8 April 2020
The UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC) was established, comprising Abingdon Health, Oxford University, BBI Solutions, CIGA Healthcare and Omega Diagnostics. The Government announced its support of the UK-RTC in a press release, stating that it is “backing efforts to develop a home-grown [antibody] test”. They reiterated their support of the UK-RTC in a written answer from Nadine Dorries MP on 28 April 2020.
According to a press release by BBI Solutions, one of the organisations involved in the UK-RTC, members of the consortium were “selected by the UK Government”.
Government signed an initial six-month Memorandum of Understanding with the consortium.
11 April 2020
Government and UK-RTC entered into a Research Contract. This is referred to in the contract entered into on 2 June 2020 and published on Contracts Finder on 6 November 2020 (referred to below as the ‘June Contract’).
2 June 2020
The Department of Health and Social Care entered into a contract with Abingdon Health for £10million – the June Contract. The contract was for the “provision of components and materials for lateral flow test kits for Covid-19 for use as part of the UK Covid-19 Testing strategy in support of Pillar 3 – antibody testing”.
It is important to note the distinction between Pillar 3 and Pillar 4. According to the Government’s Testing Strategy document, Pillar 3 relates to ‘antibody testing’ whereas Pillar 4 relates to ‘surveillance’.
30 July 2020
Abingdon Health announced its rapid antibody tests had been approved for professional use and commercial distribution (i.e. not home testing), and mass production was beginning. The announcement stated “Results are from analyses performed at the Ulster University and Abingdon Health laboratories.”
There is no mention of Government in this press release.
It is worth noting the date. It was a term of the June Contract that Government was entitled to terminate the contract if Abingdon Health had not produced “Validated Tests” by 31 July.
14 August 2020
Government entered into a second contract worth £75million with Abingdon Health (referred to below as the ‘August Contract’). The award of this contract was disclosed on 20 October (the contract itself has not yet been published). The August Contract was for ‘Provision of lateral flow test kits for Covid-19 for use as part of the UK Covid-19 Testing strategy in support of Pillar 3 – antibody testing.’
27 August 2020
Jon Deeks, a professor of biostatistics and head of the test evaluation research group at the University of Birmingham, wrote an article stating that the data published by Abingdon Health about the performance of its antibody test were inadequate.
1 October 2020
Leaked emails reveal that the Department of Health and Social Care suppressed a report by Public Health England report that revealed the antibody tests weren’t accurate enough for their intended use. The leaked correspondence shows that the Department of Health and Social Care decided to delay the publication of the report until after the Government announced they had purchased 1 million antibody tests.
6 October 2020
Government announced the purchase of 1 million antibody tests. The announcement described the tests as “home antibody tests” and stated that they would be used “as part of the government’s COVID-19 surveillance studies”.
In the announcement, Lord Bethell stated he was ‘thrilled by the RTC product, both for Britain and export markets around the world‘.
It is important to note the Government is now stating the antibody tests will be used for ‘surveillance’, which is part of Pillar 4 of the Testing Strategy, as opposed to Pillar 3, antibody testing. The contract award notices relating to the June and August Contracts stated the tests were for Pillar 3.
9 October 2020
The contract award notice relating to the June Contract is published on the TED Europa site.
20 October 2020
The contract award notice relating to the August Contract is published on the TED Europa site.
6 November 2020
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