Hunting down the virus in the community will help resolve lab-based logjams and avoid lockdowns

Sep 8, 2020

The UK’s COVID-19 testing capacity has grown enormously over the past few months, but recent demand has grown even faster. The news is full of complaints about distant appointment offers and delays in getting results, so much so that the DHSC is now being forced to consider rationing. The central pinch-point appears to lie within centralised laboratories, working under huge pressure, often missing their own targets in terms of volumes and turnaround times.

We think it’s time to consider a complementary strategy in which mobile van-based testing teams go out into the community, with rapid new technology tests which give accurate results on the spot. We call this ‘Hunter-Carer’ testing. 

‘Hunter’ because the goal would be to hunt the virus locally down to extinction. We would target at risk areas, aiming to quickly identify & isolate patients with the virus, so preventing transmission and helping lower the R number. Simultaneously allowing confirmed virus-free patients to continue their normal lives contributing to the economy.

‘Carer’ because patients testing positive would be identified on the spot, given advice on immediate isolation and access to any required care. No anxious time waiting for results. No accidental transmission to friends and family. While patients testing negative could have their results stored in the Cloud as a mobile ‘certificate’. 

Nobody wants another lockdown, national or local. Hunter-Carer mobile point of care testing would break the current logjam and could be the solution to the threat of lockdowns. Highly mobile SWAT teams of Hunter-Carers descending on areas at risk, reducing transmission rates to a minimum and thus the need for local lockdowns. 

This has been a pandemic characterised by hasty fast-tracking of unproven/non-useful testing technologies. A suitable Hunter-Carer technology may still be weeks or even a few months away from widescale use. We would ask Government to patiently assess the data and support the development of the best UK science-backed test, rather than settling for an instantly deployable second-best.

Attomarker is one candidate. A spin-out company from the University of Exeter, it has developed a diagnostic platform producing quantitative, Cloud-linked data in seven minutes, with high accuracy – 96% sensitivity for its COVID-19 Triple Antibody Test. 

It is now developing a saliva-based test for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antigens – have you GOT the infection? – and specific IgA, IgM and IgG – have you HAD the infection? – simultaneously, as well as C-reactive protein. 

This is work in progress, but we have already been able to detect both antigens and antibodies in spiked saliva samples in seven minutes and are now looking to quickly validate the technology on real patient samples.

Discussions with manufacturers have confirmed the capacity to roll out 1,000,000 tests weekly very early in 2021.