COVID test combines speed of LFT with accuracy of PCR

1 min read

Researchers in the US have designed a new COVID test that combines the accuracy of PCR testing with the speed of antigen/lateral flow tests.

Known as the Harmony COVID-19 test, it was developed at the University of Washington (UW). According to the team behind it, it uses a ‘PCR-like’ method to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome from a nasal swab sample with the aid of a small, low-cost detector, designed in-house by the UW researchers. A smartphone is used to operate the detector and read the results, with the compact system capable of handling up to four samples at a time.

“For a long time, the options have been either a PCR test that is expensive and typically takes a day or more to get a result, or a rapid antigen test that gives fast results and is low cost, but typically has lower accuracy than a lab PCR test,” said Barry Lutz, a UW associate professor of bioengineering and investigator with the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine.

“From the first day, we designed our test to be manufacturable at low cost and high volume, while delivering fast results with PCR-like performance.”

In a paper published in Science Advances, the Harmony test was shown to deliver 97 per cent accuracy from nasal swabs, comparable to that of lab-based PCR tests. In contrast, antigen tests are believed to be around 80-85 per cent accurate but can provide results within minutes to users at home. As the Omicron variant has spread, these numbers have become less reliable due to the high number of mutations in the virus.

The UW team has spun out a new company, Anavasi Diagnostics, which has received $14.9 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop the Harmony prototype kit, scale up manufacturing and help address the ongoing shortage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests globally.

“We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough that it could be used anywhere,” said Lutz. “We hope that the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world.”