It’s been another week of unwelcome milestones as the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its hold on the world, with the number of coronavirus-related deaths passing 1,000 in the UK and exceeding 30,000 globally. Meanwhile for many of us, more restrictive social distancing measures have been re-shaping daily routines in unexpected ways and blurring the lines between home and work life. In these challenging times, we realise it can be difficult to stay abreast of the latest science and industry news. To help keep you informed, we’ve summarised some of the week’s most important coronavirus developments.
Mass home coronavirus antibody testing may be just around the corner
Low-cost, reliable antibody testing is considered key to managing the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing public health authorities to assess overall immunity and helping people who’ve recovered from the coronavirus (including key health workers) get back to work sooner. So last week’s announcement that the UK government had purchased millions of at-home coronavirus tests was widely reported as a game-changer.
At present, most coronavirus tests performed globally involve looking for viral RNA in nose or throat swabs. These samples are typically sent to specialist laboratories, which use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify the genetic material to detectable levels. While this type of testing plays a vital role in reducing onward transmission by supporting social distancing efforts, it can only confirm whether patients currently have the disease, so can’t identify those who have already gained immunity (and therefore may be self-isolating unnecessarily).
Antibody testing plays a critical role in bridging this gap. Although laboratory-based testing for coronavirus antibodies is possible, scaling-up screening to test tens of millions of people is challenging. Several companies have therefore been racing to develop at-home antibody testing kits that can generate results in around 15 minutes using a tiny drop of blood from a finger-prick. On Wednesday 25th March, the UK government announced it had purchased 3.5 million of these antibody testing kits and, assuming validation of accuracy proves successful, planned to make them available to frontline hospital staff as soon as possible. All going well, it’s hoped that these tests may then be made available to the general public through high street chemists or online retailers, accelerating the return to normality.
Experimental blood plasma infusion treatment could help fight infection
Critically ill coronavirus patients could soon be treated using the blood plasma of recovered patients, after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the experimental treatment last week and the UK’s medicines watchdog looks set to follow suit. The treatment approach is based on the principle that the blood plasma of recovered patients, known as convalescent plasma, contains antibodies that may be effective against the infection. The use of convalescent plasma transfusions isn’t new; indeed it’s been used in the past to treat other respiratory infections, including the 1918 influenza epidemic as well as the SARS and MERS coronavirus outbreaks. However, the approach isn’t always effective against all diseases. Despite this, early evidence of its use in patients with COVID-19 gives cause for optimism, with Chinese researchers recently reporting that treatment with convalescent plasma resulted in an improvement in the health of five critically ill coronavirus patients on ventilation.
The life science sector continues to respond with gusto
At BioStrata, we’ve been incredibly impressed by the way businesses and organisations from across the life science sector and beyond have responded to the challenges presented by the coronavirus outbreak. Many companies have been working tirelessly to mobilise teams, apply different approaches and even re-allocate resources and facilities in recent weeks to help in the fight against COVID-19. Notably, manufacturers have been quick to pivot to provide much-needed products including ventilators, hand sanitiser, and personal protective equipment.
Additionally, we’ve seen how our sector has rallied together to develop, manufacture and supply more tests to understand who is and has been infected. This rapid surge in the demand for and supply of tests will likely leave a gap in terms of the qualified resource able to process samples and run assays over the coming weeks and months. Talking to others within our own team and networks, we know there are many individuals with the expertise and knowledge in diagnostic testing who want to do what they can to help. To make this easier, we’ve launched Scientists on Standby – a platform to quickly bring together these individuals with the organisations that need them most. So, if you can offer experience in reverse transcription PCR, diagnostic immunoassays or GLP, and would like to able to help, please do pass on your details.
We’re humbled and proud to play just a small part of the industry’s amazing efforts to do what’s necessary to tackle this public health emergency and ultimately, save lives. If you have news to share around your commercial activities, partnerships and collaborations that are supporting the fight against COVID-19, you can access our free press release distribution service and community newsroom here.
Discover new strategies in these unfamiliar times
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, life science marketing and communications professionals around the world are facing a unique set of challenges. To help, BioStrata has created the Life Science Marketing Masterminds platform, a free digital conference forum designed to allow members to share experiences and brainstorm solutions to overcome these difficulties together. If you’re interested in leveraging the power of collective thinking alongside industry peers, you can register your interest on this page.