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Connell C - LB Mar 2022

PCR testing here to stay

Covid-19 PCR testing

The Covid-19 pandemic caused an overwhelming demand for PCR testing around the world, especially during the summer of 2021 and entrepreneurs reacted quickly pouring money into technology and laboratories. One year later, there is a clear drop in demand. What’s the future of those invested in the field? Are they struggling to survive, repurposing their labs, or consolidating? We speak to three PCR testing providers to find out more.

Joanne Mason, chief scientific officer of Yourgene Health, says: “Demand for Covid-19 testing is still there. But it is far less than previously. At Yourgene Health we had invested in automation to be able to scale up our testing services. And we are now repurposing that automation equipment for other testing fields. Many molecular diagnostic tests use the same kind of automation. It’s always about getting a sample, extracting it and running the test on it. So, we’re repurposing the lab space.

“Many big players are doing the same,” she says, but there are a lot of labs that popped up purely for Covid-19. What we see now is a lot of them interested in new products, trying to find new services to plug into their existing labs.

“Also, there are some really simple diseases where there’s still a market for PCR. So, I don’t see PCR disappearing entirely.”

Penny McCormick, chief executive of MyHealthChecked, concurs: “I’d be reluctant to say there’s an expiry date for Covid-19 testing because we’ve seen a huge shift in consumer behaviour.

“However, PCR requirements have absolutely reduced since summer 2021. There is a still some requirement for PCR albeit at a much-reduced level, but we’re seeing Covid test demand now being driven by seasonality – festivals, social gatherings, weddings etc. People often feel a sense of responsibility to check before going to an event and it depends on the individual, and their mindset around Covid-19. Many are cautious and will continue to be careful and testing, and that’s going to continue for quite a long time, whereas others will be stepping back from testing.”

For McCormick, that fundamental behaviour change is going to apply to other types of tests as well. MyHealthChecked also provides tests for vitamin deficiency, food intolerances, blood glucose level, heart health, and weight management. “Providers that have the capability in-house to run a PCR test can run other kinds of tests with a range of biomarkers,” she adds.

Speaking about consolidation in the sector McCormick adds: “I think there’s a fantastic opportunity for companies to consolidate and bring great things to the table. And looking to support the changing of customer behaviour, I think there’s a great place for that and it’s a really exciting time to be in the consumer healthcare space.

“How many of us would have thought in our lifetime, we’d be operating in this industry whilst going through a pandemic? Let’s listen to our customers respond to that change, but also be part of driving and bringing innovation together. We’ve all got a job to do here,” she adds.

Stuart MacLennan, chief executive of Circular 1 Health, believes that the pandemic showcased the critical role of the diagnostics sector and the importance of maintaining its services. “Screening during ‘normal times’ will continue to provide protection to vulnerable individuals whilst also allowing for industries to quickly respond to future crises to protect the NHS and wider economy.”

In the travel testing space, Circular1 has been supporting the Eurostar transport operator and has just opened a new testing ‘Health Hub’ in St Pancras station. “In the short term, Covid-19 screening programmes clearly remain essential. Walk-in centres and clinics are here to stay. But there is investment interest linked to a broader health agenda. People are now a bit more used to being tested to travel. So, we’ve got to think about how we can use that. How can we screen for other things?” he adds.

“We are now working with businesses on the broader health picture – encouraging a proactive approach to improving the overall wellbeing of their employees through regular screening and diagnostic testing for a whole suite of physical and mental health conditions.”

Today Circular1 offers a range of screening services other than Covid-19 testing including blood tests, gut health and bowel screening, DNA and epigenetics, along with general health screening.

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