COVID-19 has shown UK leadership on diagnostics; we can now become a world leader

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25 June 2020

COVID-19 has shown UK leadership on diagnostics

COVID-19 has shown UK leadership on diagnostics; we can now become a world leader

An Opinion Piece by Dr Peter FitzGerald, Managing Director of Randox Laboratories, in The Daily Telegraph

When I founded Randox Laboratories in 1982 in Antrim, Northern Ireland, I could not have envisaged that today we would be manufacturing more clinical diagnostic products than any other company in the UK. Whilst I am incredibly proud that Randox is taking a leading role in the national Covid-19 testing effort, it is deeply regrettable that it has taken this pandemic to bring the UK’s health diagnostics sector into focus.

The pandemic represents the biggest diagnostics and health infrastructure challenge of modern times.  It has forced and necessitated a herculean collaborative effort from Government, the NHS and the private sector. This partnership has delivered a new trust and information sharing network which bodes well for the future.

Ministers now know what we can do and rightly acknowledge the huge national and international scope of our sector and for global UK leadership and new skilled jobs.  The Government is right to highlight and reflect that too many of these critical sectors and supplies have been allowed to be offshored in recent years. This has consequently had implications for patient care and the support available for health workers.

In March, the World Health Organisation’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that he had a simple message to countries on how to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak that was sweeping the globe, this message was ‘Test, test, test.’ In the UK, mass testing was, at that time, simply not possible. Indeed, the Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, acknowledged  that it was the lack of a significant domestic diagnostic industry that had impeded the Government’s initial efforts on testing, which is why we were behind Germany and other states.  He was right and much has already been done to re-shore capacity and re-set this policy alongside understanding the importance for future British sector leadership.

Going forward, we can and must deliver a new and much tighter partnership between the NHS and private sector across diagnostics and preventative healthcare. Improved communication, co-operation and partnerships will grow British sector expertise, jobs and skills.  The potential for British leadership and success here is huge.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of welcoming Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis MP to see our new £30m specialist Covid-19 testing hub at the Randox Science Park in Northern Ireland.  This investment will create 200 new science, engineering and manufacturing jobs at the facility on top of our existing workforce. It was fast-tracked over the space of four weeks and is the first step in a wider diagnostics investment programme as part of Randox’s efforts to enhance our national Covid testing capacity.

A wider appreciation of the value and resource support for diagnostics testing and preventative health policy is now overdue and timely especially when you consider that seventy per cent of all medical decisions are based on the results of lab tests.  This testing must now account for more than the two per cent of the national healthcare budget.   Alongside our major focus on R&D, our scientists work on pioneering research into a range of common illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. With around twenty five percent of turnover reinvested in R&D, Randox has more new tests in development than any other diagnostic company.  Our products are used across hospitals and veterinary laboratories, food testing, forensic toxicology and life sciences.

Randox labs have spent over £305 million researching the thousands of biomarkers present in our bodies and have identified the gold standard in testing. Our patented Biochip Array Technology has revolutionized the diagnostics industry by offering a unique testing platform which allows multiple tests to be carried out from a single patient sample. On Covid, we have been able to include two tests on the same biochip; one specific and one confirmatory as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The ambition and determination to build a world-beating British diagnostics sector is overdue and right.  It offers so many advantages ranging from a healthier and happier population which lives longer to more skilled jobs in a sector which works hand in glove with our world beating academia and NHS.  The pandemic has rightly brought the UK’s diagnostics capability into sharp focus, and it is paramount that when we move to a post-Covid world, we take what we have learned from this crisis and build a self-reliant sector fit for the future.

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