The British government is launching “Operation Moonshot,” a £100bn initiative that pledges to increase daily tests by about 12 times by early next year. Operation Moonshot aims to return freedom to the country.
Last week, to promote this project, the Department of Health and Social Care asked companies to submit ideas to make approximately 3.0 million saliva collection kits daily. All of the kits must be packaged to fit through a standard UK letterbox, so they can be done conveniently at home.
A simple test developed at Sheba involves gargling a small amount of special mouthwash and then spitting into a tube. The saliva sample is then placed inside the SpectraLIT machine, which analyzes it and provides results in just one second. The entire kit is the size of a matchbox, and early results from a trial involving 400 people show 95% accuracy when differentiating between negative and positive COVID-19 samples.
Patients tend to be nervous about having a long stick with a cotton-bud inserted deep into their nose or used to swab the back of their throat. Saliva testing could solve this problem with a cheap, rapid, and more comfortable alternative. Additionally, testing saliva may be a more efficient method because it is known to contain higher amounts of the virus.
Saliva collection also facilitates “pooling,” a method of testing a group of people at once (such as children in a classroom). If the collective sample came back positive, the entire group would need to quarantine.
It was recently revealed that the British government and the biotech company Halo are in discussions about having 500,000 spit tests done per week. Halo factories reported that the saliva collection tests cost only £50, half the price of those involving swabs, and results can be returned to patients within five hours after the sample reaches their lab. In contrast, it can take three days to receive results from current home testing kits.