05:37 GMT21 October 2020
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    Scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a rapid COVID-19 test that they say can identify the presence of the disease in less than five minutes.

    According to a report on the test published Wednesday on preprint server MedRxiv, the test can detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, with “high accuracy.”

    “Our method quickly detects intact virus particles,” professor Achilles Kapanidis, who was involved in the study and development of the test, told Reuters, adding that the test is “simple, extremely rapid, and cost-effective.”

    Oxford’s rapid diagnostic test directly detects the presence of virus antigens, rather than antibodies or nucleic acids, like many other medical tests. Antigens are typically present on the outside of pathogens, any agents that can cause disease. 

    The researchers are hopeful that the test could be used at airports, music venues and other businesses. 

    In addition, the university hopes to start product development in early 2021 and have an approved testing device available six months later. The university is currently seeking investment to accelerate the process of converting the test into an integrated device, Reuters reported.

    According to health officials, such antigen tests can help mitigate the spread of the disease, 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,” Dr. Nicole Robb, who was also involved in the study, told Reuters. 

    “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,” she added.

    The University of Oxford is not the only organization to have developed a rapid antigen test to detect COVID-19.

    In May, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Quidel Corporation, a US manufacturer of diagnostic health care products, for its Sofia 2 SARS Antigen Fluorescent Immunoassay test.

    In late August, US company Abbott Laboratories also received FDA authorization for its 15-minute antigen test.

    According to the FDA, each category of diagnostic test for COVID-19 plays a different role. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are a molecular diagnostic testing technique that identify viral genetic material and can be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. Although PCR tests are “incredibly accurate,” according to the FDA, analyzing their results is time-consuming.

    “One of the main advantages of an antigen test is the speed of the test, which can provide results in minutes,” the FDA explains.

    However, the downside is that antigen tests may not successfully detect all active infections, since they are not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests.

    “This means that positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives, so negative results do not rule out infection,” the FDA explains.

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    COVID-19, University of Oxford
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