Cambridge University opens new laboratory in attempt to meet UK’s ambitious COVID-19 testing goals

The new collaborative venture from the university will seek to massively boost testing capacity

As part of a new attempt to increase testing capacity for COVID-19, Cambridge University has established a new laboratory to help meet the government’s 100,000-a-day target.

The facility, residing at the university’s Anne McLaren Lab, is the result of a collaborative effort between Cambridge University and renowned pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. The two companies are also working alongside one another to support UK national testing centres in Milton Keynes, Alderley Park, and Glasgow.

Scientists in the new Cambridge facility will work to process coronavirus tests and try and identify alternate chemical reagents to the ones currently being used. The reagents, chemicals that extract the genetic code of the virus from testing swabs, are currently in short supply, something that is massively hindering the UK’s testing capacity. These tests are part of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s ‘five pillar plan’ to increase testing.

NHS scientists have recently criticised Health Secretary’s pledge to test 100,000 people a day by the end of April, arguing that this increase is impossible due to the lack of vital testing equipment. Indeed, Department of Health figures show that the UK is a long way off from achieving this target, with only 14,006 tests being carried out on April 6th.  By looking at alternate chemicals that could be used as reagents, the Cambridge facility aims to noticeably increase testing for Covid-19.

This new collaborative measure was announced in a joint statement from the university, AstraZeneca and GSK.

It said: “A new testing laboratory will be used for high throughput screening for Covid-19 testing and to explore the use of alternative chemical reagents for test kits.”

”Alongside this new testing facility, GSK and AstraZeneca are working together to provide support to the UK national testing centres… to help the national testing system to continue to expand capacity.”

Although neither company has diagnostic testing at its core, both are working alongside the wider life sciences sector and specialistic diagnostic companies to help the Government’s screening company. Their ambitious collaboration with Cambridge University is the newest in a set of ventures to help further testing efforts.

In a recent statement AstraZeneca said: “We continue to pay tribute to those working on the frontlines of this pandemic, in the UK and globally.

“Defeating COVID-19 requires a collective effort from everyone working in healthcare and we are committed to playing our part.”

Featured image credit: Tom Wolf Flickr, Creative Commons License