Smiths to help make blood-based coronavirus test in Britain

(Reuters) - Smiths Group SMIN.L will help produce a blood-based COVID-19 antibody test approved by Britain's healthcare regulator in the firm's latest involvement in tackling the coronavirus.

London-listed Smiths, whose baggage screening kit and explosive detectors are common in airports, delayed a long-sought separation of its medical unit in March to focus on making ventilators for Britain.

Smiths said on Wednesday it had agreed with privately held biopharma firm Attomarker, which makes tests for diabetes, allergies and infections, to manufacture its handheld, triple antibody COVID-19 test device for an undisclosed sum.

Antibodies are the body's natural defence to infections, and their presence in the blood to confirm COVID-19 is also being used in tests developed by Roche ROG.S and Abbott ABT.N.

Attomarker’s test for the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus will look for three different virus proteins and three types of antibodies, improving its chances of more accurate detections even after a long period.

The firm separately said its technology, approved by Britain's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for use by the NHS, had delivered results in seven minutes with a sensitivity of up to 96%, 14 days after COVID-19 symptoms appeared in a bench-top version. (

Attomarker, which was spun off from the University of Exeter, focuses on making blood-testing devices that use cloud technology to connect to medical professionals.

Smiths said it had been in talks with Attomarker since April over testing and developing the technology, adding that it had the ability to scale production to meet demand.

A portable version is expected to go into production in late 2020 or early 2021.

Attomarker said that it was also testing a combined COVID-19 and flu antibody test with this year’s flu vaccine.

Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru and Alisair Smout in London; Editing by Bernard Orr, Maju Samuel and Alexander Smith