Government and PA select three rapid Covid-19 test producers

15 February 2021 3 min. read

The UK Government has selected three British companies for a contract to manufacture up to 2 million rapid Covid-19 tests per day. The selection process was overseen by PA Consulting.

In a bid to shake off its reliance on foreign producers, and create a domestic diagnostics industry that is prepared for future outbreaks of infectious disease in the UK, the Government has spent the last few months looking to appoint firms to mass-produce lateral flow devices (LFDs). Unlike conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which look for the virus’s genetic material and can take up to a day to process, LFDs look for protein antigens that live on a virus’s surface and work by adding a liquid reagent to a saliva or nasal swab sample and do not need to be analysed in a laboratory.

As part of this drive, the Department of Health enlisted PA Consulting last year, with a brief of finding suitable British manufacturers of rapid Covid-19 tests. PA is understood to have received £6.2 million to find suitable British manufacturers of LFDs, as well as to help scale up manufacturing to meet the demand of 2 million new tests per day by April 2021.

Government and PA select three rapid Covid-19 test producers

Ultimately, the search led by PA has seen the Department of Health choose Omega Diagnostics, SureScreen and Global Access Diagnostics as its producers. Global Access Diagnostics is a high-volume manufacturing enterprise in Bedfordshire, and currently has 70 employees, but is planning to rapidly boost that by 210 by April, having received close to £1 million in funding from the Government and about £10 million in equipment. Meanwhile, SureScreen has received £11.3m in funding, according to publicly available contracts. The exact financial details of Omega Diagnostic’s involvement in the contract are undisclosed currently, but the firm expects it to provide a “significant contribution" to future performance.

Omega CEO Colin King said in a statement, “We are delighted to formalise our relationship with the UK government, and to utilise our lateral flow test production capacity to support the Covid-19 mass testing programme being rolled out across the country. These are very exciting times for the business and I am delighted that we can play a part in supporting the UK government’s national effort to control the spread of the coronavirus.”

Until now, the UK has been almost entirely reliant on limited Covid-19 testing supplies from the US and China. According to publicly available contracts, it has spent at least £1.5 billion on the tests – the bulk of which has gone to US company Innova, which has received £1 billion in contracts to procure hundreds of millions of devices which are manufactured in China. With the Government already facing fierce criticism for its spending during the outbreak, this has seen it become to determined to invest in domestic LFD production – even though the effectiveness of the testing technology remains disputed. Several studies have suggested that LFD tests miss up to 60% of active infections.

PA Consulting has regularly been involved in the Government’s attempts to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in Britain. In 2020, the firm headed up a coordinated effort to manufacture ventilators for patients hit by the Covid-19 virus.