Oxford researchers develop portable COVID-19 test costing less than $25

The University of Oxford and its research center in China are launching a new company to develop a rapid COVID-19 test that could cost no more than £20, or about $25 U.S.

“Our test is ideal for use in community or field settings by laypersons and allows immediate decisions to be made,” said Zhanfeng Cui, director of the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research. 

“Immediate applications are: returning to work/education (i.e., schools, universities, companies) and making quarantine decision (e.g. care homes, hospitals, temporary migrants, tourists),” said Cui. “Use of such a test could be crucial to economic recovery globally.”

The simplified viral RNA test is based on RT-LAMP technology, for reverse transcription, loop-mediated isothermal amplification. The method uses less hardware than the PCR-based coronavirus lab tests in widespread use, which can require dozens of cycles of heating and cooling to drive the DNA reactions needed to produce a result. The researchers say their version can be used in the field without specialized equipment or additional scientific training.

“An advantage of using LAMP technology is that it uses different reagents to most laboratory-based PCR tests,” said Monique Andersson, director of microbiology at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which worked to clinically validate the test.

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“Implementation of this test for screening would ease the pressure on the PCR reagent supply chain in the NHS,” Andersson added. “In terms of its wider application, the assay requires little infrastructure and is relatively low cost making it a viable option for widespread testing in [low- to middle-income countries].”

Oxford’s single-step test generates a colored result in 30 to 45 minutes from a throat or nasal swab, and can be read by the naked eye or a digital instrument. The researchers said they plan to publish the results of their clinical validation in the near future. 

In addition, the test kits can be shipped and stored at ambient temperatures, without the need for a cold chain, according to Wei Huang, an associate professor of engineering science who helped design the test. 

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For the next steps, the university’s commercialization arm helped form a new company named Oxsed Limited, to pursue a CE mark and bring the test to market.

“Speed of response is crucial in the current pandemic, and we are very pleased to have supported our researchers through the commercialization process in just three months,” said Jane Jin, a senior licensing and venture manager at Oxford University Innovation. “Now that the social venture has been incorporated we look forward to seeing the technology deployed globally at scale, in particular in resource-poor developing countries.”