AIM companies show "Dunkirk Spirit" to battle pandemic

The names of big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, GSK or AstraZeneca are likely to be well-known to most and so will their work developing a much needed Covid-19 vaccine.

Paul McManus, Managing Director of Walbrook PR
Paul McManus, Managing Director of Walbrook PR

Despite trying to avoid the language of war during these times, the famous war-time analogy of Dunkirk resonates with me when I look at the armada of AIM listed life sciences companies each making their own vital contribution to address the current pandemic.

These smaller listed companies may not be in the national spotlight, but their efforts have rewarded shareholders whobacked them in their infancy, whilst at the same time offering solutions that will benefit everyone.

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Avacta Group: Even if my list is in alphabetical order it is only fitting that we should start with a local, Wetherby-basedbiotech that is using its unique Affimer technology, a more effective alternative to antibodies, to develop a 10 minute saliva test to detect Covid-19 infection.

They are also developing a test that can be run on hospital mass spectrometers. The tests should be available in July and could play a key part in quickly diagnosing those suspected of being infected.

EKF Diagnostics: This Welsh diagnostic company has rapidly repurposed manufacturing facilities near Cardiff to produce a key sample collection technology which allows Covid-19 samples to be immediately deactivated to avoid contamination and which can store RNA in the sample without the need for cold storage transport. To ramp up testing in the UK a safe and easy sample collection and transport mechanism will be essential.

Genedrive: The Manchester based molecular diagnostics firm has used its expertise to develop a test that will run on all types of laboratory testing units to ensure high-quality, high-performance testing. Technical development milestones have been met and the company expects tests to receive CE marking later this month.

Genedrive is also developing the test to be used on its proprietary hand-held testing machine, allowing hospitals to test patients on site, in the ICU, rather than wait for results to come back from the lab.

LiDCO Group: A Herculean effort from staff at LiDCO’s manufacturing site in London has seen them produce and supply more than 200 of their blood monitors to NHS hospitals in the first three months of the year, compared to the 219 monitors that they sold worldwide in the whole of last year.

The sudden demand for their product, which is used for high risk patients in critical care and operating theatres, highlights the importance of monitoring oxygen in the blood for patients with Covid-19 and severe respiratory issues.

Omega Diagnostics Group: Based in Scotland, Omega has joined with York-based Abingdon Health, Oxford University and other diagnostic companies from the home nations, in a consortium to develop an accurate home-use antibody test to detect those who have previously been infected.

With a reported manufacturing capacity of around 50 million tests a year the consortium could be a major contributor to a mass population screening strategy. They have also received CE marking for a lab test for Covid-19 with Omega manufacturing up to 46,000 tests a day. The test, developed by Mologic, is being reviewed by the NHS for formal validation and could be available soon.

Novacyt has risen from relative obscurity to the limelight following the rapid ramp up of orders for its Covid-19 test with over £90m orders now received world-wide and supplying into over 100 countries. They have enlisted the help of Manchester-based Yourgene Health, a molecular diagnostics specialist, to support their manufacturing efforts.

Just like in Dunkirk these “little ships” have all joined the Covid-19 effort and will in the same way help save many lives in the process.