UK firm Novacyt wins Zimbabwe contract for 1.5 million COVID-19 test kits

Zimbabwe has ordered 1.5 million COVID-19 test kits from Novacyt, the London-listed biotech company has announced.

The shipment to Zimbabwe is the company’s largest contract outside the United Kingdom so far, said the firm. Half a million kits will be shipped immediately with the rest of the order to be shipped in coming weeks.

Graham Mullis, Group CEO of Novacyt, said: “We are encouraged by the increasing number of new markets validating our COVID-19 test for clinical use, which can be seen in the significant increase in sales and order commitments received to date. The competitive tender process and subsequent award in Zimbabwe to support the country’s national COVID-19 testing effort is a key example of our increasing global reach. As new regions are impacted by the pandemic, we expect the demand for our COVID-19 test to continue to grow.”

Novacyt’s PCR test was designed by the company’s molecular diagnostics unit, Primerdesign, based in Southampton. The World Health Organisation announced in April that Primerdesign’s genesig Real-Time PCR test was one of the first two diagnostic tests for emergency use.

There’s no immediate detail on the value of the Zimbabwe order. However, Novacyt said it had total sales and confirmed orders worth US$150.3 million for the product, which includes the new sales to Zimbabwe and Latin America.

In a statement, Novacyt said the award of the contract came after a formal evaluation by Zimbabwe of the COVID-19 test.

“Outside the UK, this is the largest contract secured by Novacyt to date. The initial purchase order for the first 500,000 tests has been received and will be shipped immediately. The remaining one million tests will be shipped over the coming weeks,” the company announced.

In January, Novacyt was one of the first companies to design and bring to market a novel coronavirus testing kit. According to the company, the test has the ability to only detect the Covid-19 strain and return results in less than two hours. The product is sold in over 130 countries with the company’s two top markets being the UK and Germany.

Zimbabwe’s procurement of materials and test kits to fight COVID-19 has been sullied by allegations of corruption.  

As at Tuesday, Zimbabwe had a total of 203 cumulative positive cases of COVID-19.

Zimbabwe has been failing to meet its daily testing target of 1000, hit by a shortage of reagents, the chemicals used in COVID-19 tests. The country is also short of swabs and transport media, the special solutions which are used to preserve a specimen from the time of collection to the time it arrives at a lab. By Tuesday, Zimbabwe had conducted 19,290 PCR tests.

Zimbabwe has seen a spike in new cases, mostly among returning citizens in 21-day quarantine. While in quarantine, people are supposed to be tested three times; on arrival, on day eight, and on day 21. However, testing there has been slow, with results being delayed, while many of the facilities are crowded and lack basic amenities.