New COVID-19 test can deliver accurate results in 30 minutes

The Prenetics test, based on research from Oxford University, uses technology that amplifies genetic material from the virus and allows it to be detected quickly, according to the company.

A Hong Kong company is rolling out a rapid coronavirus test that promises highly accurate results within just 30 minutes.

Genetic-testing firm Prenetics says its new test can tell patients whether they have COVID-19 about as well as so-called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests, which are considered the gold standard for accuracy but take at least four to six hours to process.

The Prenetics test, based on research from Oxford University, uses technology that amplifies genetic material from the virus and allows it to be detected quickly, according to the company.

Prenetics CEO Danny Yeung says the method is more accurate than so-called antigen tests, which scan for proteins typically found on the surface of the virus. Antigen test kits have become more widely used in recent months because they can return results in as little as 15 minutes, but they’re generally not as reliable as PCR tests.

An antigen test is “a great test for diagnosing individuals with symptoms,” Yeung told CNBC. “The challenge is, when you’re traveling or population screening, most of these individuals are asymptomatic. So this is where [Prenetics’] test is able to identify both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, whereas antigen cannot do that.”

Prenetics says it has already set up a testing site at Heathrow Airport in London to screen passengers before their flights. The company also launched a trial of the test — which costs $15 to $20 before labor and other costs are added — last week at Hong Kong International Airport to compare it to the PCR method, Yeung told CNBC.

Danny Yeung, CEO and founder of biotech start-up Prenetics/Circle DNAAFP via Getty Images

Prenetics says it’s also in discussions with global international airports, but further details of those talks haven’t been released.

Prenetics got the rights to the new test when it acquired Oxsed, a so-called social venture company spun out from Oxford University. The terms of the deal announced last week will allow Oxsed to focus on prioritizing low- and middle-income countries as the test is rolled out, according to a press release.

“After months of intense work alongside with Prenetics, they are in no doubt the perfect partner to quickly roll out the Oxford rapid test at scale, and help society resume a more normal way of living and productivity,” Zhanfeng Cui, an Oxford professor and Oxsed co-founder, said in a statement.

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