Scientists from Britain’s University of Oxford have developed a rapid COVID-19 test able to identify the coronavirus in less than five minutes, researchers said on Thursday, adding it could be used in mass testing at airports and businesses.
The university hopes to start product development in early 2021 and have an approved device six months later.
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It will be able to detect the coronavirus and distinguish it from other viruses with high accuracy, the researchers said.
“Our method quickly detects intact virus particles,” said professor Achilles Kapanidis, at Oxford’s Department of Physics, adding that this meant the test would be “simple, extremely rapid, and cost-effective”.
Rapid antigen tests are seen as key in rolling out mass-testing and reopening economies while the coronavirus is still circulating.
Siemens Healthineers on Wednesday announced the launch of a rapid antigen test kit in Europe to detect coronavirus infections but warned the industry may struggle to meet a surge in demand.
Although the Oxford platform will only be ready next year, the tests could help manage the pandemic in time for next winter.
Hopes for a rapid vaccine rollout recently suffered a setback as US pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly said on Tuesday it had suspended the phase three trial of its antibody treatment over an unspecified incident, the second in less than 24 hours after Johnson & Johnson ran into a similar problem.
Health officials have warned the world will need to live with the novel coronavirus even if a vaccine is developed.
“A significant concern for the upcoming winter months is the unpredictable effects of co-circulation of SARS-CoV-2 with other seasonal respiratory viruses,” said Dr Nicole Robb, of Warwick Medical School.
“We have shown that our assay (test) can reliably distinguish between different viruses in clinical samples, a development that offers a crucial advantage in the next phase of the pandemic,” added Robb, who is working on the Oxford University device.
The virus is still spreading worldwide, with more than one million deaths and 37 million infections. Many nations that suppressed their first outbreaks now face a second wave.
This week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions to control the surge in infections, with bars and pubs closing in the worst-hit parts of England.
In the United Kingdom, Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer called for a two-to-three-week “circuit break” lockdown to slow the rates.