A British entrepreneur has donated £1,000,000 of his own money to establish a network of labs that could dramatically increase coronavirus testing.
Mike Fischer CBE has launched the Covid
-19 Volunteer Testing Network, which aims to use common pieces of equipment found in thousands of labs across the UK to test for the illness.
The Oxford University physics graduate currently runs a small non-profit medical research lab in Abingdon, Oxford called Systems Biology Laboratory (SBL) which tests more than 200 NHS workers at 18 surgeries in Oxfordshire twice a week.
Mr Fischer says his next landmark is to recruit 200 laboratories to each conduct an average of 100 tests a day – but this can be ramped up to 500 each every 24 hours when staff have perfected the testing process.
His ultimate goal is to get 1,000 labs doing 800 tests within a few months – which would mean 800,000 people a day would be checked for the virus.
The labs would use equipment like the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine, which is found in most university science departments, to test if people currently have the virus.
It is estimated there could be as many as 14,000 PCR machines in operation in private and institutional labs in the UK.
Mr Fischer has appealed for laboratories that have PCR machines to join his project in order to conquer the pandemic.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘Our aspirational goal… is that if we can get to 1,000 labs doing 800 tests per day within a few months, that will provide 800,000 tests per day. That capacity will help enormously in mass population testing.
‘So this is a call to arms – if you have the equipment and experience then you can do this. You are worth your weight in gold.
‘We need everyone who has got the experience and equipment and the facilities to start doing it.’
Another doctor has suggested that everyone in Britain could be tested once a week if every PCR machine in the country was used.
Professor Julian Peto, a cancer epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a supporter of the project, told Sky News: ‘These PCR machines are in every university and commercial lab in Britain so I’m sure you’ve got 14,000 of them.
‘If the people who are already operating those machines turned over to testing to the virus, you’d be able to test everyone in Britain once a week, and you’d be able to test every other day people who come into contact with patients – nurses, doctors, the NHS in particular.’
Mr Fischer added: ‘These machines, which typically cost less than £1,000, are common across testing labs. Every biology department in a university will have dozens.
‘All you need is a PCR machine, a level two or higher containment facility and two or three people who know what they are doing.’