News | Published May 14 2020

Public Health England approves Covid-19 antibody test

A blood test developed in Switzerland which can identify whether people have previously contracted coronavirus has been approved by Public Health England.

Public Health England called the test a “very positive development” in the fight against the virus, after it was evaluated at the Porton Down government facility last week.

The blood test, developed by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, looks for antibodies to determine if somebody has already contracted Covid-19 and could have developed immunity.

This is the first test of its kind to have been deemed reliable enough by health officials. They are not the same as the finger-prick blood tests that have already been bought by the government which have not proven effective.

The test has already been approved in the EU and US, yet it is still uncertain as to just how immune previously infected patients will be in the long-term.

Professor John Newton, who is spearheading the Covid-19 testing initiative in the UK, said: "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."

Roche has opened talks with the government over the tests being used by NHS England, with health secretary Matt Hancock saying that his department was discussing a “large-scale roll-out” of antibody testing with the company.

The tests that are currently being carried out daily in the UK are only capable of indicating whether someone has the virus at the time that the test is being taken.

A spokesperson said on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care: "Antibody testing is an important part of our strategy to counter the spread of Covid-19 and to help us understand who has had the disease."

Hancock indicated that the government would make a future announcement on antibody testing when “absolutely ready”.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
May 14 2020

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