Hong Kong firm says its rapid Covid tests are comparable to PCR tests

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SINGAPORE – Fast and accurate coronavirus testing has become a reality, according to genetic testing company Prenetics.The Hong Kong-based company told CNBC last week that the accuracy of its rapid coronavirus tests is on par with the “gold standard” of PCR tests.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have been widely used to detect coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. They are precise in diagnosing patients, but results take hours to come back.

The Prenetics tests, which were developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and use a loop-mediated isothermal amplification technique, give results within 30 minutes.

In terms of precision, it is comparable to the PCR standard and also much better than the antigen test.

Several companies have published rapid tests, but most are antigenic tests, which detect proteins on the surface of the virus. PCR tests and Prenetics tests detect the genetic material of the virus and are more accurate.

“We actually think it’s definitely a game changer,” said Danny Yeung, CEO and co-founder of Prenetics.

“We are able to process the tests without a lab… the results are much faster,” he told CNBC “Street Signs Asia” on Friday.

A medical worker takes a throat swab from a resident of a testing center September 9, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

Zhang Wei | China Press Service | Getty Images

He added that the kits cost between $ 15 and $ 20, before the labor costs to administer the test were factored in. The tests are available at Heathrow Airport in London and would cost £ 80 ($ 103.48). This is lower than the cost of many private PCR tests in the UK

It is currently on trial at Hong Kong Airport and the company is in talks with other governments and airports.

Precision issues

PCR tests take a long time to process and are “very expensive” due to the lab equipment required, but Yeung acknowledged that they are ideal. “PCR is still the gold standard”.

Still, he said Prenetics’ tests aren’t too far off the mark. “In terms of precision, it is comparable to the PCR standard and also much better than the antigen test. ”

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, antigen tests return results in an hour or less but sometimes produce false negatives. This means that a person who has Covid-19 can test negative.

Yeung said antigen testing may also fail to detect the virus in asymptomatic patients. “The challenge is that when you travel or do population screening, most of these people are asymptomatic.

He added that his company’s tests are “a very good solution” for screening airports because of its speed and accuracy.

“I think it’s a great test for point-of-care testing, for universities, for events to be organized, performances (and) stadiums,” he said.

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