Avacta set for "momentous milestones" as it prepares to launch Covid-19 test

Drug developer Avacta said it has several "momentous milestones" ahead with the launch of a rapid, saliva based coronavirus test that could help solve the UK's testing crisis.

Alastair Smith, chief executive of Avacta Group
Alastair Smith, chief executive of Avacta Group

The Wetherby-based firm hopes to get the test, which works like a pregnancy test but uses saliva, validated before the end of 2020, which could be a game changer for the UK's testing capability.

Analyst Mark Brewer at FinnCap said: "Avacta is aiming to have validated its rapid SARS-CoV-2 antigen test in the fourth quarter of 2020, the exact timing of which is dependent on pilot batch product from BBI Solutions.

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"However, it is increasingly clear that there is a need for mass screening tests to isolate and remove infectious people, with Avacta’s test at the forefront."

Avacta plans to focus on the UK first and foremost in a bid to supply a cheap, simple, highly accurate test that can say whether people are infected with Covid-19. Some tests currently being used can provide false positives, leading people to self isolate when they are not actually infectious. It will then turn its attention to the US market.

The firm is working with two UK manufacturers to make the test, BBI Solutions and Abingdon Health, and is in talks with a third UK manufacturer, Omega Diagnostics.

Dr Alastair Smith, chief executive of Avacta Group, said there is also overseas manufacturing capacity.

He stressed that it is vital to carry out the proper clinical procedures to ensure the test is effective.

"It is really important we do this properly because it takes a lot of risk out of the process," he added.

"If we don't, if we rush it and don't do it properly, it just pushes the risk down the line into the clinical validation."

The UK currently has access to less than 10 million coronavirus tests and a population of 68 million people.

"Clearly there has to be a scale up," said Dr Smith.

"We are focussing initially on the UK because demand will massively outstrip supply."

Avacta is collaborating with life sciences giant Cytiva to develop the rapid saliva test for the Covid-19 coronavirus antigen for mass population screening.

In addition to the saliva test, Avacta said there are multiple other opportunities in the pipeline that have been created by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binding Affimers. Affimers are

Avacta’s high-tech alternative to antibodies.

These opportunities include the BAMS assay with Adeptrix and several others that it will update the market on in due course.

Dr Smith said: "We are working tirelessly to bring all these opportunities to the point of revenue generation as quickly as we possibly can."

He said the recent share placing has allowed the group to resource an expanded immunotherapy and chemotherapy pipeline and substantially increase the size of the research and clinical development teams at its Cambridge site to unlock the potential of these two innovative and powerful therapeutic platforms.

"We expect it to be a very exciting and genuinely transformational year ahead for Avacta, as we work with our partners to progress through each of the necessary stages to deliver on all of these opportunities," said Dr Smith.

Avacta is working with Adeptrix to develop a high throughput, Affimer-based SARS-CoV-2 mass spectrometry test to be used on hospitals' existing base of mass spectrometers to diagnose Covid-19 infection.

The firm has also signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Medusa19 for direct-to-consumer sales of a saliva-based, rapid test for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein antigen.

It said collaborative work with the Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow showed that certain Affimer reagents, which bind to the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, prevent infection of human cells by a SARS-CoV-2 model virus, and therefore provide a potential therapy for Covid-19 infection.

Dr Smith said: "It has been a period of significant advancement despite the restrictions placed upon all of us by the coronavirus pandemic and I am immensely proud of the Avacta team for having delivered substantial progress under these difficult conditions.

"It will be a very exciting and genuinely transformational year ahead for Avacta, as we work with our partners to progress through each of the necessary stages to deliver on all of these opportunities and I look forward to keeping the market updated as we hit the major milestones."