Our laboratories in Milton Keynes are at the forefront of the national COVID-19 testing effort. We have now analysed several million swab samples.
We are part of the largest diagnostic network the UK has ever seen.
After being commissioned by the UK Government to provide this service in March 2020, we repurposed existing laboratories and built new ones to provide the capacity required to analyse swab samples at scale.
Initially an army of volunteer scientists tested swabs manually whilst helping us develop a wholly automated process. Now liquid handling robots and other kit and machinery fill our laboratories.
During September and October 2020 we installed new robots and enhanced some of the manual processes to safely build in more capacity. As a result, we are now testing up to 67,500 samples each day.
We are also running tests using a new and different technology, as part of a planned clinical validation process. This new technology has the potential to offer a seismic shift in testing capacity in the near future.
“UK Biocentre has transformed its operations to deliver high quality COVID-19 testing at enormous scale.
We are hugely grateful to staff in the laboratories and to our partners who support us with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment,
as well as their time and expertise. Without their support it would not have been possible to ramp up testing to these historic levels.
In the midst of these uncertain and challenging times, UK Biocentre is providing accurate test results that will help people take
appropriate action and ensure the country can get on top of the virus.”
Professor Peter Weissberg CBE MD DSc FRCP FMedSci, Chairman of UK Biocentre
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You cannot be tested for COVID-19 at UK Biocentre
UK Biocentre is not a medical centre that tests people. Our role is solely to analyse swab samples. If you need to be tested, you should contact the NHS Coronavirus service
How we test swab samples
Once someone has been tested for COVID-19 the swab sample is sent to our laboratories. We receive samples from a range of sources including people’s homes and the COVID-19 drive-through testing centres. UK Biocentre experts analyse each swab sample to determine whether COVID-19 is present.
Accurate results at scale through automation
With the support of numerous partners, we have installed state-of-the-art robotic equipment and other technology that enables us to analyse tens of thousands of samples in a matter of hours each day. Accuracy remains our number one priority, and we continue to work closely with the NHS and PHE to ensure we meet the highest standards every time.
Working with expert scientists to meet growing demand
To meet the growing demand, we have increased the number of people working with us. Starting as a staff team of just 35, we now have the support of over 450 people working with us on shift patters 24/7. We are very grateful to all the highly experienced molecular scientists, technicians, bioinformaticians and other colleagues who support us.
UK Biocentre is uniquely placed to support at this time
We have the capability to accurately analyse large volumes of samples, and we have the space and expertise to continue to expand our operations. We are working closely with our partners in the Lighthouse Lab network, and we are proud to acknowledge the many private and public organisations who are partnering with us. These include Thermo Fisher Scientific, Tecan and Brooks, as well as Public Health England, the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care.
The UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce is supporting efforts to rapidly develop a safe, effective and accessible coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible. Clinical trials are underway to assess whether the Oxford coronavirus vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, developed by the University of Oxford in collaboration with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, protects against COVID-19. UK Biocentre is regularly testing swabs as part of this effort.
An important part of the long-term strategy against COVID-19 is to study the behaviour of the coronavirus. To support this, we are freezing and storing positive samples in secure facilities, that will be made available for future research.
Dr Tony Cox OBE, Chief Executive of UK Biocentre, said:
“Building a national infrastructure for high volume COVID-19 testing is an extraordinarily complex task. The speed and scale of collaboration between individuals across industry and academia to support these efforts is unprecedented and underlines the crucial nature of national co-operation in times of emergency. The shared sense of pace and purpose will maximise our ability to support wide scale testing, and help us understand infection rates and the wider effects of control measures.”