Press "Enter" to skip to content

Coronavirus UK: 3.5m home testing kits could on sale in ‘days’

Millions of finger-prick coronavirus home-tests could be ready to order on Amazon or pick up in Boots in a matter of days, according to Public Health England. 

Sharon Peacock, of PHE’s National Infection Service, said 3.5million antibody tests the Government has bought will be available in the ‘near future’.

Asked whether these could be within several days, she told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee ‘absolutely’. 

However, Professor Peacock did not explain if the test would be free on the NHS or if suspected patients would have to pay. MailOnline has contacted PHE for clarity. 

Health chiefs say the tests – which scour a sample of blood for antibodies made by the body to fight the virus – will initially be available for frontline healthcare staff. 

The Government’s aim is to get thousands of doctors, nurses and paramedics who have had to self isolate at home as a precaution back to work.

PHE has not revealed who is manufacturing the tests, which detect if someone has had the infection previously and is now immune. 

Boots today said that while it was keen to work with the Government, it had not yet heard about the plan to stock tests in its stores.  

Professor Peacock explained a small number of tests would be tested in a laboratory before being distributed via Amazon and in places like Boots.

She added: ‘Once we are assured that they do work, they will be rolled out into the community. Testing the test is a small matter, and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week.

‘In the near future people will be able to order a test that they can test themselves, or go to Boots, or somewhere similar to have their finger prick test done.’ 

But Boots said Professor Peacock’s comments today were the first the pharmacy chain had heard of the plan.

A spokesperson added: ‘We are keen to work with the Government to explore opportunities to support COVID-19 testing and to support the NHS in any way we can. 

‘However we do not have any type of COVID-19 tests in our stores. Customers should not make a trip to a Boots store or pharmacy for this purpose.’ 

The UK’s deputy chief medical officer today said antibody tests will ‘initially’ be available for frontline healthcare staff. 

Speaking on a webchat on Mumsnet – a popular forum for parents – Dr Jenny Harries said this was ‘so we can manage patients and vulnerable people safely and keep our NHS and care systems running. 

‘But we will be able to roll out to other people after that,’ she added.

The new antibody tests are thought to use a lateral flow device (LFD) which takes a drop of blood via a finger prick and a colour develops if the patient is positive.

The test looks for antibodies, the immune system’s defence mechanism, which are produced to fight off the killer virus. 

They work like an at-home pregnancy test and take just minutes to produce a result. 

Britain has repeatedly been slammed for its lacklustre approach to the crisis after testing just 5,000 people each day and allowing hundreds of thousands to roam the streets undiagnosed. 

South Korea, the only country outside of China to flatten the outbreak’s curve, has been conducting three times more daily tests despite having a population of 50million, compared to Britain’s 66million.

NHS England’s medical director today warned testing must be ramped up to hundreds of thousands per day in the coming weeks to catch up with the crisis. 

With immense pressure mounting on ministers to be proactive, Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night announced the purchase of the new antibody tests.

But the deal has raised fears about whether the Government has rushed into buying the tests.

In the UK routine tests are only given to people so ill they have to go into hospital, or those who are already on wards – even NHS staff don’t get tested. 

It means the official tally of just over 8,000 coronavirus patients is much lower than the reality.  

Those who test positive will have already been infected – sometimes without  knowing or showing symptoms – and are likely to be immune to reinfection. 

But they are only around 80 per cent accurate, according to Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading.

And the devices are even less effective at spotting if someone is currently infect, he added.

Professor Jones told MailOnline: ‘They [antibody tests] are typically around 80 pe cent efficient and at this figure I guess they are good enough to give an idea of what percentage of the population has been infected, which is the denominator that nobody really knows. 

‘It would be important to stress that they should only be used as directed and they are only a backwards look at the infection, they cannot be used in real time.’

Professor Jones stressed the importance of scaling up testing methods which can tell if someone is currently contagious so patients are not roaming the streets infecting others. 

‘…as far as I know only hospitalised patients [are being tested]. Ideally this would extend to random testing as capacity cranks up.

‘This is obviosly more important when dealing with a current rather than historic infection – you wouldn’t want to send someone home if they were actually infected. 

‘So in my view current tests would be better kept to reference centres where there is level of quality assurance. 

‘Its the scaling up of the throughput so that these could take general population samples that should be the focus.’

It came after Mr Hancock confirmed a new testing facility had opened in Milton Keynes yesterday at a daily news conference.

His announcement followed criticism from former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who questioned the UK’s policy to only test patients in hospital, asking: ‘How can we possibly suppress the virus if we don’t where it is?’ 

Ex-Tory leader Sir William Hague also called for more testing, saying in a comment piece for The Telegraph that a more rigorous swabbing strategy was ‘the route back to a free society from coronavirus’. 

Mr Hunt told the House of Commons Britain currently had around 300,000 cases – a scientific estimate based on 1,000 cases for every death (335 in the UK). 

And in a stark warning, he admitted it may to ‘too late to avoid Italy’, which has seen more than 60,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. 

Last night it was revealed the army had been sent to seize testing machines from private labs and universities in a desperate attempt to get NHS medics tested. 

Without knowing if they have the virus, health workers face going into isolation for up to two weeks if they show symptoms of the virus – tests could release them early.

Only 5,000 patients are tested for the deadly virus each day in the UK – despite the Government promising it would ramp up its daily capacity to 25,000.

It comes after Boris Johnson was lambasted for his slow action on coronavirus testing today after it emerged he made an extraordinary plea for research labs to lend the government crucial kit as recently as Sunday.

The premier was accused in the Commons of dragging his heels over the crisis amid a growing backlash over the UK’s testing capacity, with jibes that he should have made the request ‘months ago’.

But in bruising exchanges at PMQs, Mr Johnson denied he had U-turned on the approach, insisting it had been a priority for ‘weeks’.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts have been warning that mass checks are crucial for keeping the spread of the killer disease under control.

Countries like South Korea and China have been praised for their wide-scale testing regimes, which seem to have helped limit cases.

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms earlier this month, when the response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help.

Countries like South Korea and China have been praised for their wide-scale testing regimes, which seem to have helped limit cases.

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms earlier this month, when the response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help.

At PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the email sent by Downing Street to research institutes on Sunday, which was leaked to Politico yesterday.

‘Why wasn’t this done weeks ago, if not months ago, when the government was first warned about the threat of a global pandemic?’ the Labour leader said.

‘And what action is now being taken to get testing machines?’

Mr Johnson replied: ‘He is quite right that testing is vital to our success in beating the coronavirus. As the Health Secretary has explained many times, we are massively increasing our testing campaign, going up from 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000 a day.

‘In answer directly to his question this has been a priority of this government ever since the crisis was obviously upon up – for weeks and week.’

Mr Corbyn also demanded to know when all healthcare staff will get the PPE equipment ‘they absolutely desperately need’.

Mr Johnson responded: ‘He’s absolutely right to raise this issue and I know this has been a concern and we had a long meeting on it this morning, but I’m assured that not only are the stocks there now, the Army is now distributing the supplies to all the NHS staff, all the hospitals that need it and in the last 24 hours, they have distributed 7.5million pieces of equipment.’

The message sent to research institutes on Sunday asked to borrow expensive equipment currently needed to carry out tests.

‘We urgently need to scale up testing. There is only a limited supply of these machines, so the PM is making an urgent appeal for you to lend us your machine(s) for the duration of the crisis,’ the email reportedly said.

‘We will meet all expenses and assume all liabilities and requirements associated with the use of these machines for this purpose. We undertake to return or replace the equipment when the emergency is over. We would very much like to collect any machines you have tomorrow (Mon 23) or Tuesday.’

An accompanying letter from Mr Johnson said ‘there are no machines available to buy’ and asked the institutes to cooperate ‘in the national interest.’

He added: ‘if you have any staff who are experienced in using the machines … that would also be very helpful.’

A source told Playbook ‘It’s great that they are ramping up testing. But it should have been done weeks ago. This is costing lives every day.’

Government sources have denied that the letter was the first time officials had been in touch with labs.  

NHS hospitals are coming under growing pressure to use experimental drugs to try and treat patients infected with the coronavirus.

Doctors and pharmaceutical firms around the world are scrambling to find a drug that can stop the deadly virus, which has now killed more than 18,000 people.

Medicines already in use for conditions ranging from HIV to rheumatoid arthritis, malaria, the flu and even Ebola are serious contenders and are being tested to see how they could help patients infected with COVID-19. 

Here, MailOnline reveals some of the drugs that experts believe have potential.

Avigan 

 

Flu 

It is made by a subsidiary of the company Fujifilm Holdings, which is better known for producing cameras. 

 

In a trial of 80 patients in China, those given the drug tested negative for the virus after an average of four days, while it took 11 days for those not treated with it, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

 

The drug – known as an RNA polymerase inhibitor – stops viruses from making copies of themselves to spread through the body.  

In the UK it is not licensed or recommended, according to a document released by Public Health England last September. No trials are thought to be taking place in the UK at the moment.

Animal studies have suggested the drug may be harmful for pregnant women, with it linked to birth defects and death.

Robin May, professor of infectious disease at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘It looks encouraging.

‘And this drug appears to significantly speed up recovery from coronavirus, which is a step forward.

‘However the reports so far seem to suggest it may not work as well for more severe cases of coronavirus.’

He added the data from the Chinese trial suggests that it might not be as effective ‘for the severely ill people we are really worried about’.

Remdesivir – no brand name currently exists because it is only experimental.

 

It was developed around 10 years ago with the intention of it destroying the Ebola virus. It was pushed aside, however, when other, better candidates emerged.

California-based pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, the firm behind the life-changing HIV-preventing pill Truvada, or PrEP.

 

Lab tests of remdesivir have shown promise against coronaviruses – but human trials are still in their early days.

Doctors in the US have tried it on patients and it managed to speed up the recovery of the first person to be treated for the virus there.

The a 35-year-old man in Washington state, close to Seattle – whose infection was announced on January 20 – recovered after being given the drug.  

A Californian woman who doctors ‘thought was going to pass away’ also recovered in the US after being given the drug.

Four American passengers on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship treated with the drug in Japan also recovered.  

Officials in Liguria – a coastal region of Italy – also announced an infected man in his 70s had recovered and could go home after 12 days in hospital.

 

Remdesivir is an anti-viral drug that works in essentially the same way as favipiravir – by crippling the RNA polymerase enzyme, stopping a virus from reproducing.

It is not prescribed on the NHS because it hasn’t been approved.

Hundreds of patients – including some in the UK – taking part in a European mega-trial will get chance to take the drug to prove if it can fight the coronavirus. 

The drug is also being trialled on coronavirus patients in China and at the University of Nebraska.

Scientists are full of hope because the drug is proven to be safe in humans. Its side effects are still not well understood.

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, hailed remdesivir as ‘one of the most promising antivirals’ being investigated.

While Dr Alfredo Garzino-Demo, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said evidence shows it has the ability to treat COVID-19 patients.

Kaletra and Aluvia.

 

It is an anti-HIV medicine given to people living with the virus to prevent it developing into AIDS.

Illinois-based manufacturer AbbVie donated free supplies of the drug to authorities in China, the US and Europe for tests.

 

Chinese media reported that the drug was successfully used to cure patients with the coronavirus, but the reports have not been scientifically proven.

A separate Chinese study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the lopinavir-ritonavir combination did not improve survival or speed recovery of COVID-19 patients.

However, the authors noted they had enrolled a ‘severely ill population’ of patients.

In a clinical trial submission, scientists in South Korea said lab studies have: ‘In vitro [laboratory] studies revealed that lopinavir/ritonavir [has] antiviral activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).’

 

It is a class of drug called a protease inhibitor, which essentially stick to an enzyme on a virus which is vital to the virus reproducing. 

By doing this it blocks the process the virus would normally use to clone itself and spread the infection further.

It is not prescribed on the NHS for coronavirus because it hasn’t been approved – but it is being trialled by Oxford University.

But it is available on the health service for HIV treatment and was prescribed around 1,400 times in 2018, either as Kaletra or ritonavir on its own.

The drug is also being trialled on coronavirus patients in China and at the University of Nebraska.

Known side effects include diarrhea, headaches, upset stomachs, drowsiness, dizziness, a bad taste in the mouth, and trouble sleeping.

The drugs have been described as ‘promising’ by experts. But there has been some hesitancy about the drug combination due to the NEJM study. 

Aralen. 

Doctors have used the generic drug for 70 years to treat malaria.

French drug giant Sanofi. 

China recommended the drug to treat COVID-19 patients, after tests showed it could help them recover and keep the disease at bay.

South Korea has already tried the drugs on COVID-19 patients.

A trial at the University of Minnesota is scheduled to take place in the US next month.

Officials in the Netherlands are already suggesting doctors treat critically-ill patients with the drug. 

Chinese officials claimed the drug ‘demonstrated efficacy and acceptable safety in treating COVID-19 associated pneumonia’.

South Korea and China both say the drug is an ‘effective’ antiviral treatment against the disease.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology – in the city where the crisis began – claimed the drug was ‘highly effective’ in petri dish tests.

It has the power to stop viral molecules replicating in red blood cells, and taking hold in the body. 

Chloroquine was prescribed around 46,000 times in 2018 in the UK – but a form of it is also available over-the-counter from pharmacies without a prescription.

It is thought to be among 1,000 drugs being tested against coronavirus in a lab as part of a Queens University Belfast study.

 

Doctors say the medicine is generally safe, but it can cause a number of mild side effects including headaches, loss of appetite, upset stomach and skin rashes, to more severe ones such as hair loss and depression.

Professor Robin May, an infectious disease specialist at Birmingham University, said the safety profile of the drug is ‘well-established’.

He added: ‘It is cheap and relatively easy to manufacture, so it would be fairly easy to accelerate into clinical trials and, if successful, eventually into treatment.’

Professor May suggested chloroquine may work by altering the acidity of the area of cells that it attacks, making it harder for the virus to replicate. 

Plaquenil.

Malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It is a less powerful and, by some experts’ accounts, less toxic, version of chloroquine phosphate.

Drug giant Sanofi carried out a study on 24 patients, which the French government described as ‘promising’. 

French health officials are now planning on a larger trial of the drug, which is used on the NHS.

Results from the French study showed three quarters of patients treated with the drug were cleared of the virus within six days. None of the placebo group were treated. 

It interferes with viral molecules replicating in red blood cells.

It is thought to be among 1,000 drugs being tested at Queens University Belfast. 

 

Skin rashes, nausea, diarrhoea and headaches.

Chinese scientists investigating the other form of chloroquine penned a letter to a prestigious journal saying its ‘less toxic’ derivative may also help.

In the comment to Cell Discovery – owned by publisher Nature, they said it shares similar chemical structures and mechanisms.

The team of experts added: ‘It is easy to conjure up the idea that hydroxychloroquine may be a potent candidate to treat infection by SARS-CoV-2.’  

Kevzara

Kevzara was developed by Sanofi and New York-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Rheumatoid arthritis. The condition sees the immune system attack healthy parts of the body, such as the joints by mistake and causes inflammation. 

This can cause tiredness, anaemia, and damage to bones, cartilage and soft tissues. 

  

It was given to 21 patients with severe COVID-19 in a study by the University of Science and Technology of China in February. 

Sanofi, which makes the drug, says it is also launching trials ‘rapidly in Italy and the US in a matter of weeks.

 

According to the Chinese researchers, fevers returned to normal and all other symptoms ‘improved remarkably’ within a few days. 

Additionally, three quarters of patients had lowered their oxygen intake and one patient no longer needed breathing support.

Nineteen patients were discharged after an average of 13.5 days following treatment, with the remainder ‘recovering well’ as of the time of the study’s release, the researchers wrote.

The drug works by blocking part of the immune system which can cause inflammation, or swelling, which is overactive in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection but, in patients with coronavirus, it can get out of control, making symptoms significantly worse and even trigger multiple organ failure.

It is likely to be included in Queen University Belfast’s study of 1,000 drugs on the new coronavirus.

While the official list of drugs has not been made public, the university said it was testing medicines  that may be able to reduce virus infection or replication and virus-induced inflammatory responses.

A cough or sore throat, blocked or runny nose, cold sores, urinary tract infections and redness and itching at the site of the injection.

 

Dr Cassandra Calabrese, a rheumatologist at the renowned Cleveland Clinic, said there is a ‘growing body of reports showing the benefit’ of the drug in COVID-19 patients. 

The drug is still in development and goes by the name of SNG001.

Interferon beta-1b (IFN-beta) is a naturally occurring protein that orchestrates the body’s anti-viral responses.

SNG001 is a formulation of IFN-beta developed by Synairgen to prevent severe lower respiratory tract illness caused by cold and flu infections. 

A different formulation using the protein is used to treat patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

The drug called Extavia is self-injected every two days and works by slowing down the damage to the nervous system and by reducing the number of relapses. 

  

Synairgen is a UK-based company, and it appears their formulation hasn’t crossed overseas yet. 

But it does say has been approached by, and is in discussion with, a number of scientific and governmental bodies in the US and internationally since the COVID-19 outbreak began. 

 

Laboratory studies have shown IFN-beta can protect cells from infection by a range of respiratory viruses. 

These include the MERS and SARS coronavirus strains, leaving scientists expecting IFN-beta to also protect against the COVID-19 strain.

It has already been shown to improve the recovery of asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients who have other lung infections, such as flu. 

Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen, said: ‘SNG001 has been well tolerated in clinical trials in over 200 respiratory patients to date and has accelerated lung function recovery in two Phase II asthma trials in patients with a cold or flu infection.’ 

  

SNG001 is inhaled with a nebuliser, which helps deliver drugs to the lungs. 

Scientists believe it will prevent the coronavirus from taking over lung cells to replicate. This would prevent patients deteriorating until the point they need ventilation to survive. 

Viruses, including coronaviruses, can evolve the ability to suppresses IFN-beta production in the body, thereby helping the virus evade.  

 

Southampton researchers are conducting a Phase II SNG001 trial on COVID-19 patients to see if it could prevent worsening symptoms in those most at risk.

The trial, led by Professor Tom Wilkinson at University Hospital Southampton, will involve 100 patients at Southampton and up to ten other NHS hospitals.

Those patients will receive the best current COVID19 care, whilst inhaling either a placebo or SNG001 for 14 days.

 

Doctors are currently clueless. Side effects will be reported with the findings of the clinic trial. 

Other forms of interferon beta can cause headaches, vaginal bleeding and diminish libido. 

  

Tom Wilkinson told Sky News: ‘We are hoping that the drug will increase the rate of recovery from infection, that it will increase the protection in the bit of the lungs that are not infected yet and will reduce the number of patients that decline significantly and require intubation and ventilation.’

Mr Marsden said: ‘A successful outcome from this trial [at Southampton] in COVID-19 patients would be a major breakthrough in the fight against this coronavirus pandemic.’ 

Ozurdex and Baycadron.  

 

The steroid drug is used to treat allergies and asthma, as well as some types of cancer. 

Baycadron is made by Wockhardt Usa, Llc, while Ozurdex is made by Allergan, the manufacturer of a commonly used textured breast implant.

 

No studies have yet to prove dexamethasone can treat SARS-CoV-2 – but it has been tested on patients with MERS and SARS, two different coronaviruses. 

One retrospective study of critically-ill patients with MERS found that almost half of the people that received steroids needed additional treatments such as assistance in breathing, drugs to increase blood pressure, and a form of dialysis. 

Those given steroids were found to take longer to clear the virus from their bodies.

Other studies found that the virus was still present in SARS patients who took the drugs up to three weeks after infection.

  

Steroids are often used by doctors to reduce inflammation, which is present in the lungs of patients with the coronavirus.  

However, steroids also impair the immune system’s ability to fight viruses and other infections that often develop in patients with life-threatening illness.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have launched a new clinical trial to test the effects of potential drug treatments, including dexamethasone, for patients admitted to hospital with the virus.

The drug is known to cause an increase in appetite and heartburn, as well as muscle weakness and insomnia.

In a piece in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, three experts warned: ‘No unique reason exists to expect that patients with 2019-nCoV infection will benefit from corticosteroids.

‘And they might be more likely to be harmed with such treatment.’We conclude that corticosteroid treatment should not be used for the treatment of 2019-nCoV-induced lung injury or shock outside of a clinical trial.’

 

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *