One of the country’s leading doctors is urging the government to follow his antibody testing regime so the country can start working towards a confident lockdown exit strategy.
Professor Karol Sikora is using inexpensive, self-administered kits imported from South Korea.
The Sugentech kits cost less than £10 each and are widely used in South Korea and Germany – two countries with effective, proven testing regimes.
Thirty staff working at Professor Sikora’s private cancer clinic in Reading have been screened to see if they are carrying COVID-19 antibodies using the self-administered kits.
He told Sky News: “We’re testing the blood of all the staff here for antibodies against coronavirus. There are two types: IGM, which peaks at about 10 days after infection, and IGG, which takes four or five weeks before it peaks. That’s the problem with these kits and indeed with all antibody testing, it’s the timing and the relationship to the infection.
“We know that there are much better assets in the lab that are expensive that need to be sent off and they’re better controlled, so we’re doing both: the kits which are cheap, less than £7 a kit to do the test, and the more expensive lab tests to validate what we’ve got from the kits.”
It is a small, localised initiative but one that could have far reaching and significant consequences. Governments across the world are racing to find a proven antibody test. It would map the true spread of the virus and essentially allow people with a virus immunity to reintegrate with society.
Dr George Xynopolous, CEO for Medical Diagnosis, runs the laboratory where the validation tests took place. He explains why it has been so difficult to produce a reliable, effective antibody test so far.
“This is a new virus and everything in medicine takes time. It’s not something you can do just by waving a wand, it needs proper verification, it needs trials, it needs a lot of patients to test the method you’re using to ensure it works for everybody. Each one of us is individual and we’re different and not one size fits all.”
Even now, more than four months after the breakout in Wuhan, China, scientists are still learning more about coronavirus.
“We have made huge advances in some parts of medicine, but as the island of knowledge grows so does the coastline of ignorance, so new questions are being asked all the time,” Dr Xynopolous added.
Professor Sikora is looking for consistency. He needs the results of the self-testing kits to match the expensive, lab-based tests.
After several hours of testing, Professor Sikora is given the news that he has been hoping for. Two of those tested are positive. He says the result is “fantastic”.
“So we’ve tested nearly 30 of our staff, two are positive and I know who they are, fantastic for them and it means now we have two positives we can compare to other samples,” he said.
“Not only are they positive in this complex lab-based assay which is very precise, they’re also positive on the China kits and on the Korea kits, which is good news for testing.”
Professor Sikora is sharing his results with the government. There are still many unanswered questions but it is a small hopeful step forward, one that he thinks might show us a way out of this pandemic.
“Firstly we get a handle on how prevalent infection is in the community – we need to know how many people out there are infected. Is it 10%. Is it 20%? Is it 30%? So that’s for community but for the individuals who test positive they can relax, they have had COVID-19 and they’re not likely to get it again, we don’t think, so they’re immune and hopefully completely healthy and can work normally from now on so they can be relieved.”
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But he warns against a rush to lift the lockdown.
“If the lockdown is released without having immunity in the community, the magic number – the R0 – or infectivity of the virus will be too high,” he added.
“Once we have a base line of immune patients out there it means the virus has nowhere to hide and it dies out, and the pandemic dies. So it’s good news we have something to measure at last.”