TTP consultant, Douglas Bradsahw, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and discussed the possible technological solutions that TTP is developing for coronavirus testing.
"Tests are incredibly complex form of technology. Arguably more complicated than ventilators for a number of reasons, but they need to be accurate, so they need to be very sensitive in detecting strains of the virus. They need to be specific to the virus itself and they need to answer different questions. So do you have the disease or have you had the disease and it has been mentioned already? They need to be fast for certain settings. So thinking about the workplace, thinking about travel, thinking about perhaps applications and entertainment, you need to get from sample to answer in ideally under 5 minutes." Douglas said.
With regards to the challenges such technological developments have, he mentioned: "The challenge itself is the huge numbers, so with the ventilator challenge it was 30,000 ventilators in total. Now we're talking about hundreds of thousands if not millions of tests per day. As a result of which the tests must be low cost and there are additional challenges around logistics and supply chain, so it is an immense challenge and nothing quite fits the bill, added to which is a crisis, so trying to find a solution, the timelines are very short.
We have weeks or months to do this, not the years that we might normally have. This requires a sort of a multi pronged approach and so we're trying to scale up the availability of existing tests. But there are two other problems, so one of them is repurposing existing technologies for Covid."
More specifically on the solutions that TTP is working on: "One of the companies we're working with. It's called Quotient. They are a company based in Scotland and we developed a test with them that was for for blood screening and blood typing, but their expertise in reagent development means that they very quickly developed a test for antibodies associated with COVID, and this tells you whether or not you have had the disease and that has application in immunity checking and population surveys cause one of the bigger questions now is whether or not you had the disease now.
"TTP is investing through one of its subsidiaries called LEX Diagnostics in technology which which can go from sample to answer in under 5 minutes and addresses some of the other challenges associated with covid. So the the need for accuracy and extremely low cost. The timelines there are more in months or sometime next year, but the need I think is going to stay with us for for that kind of period."
Analysing the technology behind these tests, Douglas responded: And while there are a large number of approaches to detecting the virus itself or the antibodies that the host produces, an immune response, and there is at least eleven ways of detecting the virus or the antibodies, they're all relatively young technology, so by comparison to kind of technology that one would find in a ventilator, technologies are relatively young and it stops for that reason. There isn't anything that quite fits the bill, so the response from from the UK scientists and engineers is a sensible one.
We're doing what we can with existing technologies to try and ramp up the testing capacity of the UK, but also looking at clean sheet of paper solutions which will enable testing in the millions that may well be required until a vaccine is found."
Read our case study to find out more about the ventilator challenge and how TTP designed and developed a ventilator for the UK Government in record time during the novel coronavirus pandemic.