Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

London — UK pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and AstraZeneca are in talks to set up a lab to explore new ways of testing for the coronavirus to help overcome shortages of diagnostic materials, according to a person with knowledge of the plans.

The drugmakers will evaluate the use of different raw materials needed to carry out the tests and use their know-how and resources to help other companies or the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) increase production, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the details of the discussions aren’t yet public.

On Thursday, UK health secretary Matt Hancock pledged to increase coronavirus testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April. The decision, announced at the government’s daily press briefing, came after mounting criticism about the limited number of tests being done. A shortage of reagents and swabs used in tests have been blamed for delays.

As part of a new five-pillar approach to testing, Hancock said the government will work with pharmaceutical companies to help with the rapid increase.

“Our pharmaceutical giants, such as AstraZeneca and GSK, which have no great history in diagnostics, are now working with our world-leading, but small, diagnostics companies to build a British diagnostics industry at scale,” Hancock said.

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said in a statement on Friday that the company had spoken with the government about helping and using its “in-house scientific capabilities to increase the effectiveness of the national testing effort”, but declined to comment on the specifics.

GSK has responded to requests to support UK efforts to expand testing for Covid-19, including providing lab equipment and scientific advice, the company said in a statement. While testing isn’t a core activity, it is in discussions about other ways to help in the national effort.