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28 April, 2021 - 11:40 By Tony Quested

Excalibur aims to put Covid to the sword for Cambridge University students

Sir Chris Evans’ company Excalibur Healthcare Services has been appointed by Cambridge University to deliver comprehensive and highly accurate student COVID-19 testing.

Sir Chris has set up a laboratory at Cambridge Science Park in a move that is very much back to the future: He founded some of the first biotech companies in the uK at the location in the 1980s and 90s.

Excalibur will now act as the University’s principal provider of PCR analysis for COVID-19 samples from students.

This partnership will maintain a comprehensive and highly accurate testing regime at the University, able to pinpoint outbreaks to specific student groups on campus or in private accommodation.

Excalibur will perform sample analysis on a daily basis, to cover the weekly screening of up to 15,000 students. As younger adults, students will be among the last in the UK to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and therefore at risk of infection and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 over the forthcoming months.  Excalibur has just started sample analysis this week.  

The University has in place an innovative method for the regular screening of its student population, using pooled samples based on households. Swabs from household members are combined in a single sample tube, then tested using PCR on a weekly basis. If a pool is found to be positive, all members of the household provide individual swabs, to identify the person or people with infection.

Samples have previously been processed at the Cambridge Lighthouse laboratory, part of the UK Lighthouse Labs network. Using pooled samples and laboratory PCR tests provides a very high level of accuracy and can detect infection early to prevent spread. It reduces the number of PCR tests required and meets excellent standards in data integrity and public health reporting.

Excalibur and the University have adopted identical safeguards for the security of personal identifiable information to those used by the University and the Cambridge Lighthouse laboratory. 

Professor Sir Chris, chairman and chief executive officer of Excalibur Healthcare Services, said: “Excalibur has a strong heritage in Cambridge dating to the 1980s and 1990s when I founded some of the first biotech companies in Britain and we are delighted to be appointed by the University for this important testing work.

“Our laboratory in Cambridge provides PCR analysis to the highest international standards. We look forward to ensuring the seamless continuity of service to protect university staff and students and the wider local community.”

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor: Enterprise and Business Relations, University of Cambridge added: “We look forward to working with the professional team at Excalibur. 

“Our partnership will be important in helping us maintain the highest standards of protection for our students, staff and members of the local community with whom they come into contact.”

Excalibur established its laboratory on the Cambridge Science Park and delivers PCR, serology and sequencing based laboratory testing through its subsidiary Excalibur Diagnostics Limited. 

At the laboratory Excalibur uses a direct to PCR method to create a significantly more rapid process by avoiding the requirement for RNA extraction, thereby reducing costs and protecting the integrity of the underlying sample.

The University comprises 31 autonomous colleges and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. Its 19,000 student body includes 3,700 international students from 120 countries.

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