Dr Peter FitzGerald: “Nothing will ever be the same again.”

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Dr Peter FitzGerald: “Nothing will ever be the same again.”

Dr Peter FitzGerald: Nothing will ever be the same again.

An Interview with Ulster Business Editor John Mulgrew in The Belfast Telegraph, in which Dr FitzGerald speaks to John about developing and helping roll out millions of tests for Covid-19, a forever changed society, the high likelihood of a similar pandemic returning and when a vaccine for the virus could be found.

Dr Peter FitzGerald’s expertise and opinion has probably never been taken as seriously as it has in the last few months.

“Nothing will be the same again,” he tells Ulster Business. And, of course, he’s right.

His firm Randox – based in Antrim – has been on the front line of testing for Covid-19 right across the UK and beyond. And as a result, he’s hired hundreds of new staff and built a £30m testing lab to deal with additional deluge of work resulting from a global pandemic unlike anyone here has ever seen.

“I think there is a reasonable chance there will be more pandemics, with globalisation and increased population,” he told Ulster Business. “I have no idea how much it will come back again in second wave.

“We know we have the capacity as a company to respond, and respond well. I suspect the country is going to be better prepared… it’s hard to predict.”

The medical testing giant’s first involvement with the current coronavirus strain began back in January, before it became an increasingly concerning dinner conversation in homes across Northern Ireland.

“In late January, research called and were looking at doing a test,” Peter said. “We downloaded the genetic sequence of the virus and spent the next two weeks developing a test. We can do it very quickly, as we already had coronaviruses on chip.

“It was sent to Public Health England, which took a while to prove it. We then got a contract to test for the NHS… we were doing what we thought was for the national good.”

The initial deal didn’t include all of the UK, but Randox is now also testing Northern Ireland.

“We do the testing and we have different analysers that do the testing as well, which we sell to labs across the world.”

The virus has led to a new complete lab being built (in which Peter is pictured in) to deal with the additional testing. “We decided to accelerate the manufacturing in our Randox Science Park in Antrim,” he says.

As a result, it has hired around 200 staff in the space of six to eight weeks to deal with the surge.

“Because we had closely related strains of the virus, it was wasn’t so difficult to modify our tests to allow for slightly different variations… once we got the contract we soon realised that we didn’t have enough lab space to deal with the ramp up.

“We then decided to be 33,000 sq ft of new lab space, and it was needed in three weeks. We got that done – work was 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. It’s now operating well. That has been very important in the process.”

Randox had a workforce of around 1,450 worldwide before the coronavirus crisis began, but has since taken on around 280 additional staff for a range of roles, partly in ramping up demand for the additional testing.

“A lot were being taken on a temporary basis but many will be permanent. We are not sure of the final numbers, but well over 100.” Those roles include scientists, manufacturers, and engineers.

“Nothing will be the same again,” Peter says. “What it has done is heightened the importance of testing. People sometimes don’t know what we do here at Randox… but people now realise.

“In the end, it’s a good thing. We are advocates of testing. It identities disease before symptoms occur and can save lives in many occasions. It saves lives and saves costs. It fits in with what we have been trying to do for years… as far as we are concerned, it’s the silver lining.

“We have customers worldwide and other products kept going. We moved around 100 scientists into Covid-related things and then they have gone back to normal jobs as we bring in new people.

“Some of our R&D projects have changed, new systems and new analysers allow for efficient and accurate testing.”

Peter says that just a small element of the business has seen a decrease amid the crisis, while other areas around Covid-19 have grown. “Only a small element of core business decreased. But our Covid and other genetic products have increased… overall sales will be up and by end of year normal business up as well.”

As a result of the latest expansion and growth across the business, generally speaking, Peter says the workforce looks set to climb to 1,650, with around 500-600 based at its main headquarters, just outside Antrim.

Peter’s also keen to reiterate the importance of Northern Ireland and its people to Randox. “This is our home base. It’s where we do our primary R&D and manufacturing. We also have a facility in Donegal.”

And, could all of this happen again soon, with a further outbreak or a similarly devastating strain or pandemic?

“(We are) more prepared and our technology is getting more accepted through bio chips. Early detection is a very important next stage. You don’t want people who have a cough or fever to think they have Covid all the time. That is where testing comes in and that differentiates.”

Peter says the next stop forward in a bid to address similar future incidents it also understanding how our immune systems work – better.
“The other major step forward in many ways is understanding the immune system better. How to better respond to infection. This will be very important.

“Some people are susceptible, and this could be genetic. (It’s about) working on certain genes in those who may have a bad attack. It will prepare humans better, the body’s defence, dealing with it as well.

“I have a deficiency in a particular gene which means I’m more susceptible to respiratory (conditions) but the spin-off of the gene means I’m less susceptible to certain cancers. This is the issue – it is so complex. One could be a strength and one moment, a weakness.”

And as for the formulation of a proven vaccine, Peter says: “I would say it would be well into next year.”

    For further information please email randoxpr@randox.com

    Photo Credit Elaine Hill

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    Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell support Randox in call for future focus on diagnostics

    News       About Us       COVID-19

     

    29 June 2020

    Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell support Randox in call for future focus on diagnostics

    Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell support Randox in call for future focus on diagnostics

    In a recent Opinion Piece in The Daily Telegraph, our Managing Director Dr Peter FitzGerald stressed the value of diagnostics, the important role it plays in public health, and the contribution it has made specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Whilst regrettable that it has taken a pandemic to bring the health diagnostics sector into focus, it is a positive step forward for healthcare that the huge national and international scope of our sector is now rightly acknowledged.

    Indeed, Dr FitzGerald’s commentary was acknowledged by both the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, and the Minister for Innovation, Jim Bethell.

    The Secretary of State noted that “Randox have played a vital role in building our global-scale diagnostics capacity.”

      It is clear that the diagnostics industry, inclusive of the work Randox has done in the field, has had a positive impact in the fight against COVID-19. We know that testing at scale is the most effective way to both save lives, and ensure a timely return to a more normal society.

      We are very proud of our staff, for their ongoing support, and for their commitment to the work that we do, which is making a real and positive difference.

      You can read Dr FitzGerald’s full Opinion Piece for The Daily Telegraph, on our own website, by clicking here.

      For further information please contact randoxpr@randox.com or phone 028 9442 2413

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

      News       About Us       COVID-19

       

      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.

        For further information please email randoxpr@randox.com

         

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        Official statement from Randox on Covid-19 testing

        News       About Us        Randox Biochip

         

        03 April 2020

         

        OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM RANDOX

        On the emergence of the Covid-19 threat Randox utilised their years of regulated diagnostic experience to quickly develop and robustly validate a test for the Covid-19 virus.  Randox had significant confidence in this test and presented them to Public Health England (PHE) for evaluation.  PHE were managing this validation process for each of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

        The UK Government showed significant confidence in Randox’s capability and conducted full engagement and planning subject to PHE acceptance of the Randox test.  When PHE acceptance was granted, the Randox part in the national plan had been prepared and was quickly initiated.

        We understand that the national plan for the testing of key workers is exactly that, a national plan, inclusive of Northern Ireland.  Initially relatively small numbers of tests were sent to the areas of significant national threat in London.

        The planning for the national distribution of test kits is being managed by the various relevant statutory agencies however Randox has made the case that tests should be made available locally.  Following that engagement, tests have now been made directly available within Northern Ireland and Randox will continue to support Northern Ireland within the UK national plan.

        Randox have acted with speed and initiative throughout this crisis and will continue to ramp up our testing capability to support the national testing plan for key workers in Northern Ireland.

        Every part of Randox’s business is focused on doing everything we can to support the Covid-19 testing programme, to both save lives and ensure the speediest possible return to a more normal society.

        For more information please contact the Randox PR team by emailing randoxpr@randox.com

         

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