Led by Imperial College London, a major home testing programme for COVID-19 will soon begin across the UK, aiming to track the progress of the infection and assess accuracy and usability of antibody tests.
The programme aims to understand the number of people currently infected and how many have recovered from COVID-19 since the outbreak began. The hope is that understanding the spread of the virus will be a significant step towards lifting the nationwide lockdown currently in place.
The first part of the REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-1) programme will randomly select 100,000 individuals across England to provide nose and throat swabs. These will be tested for the virus to determine how many people are currently infected with COVID-19.
The second part, REACT-2, will assess a range of antibody tests for accuracy and usability at home. Effective antibody tests will provide a clearer picture of how the infection has spread and identify individuals with potential immunity to the virus.
The first antibody tests will be used on volunteers from the Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust known to have had the virus and recovered. A group of 300 members of the public will also be given a sample test to self-administer. If successful, the test will then be given to a cohort of up to 10,000 people. A further 5,000 key workers will both self-test and have the test administered by a health professional.
Accuracy of the antibody tests will be assessed by comparing results to blood samples tested in labs, the gold-standard for testing. If antibody self-testing is found to have a high degree of accuracy, acceptability and usability, it will be made available to 100,000 people later this year.
Further details are available on the Imperial College website.
There is a focus worldwide on bringing accurate antibody tests to market in the absence of a vaccine. In the US, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved emergency use authorisation for the Elecsys anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody test. The product has already been licensed in Europe, and for countries with specific regulatory requirements local approval timelines will apply. The antibody test has a specificity greater than 99.8%.