Hopes Norwich rapid coronavirus test will get government green light

Rob Field of Iceni Diagnostics, Norwich.

Rob Field of Iceni Diagnostics, Norwich. - Credit: Si Barber

A rapid coronavirus test developed in Norwich, which can show if somebody has Covid-19 within 15 minutes, has been boosted after the government agreed to assess its effectiveness.


Some 400 to 500 batches of the test produced by Iceni Diagnostics, based at Norwich Research Park, are being taken to the government’s labs at Porton Down in Wiltshire for independent analysis.


And if the government is impressed by those 
tests, it could lead to them being rolled out for use as part of the national effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.


It comes as a car park in Norwich closes until summer 2021 to make way for a new coronavirus testing site.


Westwick Street car park has been closed and will remain so until summer next year for a new testing site to open.


It is understood the centre could be up and running as early as this week.


While the government has said mass testing will be done in almost 70 areas, Norfolk is not on that list, although the Iceni Diagnostics team have said they would be ready to put it to use in the county if required and backing is given.


The Norwich-developed test differs from tests the government has used in places such as Liverpool, as it identified the live virus, rather than genetic material with Covid-19 traces, which can be present when someone is no longer infectious.


It can also show if somebody has normal flu.


Dr Berwyn Clarke, chairman of Iceni Diagnostics, said the government green light for the test would be a “real endorsement”.


He said: “We are receiving the first big batch of tests from our manufacturer and 400 to 500 of those are going to Porton Down, where they will be tested independently against live coronavirus. A positive response from the government would be a real endorsement.”


Dr Clarke said the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital would be running a small study comparing the test with ones it was currently using, while the effectiveness of them to test people in care homes was being investigated in Cambridgeshire.


Dr Clarke said: “The message about what we’ve developed is getting out there.

"But it has been a bit frustrating. We have tried to engage with public health in Norfolk, but we’ve had no response.”

Norfolk MPs have backed the work being done at the research park and said mass testing was an essential tool to control the spread of the virus.


And George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid-Norfolk, said, had central government handed more control to local areas to manage coronavirus, mass testing in the county could have been used to avoid a lockdown.


Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said it was time the government better utilised the research park.


He said: “We have got this hub of excellence on our doorstep and it’s not being properly utilised.”


He added he would be keen to see mass testing carried out in Norfolk, particularly given its vulnerable older population.
 


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