Life sciences firm joining battle against virus scourge

Wetherby-based life sciences business, Avacta Group, will deploy its expertise in a joint effort to devise a method of rapidly testing large numbers of people for COVID-19.

The listed company will collaborate with Cytiva – formerly knowns as GE Healthcare Life Sciences – to develop and manufacture a point-of-care rapid test capable of screening large populations for the illness.

Avacta develops Affimer® biotherapeutics and reagents, and is already generating Affimer reagents that can detect this virus

Together with Cytiva, it will develop and manufacture a test capable of diagnosing the infection in minutes, using a respiratory sample such as saliva.

A spokesman for Avacta said: “This is a huge leap in efficiency compared to current lab tests which can take several days to process. Efficient testing is essential to mitigating the spread of the virus, as advised by the WHO.”

Dr Alastair Smith, chief executive officer of Avacta, said: “I am delighted we have established this collaboration with Cytiva to develop, manufacture and commercialise a rapid test for COVID-19 infection.

“Importantly, the test will indicate if a person has the virus now, whether they are showing symptoms or not, and will do so in minutes, in-situ with no need for laboratory equipment.

“Unfortunately, many millions of people around the world will ultimately become infected and it is likely to be an annual occurrence.

“There is a clear and urgent need for a test that can be carried out quickly in the community to limit the spread of the virus and track its progress.

“We have demonstrated before in the case of the Zika virus that the Affimer platform can very quickly provide highly specific reagents in response to an outbreak of an infectious disease.

“Our partnership with Cytiva means we now have a global technology partner for a COVID-19 diagnostic which is essential if a practical and commercial solution is to be provided to governments and healthcare providers around the world promptly.

“Hundreds of millions of tests will be needed for population screening and we will be working hard to deliver an Affimer based solution on Cytiva’s platform, and potentially on the platforms of other partners with whom we are in active discussion, as soon as possible.

“We are aiming to have developed Affimer reagents for a COVID-19 test by the end of May that can be transferred to Cytiva and potentially to other global diagnostic manufacturers.”