the managing director of the Singapore-based Roche laboratory that developed the first diagnostic case for Sars in 2003: “I hoped I would never see a similar virus again in my life, but here we are.”

Competition

Two US companies have also said they have developed antibody tests for coronavirus, but have given no firm date as to when they will be available for use.

New Jersey-based medical technology company BD has said it will make 1m antibody tests available in the coming months.

Many governments had in recent days warned that accurate antibody testing could take weeks to develop, after several experimental antibody testing kits acquired in huge quantities by some in the early stages of the pandemic were found to be diagnostically useless.

The UK government on Monday discarded 17.5m faulty tests for Sars-CoV-2 antibodies it bought in March. 

Mr Walt said he was in discussions with health authorities in the US, the UK, Spain and Switzerland.

Quotient will sell its testing machines, called MosaiQ, at cost from next week. Each test for the novel coronavirus will then cost between $15 and $25 to conduct. The machines are mainly designed to conduct multiple simultaneous screenings, said Mr Walt. Each can screen for up to 120 different pathogens or conditions simultaneously, using special cells that have had dozens of micro-doses of custom-chosen reagents printed on them.

Mr Walt added that, based on Quotient’s capacity to manufacture the machines, it could conduct more than 30m tests this year.

Rules around medical marketing forbid Quotient from disclosing its data on the diagnostic success of its Sars-CoV-2 test, but Mr Walt pointed to the company’s recent public field trials of syphilis and HIV tests — which diagnosed 100 per cent of infections and gave a false positive in only 0.3 per cent of cases — as evidence of the system’s reliability.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020


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