Coronavirus: Welsh factory to produce millions of antibody tests

By Owain Clarke
BBC Wales health correspondent

media captionPaul Hales, of OCD, says the test is not only "highly accurate" but also fast

A Covid-19 antibody test developed in Wales will be introduced throughout the UK, the Welsh Government says.

Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (OCD) is among a number of firms producing the test and is already supplying millions worldwide.

The UK government has announced it has already struck deals with two other companies to supply the tests.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government would decide how it was rolled out in Wales.

It is, however, expected the blood test will be available in care homes in Wales.

It is understood OCD, which has a plant in Pencoed, Bridgend, is the only company manufacturing the test in the UK.

The US-based company, which has had a presence in Wales for more than 40 years, is able to produce millions of tests each week at peak production.

The blood test looks for antibodies to see if a person has already had the virus and might now have some immunity.

The development of the antibody has long been viewed as a potential "game-changer" in efforts to tackle the virus and helping to understand how many people in a population have been exposed to it.

image copyrightGoogle

Paul Hales, who is site director at OCD's Pencoed factory, said: "The beauty about these type of tests is not only they their accuracy but also the speed at which they can be processed.

"That means that you could be potentially testing hundreds of samples every hour to get those results that I'm sure everybody would require."

He added: "It's important ongoing for sending people back to work, but also for population surveillance and knowing how many people have had the disease, because quite simply some of them might not know that they have had it."

Previously, there have been concerns about the accuracy of such tests and whether or not they give people a false sense of security, as it is unclear for how long any potential immunity will last.

Thursday's announcement follows Boris Johnson's pledge to introduce what he called a "world beating" tracing operation in England by the start of June.

Welsh ministers also have plans to track, trace and test for the disease, which will involve antibody testing.

Mr Gething said: "The approval and production of the new antibody test is an important step forward in our efforts to stop the spread of the virus, protect the public and ease lockdown restrictions.

"This test will tell us if people have already had coronavirus. But it is important to say although the test can tell if someone has had the virus, it's not certain as to how much immunity they'll have to the virus.

"We are also looking to deliver another type of antibody test, which can give a result in minutes.

"Together with the test announced today this will form an important part of our test, trace, protect to strategy to help Wales come out of lockdown.

"I will shortly be announcing how these antibody tests will fit into the strategy and when our critical workers and general public will be able to get access to them."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionVaughan Gething says the tests will be part of the strategy for Wales to leave lockdown

The UK government previously spent a reported £16m buying antibody tests which later proved to be ineffective.

OCD describes itself as a "global leader of in vitro diagnostics" and has been working with Public Health England and Public Health Wales to "test the tests" and secure supply for hospitals in the UK.

It is formerly a division of the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, with Pencoed its only European manufacturing facility.

The company usually produces millions of diagnostic tests for a wide range of conditions including heart disease and cancer.

What is the antibody product being produced in Wales?

The company produces a kit that when linked up to special machines in laboratories or hospitals can analyse blood from a 100 patients at once.

Tens of thousands of these kits are rolling off the production line in Pencoed each week - giving capacity to test millions of patients for Covid-19 antibodies.

Uniquely, two separate Covid-19 antibody tests are being produced by the company: one aimed at people who have had quite recent exposure to the virus, the other looking at antibodies that take longer to develop but are more powerful.

It is likely most of these tests will be used in healthcare settings.

It is unclear yet how many of the tests produced in Wales will be used here.

But it does show how Welsh expertise in biosciences, nurtured here over several decades, is helping in the global effort to track, trace and test for the spread of Covid-19.

More on this story