Oxford's rapid COVID-19 test acquired by Prenetics to screen airport passengers in London, Hong Kong

Heathrow airport
Oxsed's CE marked test is currently being trialed at Hong Kong International Airport and Heathrow Airport, and Prenetics aims to eventually deploy the test to other airports worldwide, with a focus on low- and middle- income countries. (Getty Images)

A low-cost, rapid coronavirus diagnostic developed by researchers at the University of Oxford is now in place to screen passengers at major international airports in London and Hong Kong.

The test was first unveiled this past July and was initially designed to deliver a result in 15 to 30 minutes for under $25. A pre-departure diagnostic facility at Heathrow Airport has been set up to screen passengers bound for Hong Kong and Italy, giving travelers the option of completing testing requirements at the airport before arrival.

The nasal swab diagnostic was spun out from the university and its research center in Suzhou, China, under a new company dubbed Oxsed, which was acquired last month by DNAFit Life Sciences, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based test developer Prenetics.

Its CE marked test is currently being trialed at Hong Kong International Airport, and Prenetics aims to eventually deploy the test to other airports worldwide, with a focus on low- and middle- income countries.

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“Our inspiration to develop this rapid test was conceived at Heathrow Airport when our team returned from [the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research] at the start of the pandemic in January of this year,” said Oxsed co-founder Wei Huang, professor in the university’s department of engineering science. “We felt that rapid testing should be a must for airport screening and our entire team has been working day and night to make this development happen. I am now very pleased to see our tests are actually used at Heathrow and making an impact on safe travel.”

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Oxsed’s test uses reverse-transcription, loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or RT-LAMP, which requires less hardware than PCR-based coronavirus lab tests. It generates a colored result that can be read by the naked eye or a digital instrument, with supplies shipped and stored at ambient temperatures.

“After months of intense work alongside Prenetics, they are undoubtedly the perfect partner to quickly roll out our rapid test at scale, and help society resume to a more normal way of living and productivity,” said Oxsed co-founder Zhanfeng Cui, director of the Suzhou center.