First coronavirus antibody test gets Public Health England approval

14 May 2020, 00:04

The new antibody kit - Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 test - is said to be 100 per cent accurate
The new antibody kit - Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 test - is said to be 100 per cent accurate. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A coronavirus antibody test that could help relax lockdown measures has become the first to receive approval from Public Health England (PHE).

Downing Street now wants to get its hands "on as many of these as possible" according to a source reported by The Telegraph.

The tests have been developed by Swiss healthcare firm Roche and have been confirmed by experts at PHE's Porton Down facility as being one hundred per cent accurate.

It is hoped the breakthrough could help the government relax lockdown restrictions that were introduced in March to help combat the spread of coronavirus.

The Department of Health is currently negotiating with the Swiss company to buy millions of the tests, the Telegraph reported.

Roche is said to be ready to provide hundreds of thousands of the laboratory-based kits to the NHS each week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously called the acquisition of such tests as "game-changing" as they will allow Brits to get back to work.

However, recent developments for other antibody tests have provided inaccurate results and false negatives.

But PHE has supported Roche Diagnostics' claim that their new kit can identify everyone who has had the virus without inaccuracies.

Scientists agree that being able to track who has built up antibodies to Covid-19 is important in fighting the virus. If people have coronavirus antibodies then it could mean they have immunity.

However, the World Health Organisation has previously warned that there is currently "no evidence" that proves coronavirus survivors automatically develop immunity to the disease.

In March, the government bought 3.5 million serology tests from China, which measured antibody levels in blood plasma, despite the kits not definitively proving growing levels of herd immunity.

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But Professor John Newton, the government's testing chief, later admitted that they were “not good enough to be worth rolling out on a very large scale.”

Speaking about the Swiss firm's new test, Prof Newton, the national coordinator of the UK Coronavirus Testing Programme, said: "We were confident that good quality antibody tests would become available when they were needed.

"Last week, scientific experts at PHE Porton Down carried out an independent evaluation of the new Roche SARS-CoV-2 serology assay in record time, concluding that it is a highly specific assay with specificity of 100 per cent.

"This is a very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection.

"This, in turn, may indicate some immunity to future infection, although the extent to which the presence of antibodies indicates immunity remains unclear."