New Covid-19 testing lab to be set up at Cambridge University

A new coronavirus testing laboratory is to be set up at Cambridge Universitybut may not be fully operational until May - after the Government's end of April target for achieving 100,000 Covid-19 tests per day.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pledged the target as part of a five-partstrategy to increase testing across the country.

Cambridge University is collaborating with pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline on a new facility which aims to process 30,000 tests per day at the university's Anne McLaren Laboratory.

The new facility will be at the university's Anne McLaren Laboratory

But the university's Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Toope, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the facility aims to be "fully up and running" by the beginning of May, after the Government's April target.

"We have a goal of, by the beginning of May, early May, having a facilitythat's fully up and running and would be able to process roughly 30,000 tests a day," said Prof Toope. "That would go a long way towards meeting the Government's target of 100,000 a day."

  • Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca says the challenge is to bring tests to a "big scale":

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca Credit: PA Images

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, told the programme that the company typically carries out PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests "very regularly".

"The challenge here is to bring this to a big scale and achieve 30,000 testsper day," he said. "We believe we will start testing by mid-April and be atscale indeed with 30,000 tests per day by early May."

He said the lab would start with 1,000 to 2,000 tests per day by mid-April and "ramp up progressively" to 30,000 tests in the first week of May.

Messages of support for key workers on a pavement in Cambridge, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Credit: PA Images

Health Minister Edward Argar told the programme: "They will be ramping up very rapidly during this time so although they may not reach their lab maximum capacity by the end of this month, they will be making a significant contribution to that overall total of 100,000 tests per day."

He said the Health Secretary is "determined that we are going to meet thattarget", adding "he knows how important it is, he's committed to it, as is thewhole government".

In a joint statement, posted on the university's website, the university,AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline said: "This facility will be used for highthroughput screening for Covid-19 testing and to explore the use of alternative chemical reagents for test kits in order to help overcome current supply shortages.

"Alongside this new testing facility, AstraZeneca and GSK are working together to provide process optimisation support to the UK national testing centres in Milton Keynes, Alderley Park and Glasgow for Covid-19, providing expertise in automation and robotics to help the national testing system to continue to expand capacity over the coming weeks.

Anne McLaren Laboratory, the building where the new facility will be

"While diagnostic testing is not part of either company's core business, we are moving as fast as we can to help where possible - with a focus on providing our world-class scientific and technical expertise - working both with the Government's screening programme and alongside the wider life sciences sector and specialist diagnostic companies."

It said further updates would be provided in due course.

"We continue to pay tribute to those working on the front lines of thispandemic, in the UK and globally," the joint statement added.

"Defeating Covid-19 requires a collective effort from everyone working inhealthcare and we are committed to playing our part."

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