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An NHS track and trace staff member holds up COVID-19 testing kits at a test centre amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bolton, Britain, September 17, 202

UK scientists develop five-minute Covid-19 antigen test

Image credit: REUTERS/Phil Noble

Scientists at Oxford University have developed a rapid Covid-19 test, which is capable of identifying the virus in less than five minutes.

The researchers behind the test suggested it could be used in mass testing at airports. The university aims to start product development in early 2021 and have an approved device available six months afterwards. 

The device can detect the coronavirus and distinguish it from other viruses with high accuracy, the researchers said in a pre-print study. “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 like this could be key to rolling out mass testing and loosening restrictions while the coronavirus is still circulating. Those already in use are faster and cheaper, but they are less accurate than existing PCR tests.

Earlier this week, Siemens Healthineers announced the launch of a rapid antigen test kit in Europe to detect coronavirus infections, but warned that the industry may struggle to meet a surge in demand.

Although the Oxford device will only be ready next year, the tests could help manage the pandemic in time for winter 2021, the researchers said. Health experts have cautioned that the world will need to live with some Covid-19 restrictions 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 can reliably distinguish between different viruses in clinical samples, a development that offers a crucial advantage in the next phase of the pandemic.”

Oxford University is one of many institutions seeking to develop a coronavirus vaccine. However, in earlier September, its final clinical trials were put on hold due to an “unexplained illness” of one of its participants. Trials have since resumed.

At the end of July, the university developed a test incorporating AI which could identifying coronavirus within one hour. Meanwhile, an Imperial College London spinout company called DnaNudge has developed a portable test that aims to diagnose Covid-19 in 90 minutes. 

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