GSK, AstraZeneca to launch COVID-19 testing lab at University of Cambridge

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For the testing itself, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline's partnership taps the smaller French biotech group Novacyt and its Southampton, U.K.-based molecular diagnostics division Primerdesign. (Poohz/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Though diagnostics per se are not one of their core business efforts, the drugmakers AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline are looking to assist the U.K. government’s national COVID-19 testing efforts by establishing a joint lab at the University of Cambridge.

The facility aims to process 30,000 coronavirus tests per day by the first week of next month, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soirot told the BBC. It will also explore the use of alternative chemical reagents for high-throughput testing to stretch the U.K.’s overall diagnostic supply, as previously reported by Bloomberg.

While the company typically carries out sequencing tests as part of drug development work, Soriot said the main challenge will be bringing those processes up to a large scale.

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At the same time, the joint lab will work to support the country’s three other main, centralized COVID-19 testing centers by leveraging the Big Pharmas’ expertise in automation, robotics and optimization to help speed up their work and expand capacity.

RELATED: GSK, AstraZeneca in talks for joint U.K. COVID-19 diagnostics project: Bloomberg

For the testing itself, the partnership includes the smaller French biotech group Novacyt. Its Southampton, U.K.-based molecular diagnostics division, Primerdesign, will supply (PDF) its high-throughput PCR test to the Cambridge lab, housed in the university’s Anne McLaren regenerative medicine laboratory.

In addition, Novacyt and Primerdesign received an emergency green light (PDF) the same day for their COVID-19 PCR test from the World Health Organization, making it available for procurement by United Nations agencies and various national public health programs for one year.

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