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11 May 2021

Unilabs expands PCR pooling, offering accurate, affordable mass testing to businesses and schools

Geneva, 11 May 2021: Unilabs, the leading European diagnostic services provider, is ramping up PCR pooling, a new Covid-19 mass testing method that produces highly accurate results with significantly less resources. Pooling is already up and running in Switzerland and Slovakia, and is being rolled out to other countries in Unilabs’ sixteen-country network now.   

“We’re proud to have repurposed the “pooling” technique for the fight against Covid-19, and we are seeing strong demand from our clients,” said Dr Christian Rebhan, Unilabs’ Chief Medical Officer. “Pooling is perfect for repeat testing of asymptomatic individuals in defined groups such as business, institutions, and schools, and its lower cost also makes it a realistic option for routine mass testing.”   

“More and more schools and businesses are enrolling in our Unilabs Protect™ program to ensure a safe return to work, and to create and maintain protected communities –  and our teams are working around the clock to scale this up,” said Timóteo Guimarães, the head of Unilabs’ Covid-19 business unit. “Pooling allows us to process many more people at the same time, at 50-80% lower cost. Since it’s possible to use saliva samples, it’s also less intrusive and thus better suited to schoolchildren.”

Rapid antigen testing can often miss infectious patients. Some studies estimate that antigen testing misses more than 40% of all asymptomatic infections – a serious problem, since a full third of all Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic. During an outbreak, false negatives can be particularly harmful since infectious patients are free to continue unwittingly infecting others.      

By contrast, PCR testing accurately detects cases even when the person has no symptoms. While the time to result is the same as with single-sample PCR tests – around 24 hours – pooling means many more samples can be tested and retested.

Pooling works by combining samples from different individuals and performing a single standard PCR test on the resulting “meta-sample”. Unilabs’ scientists careful model the ratio to match prevalence in a given population, ensuring maximum efficacy. The most common ratio is currently 10:1.  

A negative result shows that none of the individuals have Covid-19. If the test is positive, the samples are tested separately to identify infected patients.

Pooling works best for fixed sets of people – students attending the same school, or work colleagues – and when Covid-19 prevalence is low. Since large numbers of people can be given the all-clear quickly and cheaply, pooling delivers significant benefits versus individual PCR tests.

Unilabs recently broke the ten million Covid-19 test mark across its network of 16 countries. Since the start of the pandemic, Unilabs has hugely increased both sampling and testing capacity. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and with dedicated new labs in Portugal, the Netherlands, UK and the UAE, current capacity at Unilabs exceeds 500,000 tests per week and rising.


Media contact:

Alistair Hammond, Director of Communications


t: +44 771 773 0441


About Unilabs

Unilabs is one of Europe’s largest diagnostics companies. It offers a complete range of laboratory, pathology, and imaging services for patients all around the world. With 12,700 employees across 150 imaging centres and 250 labs in 16 countries, we perform more than four million lab tests a week – saving lives every single day.