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Is a reagents shortage delaying European COVID-19 testing?

Fingers are being pointed in the Netherlands and the UK over reagent capacity constraints

by Alex Scott
April 2, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 13


Politicians in the UK and the Netherlands claim that delays in the rollout of COVID-19 testing are because of a shortage of reagents—typically enzymes and buffers—used in antigen tests to determine the presence of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Politicians in the Netherlands have accused Roche of withholding the latest chemical formula for a buffer used in its polymerase chain reaction–based COVID-19 tests. And Dutch media outlets say Roche is keeping reagents for its tests within its home country of Switzerland. The company tells C&EN that it is doing all it can to provide COVID-19 test kits, as well as the required reagents, in Europe and beyond.

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In the UK, “a critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents,” UK government minister Michael Gove told journalists March 31. UK politicians are under scrutiny because the country’s testing lags Germany’s as well as the UK’s own targets.

Some UK producers of reagents suggest that with better planning, more reagent capacity could have been made available sooner. “In times of crisis we could repurpose our focus and resources, but this needs to be managed and coordinated,” says Joe Carey, managing director of Key Organics, a British fine chemical maker.

One diagnostics company says it can help close any reagent gap in the UK. London-based PCR Biosystems says it has capacity to make reagents for 4 million COVID-19 tests per day that are suited to the UK health-care system.


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