Coronavirus: Technopath offers employers not-for-profit antibody tests

Tipperary firm sees confidence in testing as crucial to getting staff back to work

A lab worker shows a vial containing an infected swab during a coronavirus test. Photograph: Federico Bernini/Bloomberg

A lab worker shows a vial containing an infected swab during a coronavirus test. Photograph: Federico Bernini/Bloomberg

 

Diagnostics business Technopath is offering Irish employers access to a coronavirus antibody test at cost price to help get people back to work.

The testing will be carried out by the Tipperary business, which is a world player in diagnostics quality control, using tests from Abbott Diagnostics and Roche Diagnostics.

Technopath founder Malcolm Bell said the testing kits were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and were being used by the HSE and British health authorities. He said the company could conduct 2,000 tests a day at its laboratory in Ballina in Tipperary.

“Companies in Ireland are looking for ways to reopen their businesses by taking every step to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure while making employees feel safe returning to work,” said Mr Bell, who is chief executive.

Offering the tests on a not-for-profit basis will allow cash-pressed employers to access testing at half the standard price – a modest double-figure sum.

Mr Bell noted that there was a significant range in prices for such tests, depending on the provider and the channel used. “The pricing for everything Covid-related is crazy,” he said. “A couple of months ago, suppliers were looking for $200 a millilitre for Covid-positive plasma [used to treat seriously ill patients and for clinical trials]. Now the price has dropped to around $12 per millilitre.

“Given that the Department of Health is now indicating that our nation may be facing a prolonged acute emergency for the foreseeable future, there is an urgent need to equip companies with the opportunity to offer their employees antibody tests.”

‘Unusual response’

Technopath will initially offer the tests to companies through occupational heath provider Corporate Health Ireland. It will collect and arrange the transport of samples to the Tipperary lab, identifiable only via a barcode. Results will be sent back electronically.

The diagnostics group said it would look at working with other occupational health providers to widen the number of workplaces able to access the tests.

Mr Bell warned that hopes of a quick and effective vaccine were likely to be frustrated by some test results to date.

“The antibody profiles from people who have been infected are very different,” he said, referring to early antibody studies. “It is a highly unusual antibody response.”

And he also warned that big questions remained about the accuracy of current testing protocols. Figures from the US showed that 40 per cent of those who tested positive for Covid-19 using PCR – the most common testing regime and the one used by the HSE – subsequently had no antibodies, he said.

That means the original results were false positives and that those patients never in fact had the virus. Mr Bell said the problem was that we had no idea yet just how many false positives or false negatives were being thrown out by the current testing regime.

Antibody testing will at least confirm whether people have had the virus, though there is no clarity yet over what immunity that may grant them.