In the Derbyshire countryside, there is a laboratory where scientists have been at the forefront of the global battle against COVID-19.

SureScreen Diagnostics has been established for nearly 25 years and one of its point-of-care tests is used every two seconds. The chances are that if you have undergone a urine test at a GP’s surgery, it will have been provided by the Derby company.

The business is run by the Campbell brothers, David, Alex and Alastair, who picked up the baton from their father, Jim – a ground-breaker who was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list for his work in the community and health care.

Jim has pioneered many innovations and began a business to diagnose material failures for major engineering companies. As his company developed, it separated SureScreen Scientifics, which still handles metallurgy contracts, and SureScreen Diagnostics, which is world-renowned for testing.

Because it remains a family business, decisions can be made quickly – therefore, when concerns began to emerge from China about a virus that could sweep the world, SureScreen’s team were among the first to react.

Before Christmas, 2019, three months before UK lockdown, the company’s scientists were working on an antibody test for Covid-19.

By the time the British Government was announcing its emergency measures, SureScreen had a 10-minute pregnancy-style fingerprick test which would show, with 98 per cent accuracy, whether a patient had contracted the virus.

Embedded into the test strip are antibodies that bind to Covid-19 specific biomarkers, Immunoglobulin G and Immunoglobulin M.

When a sample (blood, serum or plasma) is added to one end of the test, it flows along the test strip and interacts with these antibodies. If the patient has contracted Covid-19, the biomarkers in their blood will bind to the antibodies on the test strip, leaving a visible test line.

If the patient doesn’t have Covid-19, no biomarkers should be present in their blood and no test line will be visible. Millions of the tests have been exported to 53 states and dependencies and governments and pharmaceutical companies across the globe, who see them as key to understanding the spread of the virus.

They have been used in Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bulgaria, China, Columbia, Croatia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guernsey, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle Of Man, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Latvia, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Russian Federation, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, the UK, United States and Zimbabwe.

Director David Campbell said: “We have a long history of providing innovative point-of-care tests, such as fertility, drugs of abuse and infectious disease tests, into markets all around the world, so it is great that we’ve been able to use our expertise to help with the global pandemic.

“At a time when many firms are having to shed jobs, SureScreen has taken on 30 extra staff to cope with the demand for its tests.”

It has supplied many private UK firms and has been in discussions with NHS Trusts following endorsement from esteemed British laboratories at Guys and St Thomas’s Foundation Trust and Kings College London.

The rapid test’s latest official recommendation has come from the Belgian Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products, following a validation study made by the University of Leuven. Meanwhile, SureScreen’s test has been accepted into the French health service’s reimbursement scheme.

This approval from the Government means that it pays for its use of the test in hospitals across the country. In the UK, private companies large and small have been using SureScreen’s rapid test. These include a care home where 21 people had died before the test was used to offer vital reassurance to staff who were worried about contracting the disease.

David says: “We are proud that our test is being used so widely around the world and helping to understand the spread of infection and save lives.”

SureScreen’s top team to be researching possibilities to create further solutions to help with the pandemic. Its latest collaboration is with Irish company RoqU, which has created Heath Passport Ireland – a combination of test and app technology to allow access to business, travel, hospitality and entertainment venues.

David added: “Rapid testing for Covid-19 is critical to helping us all deal with the virus and we will continue to provide our tests and innovate to help people wherever we can.”

During the Covid period or beyond, if there is a path to discovery, it will often begin in the laboratories of SureScreen Diagnostics in Derbyshire.

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