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Drug Giants Join With Cambridge to Speed U.K. Virus Testing

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 4/7/2020 John Lauerman
a close up of a bottle: Pipettes operate on a rack of test tubes inside an ribonucleic acid (RNA) extractor at the LBM LxBio medical biology laboratory in Rodez, France, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. France is preparing fiscal stimulus focusing on investment and financial aid for industrial sectors including the automotive industry, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, giving the first indication of how the government plans to reboot the economy after the coronavirus crisis. © Bloomberg Pipettes operate on a rack of test tubes inside an ribonucleic acid (RNA) extractor at the LBM LxBio medical biology laboratory in Rodez, France, on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. France is preparing fiscal stimulus focusing on investment and financial aid for industrial sectors including the automotive industry, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, giving the first indication of how the government plans to reboot the economy after the coronavirus crisis.

(Bloomberg) --

AstraZeneca Plc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the U.K.’s two pharmaceutical giants, will collaborate with the University of Cambridge to develop technology to test more of the country’s residents for the deadly coronavirus.

The group will begin working at the university’s Anne McLaren laboratory on developing high-throughput screening, according to a statement. One of the key goals is to find tests using alternatives to chemicals that are now in short supply.

Ramping up testing is seen as a critical step in understanding how widespread the virus is, and whether people who have recovered from Covid-19 can resume working without risk of transmitting it. The stealthy virus is able to be spread by people who haven’t yet developed symptoms, or won’t at all.

Working with Public Health England, the group aims to be operational by early May and add capacity for about 30,000 tests a day, the companies said. AstraZeneca and Glaxo will also contribute their expertise in automation and robotics to expand capacity at U.K. national testing centers in Milton Keynes, Alderley Park and Glasgow, according to the statement.

Several European nations are considering lifting restrictions on movement and commerce amid signs that deaths and infections are easing. The ability to test for the virus, isolate the infected and quarantine their contacts will be needed to keep outbreaks from returning.

The Wellcome Trust announced Tuesday that it’s seeking $8 billion from companies worldwide by the end of this month to fund the development of drugs, vaccines and other tools to fight the virus. Director Jeremy Farrar, who’s also an infectious disease researcher, called resurgences of the epidemic “inevitable” in the absence of such weapons.

Glaxo said Monday that it’s signed a pact to work with Vir Biotechnology Inc. on developing treatment for Covid-19 and has agreed to invest $250 million in the U.S. company.

(Updates with timing for operations in fourth paragraph)

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