Galway entrepreneurs Chanelle McCoy and Caroline Glynn sat down with the Galway Advertiser to chat about their new antigen and antibody testing kits which can be a game charger in getting the Irish economy back to work
As we reach the halfway mark of lockdown two in Ireland, little chinks of hope appear to breaking through the doom and gloom that has enveloped the country and indeed world for the best of part of 2020. On the global stage, a vaccine is on the way courtesy of Pfizer in coordination with BioNtech. In Ireland, we are seeing a steady decrease in the number of positive cases of Covid-19. However, that optimism must be tapered with the fact that not everyone will have received the jab by next spring and that many businesses locally and nationally may not be able to survive another lockdown after the scheduled December 1 end date.
In an effort to help support the Irish economy in a return to work campaign, Galway entrepreneurs Chanelle McCoy and Caroline Glynn have announced a new rapid COVID-19 10-minute finger prick antibody test which has been externally validated by Imperial College London, the WHO, and many other institutes, and a 15 minute antigen test that has been assessed and passed by Public Health England [PHE]; one of only three such kits to be have passed PHE's assessment.
Antibody testing kit
CE marked and manufactured in a Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) approved facility, both kits are already been made available by Chanelle McCoy Health in the UK as well as being used successfully by government health authorities and corporate businesses to support large scale testing in Spain, Italy, France, Japan, Australia, and Sweden.
With an accuracy of 98.5 per cent, the antibody testing kit will reveal if the patient has been previously infected with Covid-19. McCoy explains; "It is a simple finger prick test which reveals whether antibodies are present in the body in 10 minutes. The [Irish] Government are not pushing antibody testing yet [but] it will become necessary because the rate of infection has been growing. This test has been involved in three population studies now and is highly accurate.
"There is no known case in the world where somebody who has antibodies can get reinfected at the same time they have antibodies. You can get reinfected when you lose your antibodies, [but] antibodies are lasting about four to five months from what we are seeing [from studies] in the UK so it is important to retest people with antibodies every three weeks."
Antigen testing kit
Complementing the antibody testing kit is the rapid antigen testing kit which is capable of detecting Covid-19 from day one of the infection. Providing a result within 15 minutes of testing, Glynn says the new antigen kit is a perfect supplementary addition to polymerise chain reaction (PCR ) testing.
She says; The antigen test picks up the DNA of the virus. PCR is the gold standard but there is a time lag in laboratories [for results]. The beauty of an antigen test is you can have the result within 15 minutes. They work similar to a pregnancy test in that you have result quickly. This a swab but it is not as invasive as PCR.
"Our antigen kit has been assessed by Public Health England. There are only three kits that have been assessed and gone through approval process and ours is one of them. The UK Government is already procuring our antigen kits for the UK market."
Green health passport
Partnering with Louis-James Davis and VST Enterprises, McCoy and Glynn have established a secure health passport run by the Davis, which will hold the patients' medical data and enable them to go to work and even socialise. McCoy believes this passport will be crucial in supporting employees returning to work in a safer environment.
She says; "We have partnered with Louis to bring the V-Health Passport and what's important [about this app], is it is not a QR based software. Our passport is secure. You can put in the vaccination and you can do track and trace.
"What could be an option for Ireland; you land in Dublin Airport; you get tested; and the person who tests you, and it must be a health care worker, will update the app on your phone and give you a green passport status for four days or seven days or whatever the Government decides. The Football Association in England are [calling] for three weeks.
"You are then free to go into any restaurant, any pub, to the Aviva [Stadium], or Croke Park because you have your green health passport."
'We are not suggesting to replace PCR'
While SAGE, the UK's equivalent to NPHET, has given the green light to the UK Government to start procuring the aforementioned kits, at the time of writing, the HSE remains unconvinced. Glynn stresses that while she understands the concerns of those making the decisions on national testing policy, there is no process that catches all infected samples and that a vaccine will not result in total eradication of the virus.
She says; "SAGE in the UK are naturally conservative [and they] would have had to approved this for the UK Government to have procured. It is important to acknowledge, there is no test that is 100 per cent, neither is PCR. Antigen lateral flow testing is pretty new and these medics are looking for more data. The beauty of what we have been working on the last few months is that we have a lot of data and we have submitted all that data to the HSE.
"Within reason, Covid came to the Irish population in March, it does take time to get data. I understand they want more data but we need a solution now. Yes there may be percentage [of infected patients] who might skip through the net but some will skip through the net with PCR. You do get more assurance we you see the US giving approval even if it is emergency approval and the UK looking at these [kits] so the data will come.
"But we need to come up with some ideas to get things back on track again. We got great news [last Monday] that the vaccine potentially is coming. But the reality is by the time that is rolled out, scaled up, and manufactured, we with pharmaceutical backgrounds, we know how hard it is to scale up from clinical trials to mass production so it does come with challenges.
"We are not suggesting to replace PCR. It will always have its place and the standard which hospitals want. This is an add on. This is another way of potentially screening a mass majority of people so we can isolate and reduce the spread.
"We are in lockdown and things have started to come down again [but] lockdown is crippling our economies. Our children will paying [debt] back for years to come so this is not intended to replace what NPHET has in place, it is to supplement and help find cases where Covid could be. As much as we want to believe the vaccine will be here quickly, it will take time and there may be a cohort of people who may not take the vaccine so we will still have to be testing for Covid in parallel to that procedure."
'Mass testing is the way forward'
From the start of the outbreak, constant testing has been put forward by the world's brightest medical minds as one the most effective actions in preventing the spread of the virus and McCoy believes Ireland should adhere to the principle in order to avoid opening and closing every few months.
"Mass testing is the way forward. There is no silver bullet. Germany, Italy, and France did sporadic testing and they are back into lockdown again. China had an outbreak, tested 10 million in four days, and shut the outbreak down. They are mass testing all the time and [their numbers] are under control.
"We can have five million kits in Ireland in two weeks' time. The Irish Government have a fantastic opportunity to shine on the European stage because we are a lowly populated country. It much easier to mass test five million people than 90 million people in Germany.
"We are 20 years in industry. It is not the case you approve [kits] and go off and buy them. It is a case of getting in a queue. Any big multi national is going to be servicing the demands of US, Japan, Germany first so [Ireland] won't be high priority in the supply chain. We have a robust supply chain in place. The company we are working with is manufacturing 1.5 million a day and has committed to giving us as much supply as Ireland wants.
"This is simple. This is not difficult. This is about having hundreds of thousands of kits in all the airports and all the ports and everyone gets an antigen test when they land in Ireland."
Working with a private operator, McCoy and Glynn have rolled out testing regimes for corporate companies in Ireland. But McCoy says while major corporations might be able to afford these regimes, local businesses which have borne the brunt of the two lockdowns should receive support from the Government.
"We are rolling out testing regimes in corporate places in Ireland at the moment, very successfully. [But] The Government need to really look at subsidising the private sector so they can buy these kits to test their staff and customers. It is fine testing the public but then you have the challenge where you have business owners who want to buy the kits but have no cash, so they need help from the Government. A lot of countries are helping private companies to subsidise for testing regimes.
"The Government needs to partner with private operators and rollout nation wide testing centres. We have a strategy to have a testing centre in every county in Ireland. We want to support the Government in getting people get tested so you can move around, go into pubs, restaurants, and shops.
"At the moment there is no end in sight. Ireland is being hammered. It is risk versus benefit. You have to look at antigen. The benefits of this working and getting the economy going outweigh the risks.
"We're passionate about this because we have a solution. This is about values, not dollars. We're Irish and we can help Ireland and that is what we want to do."