End of PCR tests? Researchers develop alternative that they say is ‘just as accurate’ and faster


End of PCR tests? Researchers develop alternative that they say is ‘just as accurate’ and gives results in just 10 minutes

  • Experts from the University of Birmingham claim their kit could rival PCR tests 
  • Study found its accuracy was ‘equivalent’ to PCR but at least five-times faster
  • Researchers claimed it could be rolled out in airports in as little as three months










A new Covid test said to be quicker than a lateral flow and as accurate as a PCR could be rolled out in just three months.

Experts from the University of Birmingham claim they have developed a swab-analysing device that gives an on-the-spot result in as little as three minutes.

Rapid lateral flow tests are currently the fastest on the market, giving a diagnosis in under half an hour, but they are less reliable and cannot be used for foreign travel. 

A study of the new test – known as RTF-EXPAR – found its accuracy was ‘equivalent’ to PCR, producing the correct result more than nine in ten times.

In a timed trial, the device spotted Covid in eight minutes compared to the 42 minutes it took for a PCR to detect the virus in the same sample.

In reality, a PCR test takes a full day on average to deliver a result because of the time it takes for the sample to be sent to a lab for analysis. 

The new method sees a throat and nose swab sample inserted into a machine that scours for the virus’ genetic material and amplifies it many times over. It is carried out by a trained professional.

One of the researchers behind the test said it would be ‘ideally suited’ to airports and could be rolled out in three to six months with commercial backing. 

While the exact cost has not been disclosed, they have promised it will be ‘much cheaper’ than a PCR test. 

A study of the new test – known as RTF-EXPAR – found its accuracy was ‘equivalent’ to PCR, producing the correct result more than nine in ten times. The new method sees a throat and nose swab sample inserted into a machine that scours for the virus’ genetic material and amplifies it many times over. It is carried out by a trained professional

The development comes amid ongoing controversy about the extortionate expense of PCR tests required for travellers coming to the UK. 

PCR tests typically cost around £65 but some private clinics are charging around £200.

PCR tests for travel are a ‘RIP OFF’, says ex-competition watchdog chair

PCR tests for travel have turned into ‘a predictable Covid rip-off’, the ex-chair of the Competition and Markets Authority has warned.

Lord Tyrie blasted ‘exploitative practices’ of firms charging up to £136 for two swabs for returning double-jabbed tourists.

But he also slammed the competition regulator – which he left last summer – for being ‘too slow to react’ to complaints.

Travellers have been left livid after prices for the tests rocketed despite poor service from many of the 400-plus government-approved companies.

Yesterday a planned crackdown on rogue firms descended into farce after one which left hundreds in the lurch was promoted to the top of the government’s list.

Last week Sajid Javid pledged to tackle ‘cowboy’ private testing firms, insisting they would start being purged from the GOV.UK site on Saturday.

Lord Tyrie blasted the CMA and said that it ‘could and should have been better prepared’.

The former MP for Chichester told the BBC: ‘It should either be acting already directly using existing powers.

‘Or if deemed inadequate for the job, it should be advising the government on how to obtain a quick remedy, whether by legislation or by other means.

‘This advice should already be with the government.’

He pointed out his former employers had been quick to swoop on price inflation among hand sanitiser and other Covid-quelling products last year.

The Peer said the CMA has the ability to attack the swollen costs and needs to shake off the ‘excess of caution at the highest levels’.  

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has acknowledged that the cost of PCR testing can be ‘a barrier’ to people wanting to travel and said consumers and families need to be protected from ‘exploitative practices’.

An internal review of the pricing and standards of service from test providers was announced at the weekend.

On Friday, the Department of Health said the cost of NHS Test and Trace tests for international arrivals would be reduced – going down from £88 to £68 for travellers coming from green list countries, or those arriving from amber list countries who are fully vaccinated.

The cost for people arriving from amber list countries who are not double jabbed was reduced from £170 to £136 for two tests. 

The University of Birmingham test uses a process known as the exponential amplification reaction (EXPAR) method to detect the virus. 

It would need to be reviewed by health officials before being authorised for widespread use in the UK, like lateral flow and PCR tests have been. 

Tim Dafforn, professor of biotechnology at the university’s School of Biosciences, said: ‘The simplicity and speed of this new test means that it is ideally suited to environments where a rapid answer is required close to need, like airports and entertainment venues.

‘The test works with existing instrumentation, meaning that it could conceivably be deployed in these areas in three to six months with some commercial backing.’

At low levels of virus, results were detected in around 8 minutes and 45 seconds, while at high concentrations the detection time was just three minutes and eight second, the researchers said.

Professor Andrew Beggs, from the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the university, who also worked on the study published in PNAS, said their test should be ‘much cheaper’ than laboratory-based tests and added that they would like to see it rolled out ‘as soon as possible’.

He added: ‘The analysis showed RTF-EXPAR’s sensitivity is equivalent to quantitative PCR testing, with a positive predictive value of 89 per cent, and a negative predictive value of 93 per cent.’

The full results will be published ‘in the near future’, he said.

Professor Beggs added: ‘The university has filed a patent application and is talking to commercial partners who would bring the test to market. We’d like to see it rolled out as soon as possible.

‘The test is suitable for near-patient testing, so should be much cheaper than laboratory-based tests’.



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