Omega Diagnostics has boosted headcount at its facility in Alva by more than two-thirds as the Scottish diagnostics specialist has geared up for mass production of Covid-19 testing kits. 

Speaking after the company released a trading update covering the six months to September 30, group finance director Kieron Harbinson said the Alva headquarters will be home to more than 100 employees from the start of next week. The increase from 60 in May follows a £1 million investment to increase its high-volume manufacturing capability, with current capacity of 200,000 tests per week set to rise to 500,000 by the end of December. 

Looking further ahead, Mr Harbinson said staff numbers could double again to 200 if there is deemed to be sufficient demand for its test kits. Omega hopes to have further clarity on those demand levels by the end of this year.

READ MORE: Omega confirms Covid-19 test order volumes

“We are exploring how we might take production up to the order of two million tests per week,” he said. “If we were doing that I think we would be looking to mid-April as a timeframe.” 

Shares in AIM-listed Omega fell yesterday after the company revealed a 29 per cent drop in turnover for the first six months of the year. The expected decline in revenues to just less than £3.2m was driven by a 38% fall in its dominant food intolerance testing division, which suffered as global health priorities focused on the pandemic. 

As a result, earnings for the period – as calculated before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation – will come in at a loss of approximately £1.3m. 

Mr Harbinson said there has since been a recovery in demand for food intolerance testing, with a rebound in orders coming from across Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Sales in October are expected to be approximately 20% higher on the same period last year.

READ MORE: Full launch this month as Omega gets Covid test approval

Omega said it believes there are significant near-term opportunities for this business unit in China, where it is awaiting confirmation of regulatory approval of a self-test version of its Food Detective kit.  The company is also looking to access the US market. 

Earlier this month, the UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC) of which Omega is a member announced the UK Government had placed its first order for one million rapid AbC-19 antibody tests, which detect whether an individual has been previously infected by the coronavirus. Omega will manufacture approximately 175,000 of the first one million tests, and will produce “not less” than 25% of the demand from total orders placed over the term of the Government supply agreement. 

The company is also working on a rapid antibody test with Bedfordshire-based Mologic, as well as a rapid antigen test to detect those currently infected by the coronavirus. Both are lateral flow tests – similar to a home pregnancy test – which produce immediate results at the point where the test is taken.

READ MORE: Omega Diagnostics gets key clearance for HIV tests

The Mologic antibody test is said to be gaining “early sales traction” that “provides confidence for performance in the second half of the year”. A prototype of the Mologic antigen test is currently in evaluation “in a number of healthcare settings”, with the results to date looking “promising”. 

By contrast, the Mologic ELISA antibody test, which must be sent away to a lab to procure results, has failed to gain the levels of traction initially anticipated. 

Mr Harbinson said it appears to be getting “squeezed out” between similar lab tests from larger competitors that can run on much higher volume equipment, and a broader market preference for lateral flow tests that produce fast results. As a “mitigating strategy”, Omega is looking at whether to offer its ELISA test to healthcare practitioners in the UK, with the results processed at its laboratory in Littleport, Cambridgeshire. 

Elsewhere, the company has received a number of purchase orders from Uganda and Mozambique for its Visitect CD4 test to help manage the care of patients with HIV. These have been channelled through a supply agreement signed earlier this year with the Clinton Health Access Initiative. 

Omega will announce its half-year results on November 30. Its shares closed yesterday’s trading down 18.5p at 74p.