The Department of Health today revealed it is investing £500million in getting rapid on-the-spot coronavirus tests into public use in its battle against Covid-19.
‘Lab in a van’ mobile testing will allow anyone, even those who don’t feel ill, to get tested quickly at any time and receive their results within minutes, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But first the tests must be proven to work. Although officials say they appear to be on par with the current swab tests, they have not yet been used en masse.
Trials in Salford, Southampton and Hampshire will blaze the trail for the tests, which could change the way people live with coronavirus.
Mr Hancock suggested that if regular, mass testing can come as a result of these devices, it would be the country’s ‘best shot’ at spelling the end of social distancing rules in the absence of a vaccine.
Tests made by the companies Oxford Nanopore (LamPORE technology), Optigene and DNANudge are all being trialled by the British Government on members of the public.
Meanwhile, NHS hospitals are using a swab test-processing machine called the SAMBA II and Public Health England is evaluating kits made in the style of pregnancy tests which could become available in the future.
MailOnline takes a look at some of the tech that could be used in the UK:
LamPORE – saliva sample testing in 90 minutes
The small LamPORE test could be deployed in airports, offices, schools, pubs and restaurants – bringing testing to the bulk of the population
Sample type: Saliva or nasal swab
Turnaround time: 90 minutes
Tests per day: 2,000 (small); 15,000 (large)
Accuracy: 99% (claimed)
Price: Unknown (UK has bought at least 450,000)
Biotech company Oxford Nanopore has developed a portable swab-recording device called LamPORE, which can determine whether a user has Covid in the space of an hour-and-a-half.
The larger device is more suitable for hospitals and airports
The machines take 90 minutes to give a result and can process around 30,000 samples a day.
It involves taking a sample of saliva, unlike existing methods which require invasive and difficult nose and throat swabs.
The LamPORE device, which also comes in a desktop version which is about the size of a printer, uses electronic means to record and analyse the samples.
Each test is given a barcode which is individually assessed before returning back with the result – without having to wait for swabs to be sent to the laboratory.
WHICH TESTS ARE THE GOVERNMENT USING IN THE NEW TRIALS?
Optigene: The Optigene testing kit, which can use nasal swabs or saliva samples, is being used in pilots in Southampton and Salford, Greater Manchester.
A study done during a trial in a Hampshire hospital trust found the tests to be 97% accurate.
LamPORE: The LamPORE technology has been bought in a batch of 450,000 kits by the UK Government and they will be used in the Salford and Southampton trials, and on 2,100 people in schools in the port city.
DNANudge: Officials have bought 5.8million DNANudge tests to be used in 5,000 machines, at a cost of £161million. They will be used in NHS hospitals to analyse nose swabs at speed.
The portable version of the LamPORE device is the same size as a CD player.
Ministers have ordered 450,000 of the tests, which are now being trialled in Salford and Southampton. Millions more are due to be rolled out later in the year if they prove to be effective.
The Salford trial will invite people in the community to come for weekly tests using a new saliva Covid-19 test that produces results in under an hour and a half.
The pilot will begin with a select number of participants and up to 250 tests a day, to be scaled to the whole area.
Initially, the pilot will focus on specific high footfall locations in the city, which includes retail, public services, transport and faith spaces.
Phase two of the no-swab saliva test pilot in Southampton will also start this week.
The second phase of the pilot will trial the weekly testing model in educational settings, with participation from staff and students at the University of Southampton and four Southampton schools.
Over 2,100 pupils and staff across four schools will be invited to have a test as part of the pilot, which is led by a partnership of the University of Southampton, Southampton City Council and the NHS.
The makers of the test have not revealed how accurate it is, and the Government has refused to divulge that information, too.
Mr Hancock said of the tests: ‘Oxford Nanopore’s new rapid LamPORE tests will benefit thousands of people with fast and accurate test results, removing uncertainty and breaking chains of transmission quickly and safely.
‘I am hugely grateful for the fantastic work Oxford Nanopore have done to push forward this important innovation in coronavirus testing.’
OptiGene – swab results in 20 minutes
Sussex-based biomedical company OptiGene has created a nasal and throat swab test that takes just 20 minutes to diagnose people
Sample type: Nasal & throat swab, or saliva
Turnaround time: 20 minutes
Tests per day: 300 per hour
Sussex-based biomedical company OptiGene has created a nasal and throat swab test that takes just 20 minutes to diagnose people.
Once swabs have been collected from patients, the samples are loaded into the devices, known as the Genie HT, which look for tiny traces of the virus in their DNA.
The machines amplify the DNA billions of times chemically so they can detect the virus with extreme sensitivity. They can also be used with saliva samples.
The device has proven to be just as accurate as PCR swabs, which take days to give results, in clinical trials by Public Health England.
In contrast to the widely used PCR tests, which need be processed at different temperatures, the Genie HT does not require a change in temperature to detect results.
It is currently being trialled by the Government on thousands in A&E departments, GP coronavirus testing hubs and care homes across Hampshire, and will be rolled out in the new testing programmes in Salford and Southampton.
Four thousand people of all ages have been involved in the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust trial.
A study done during that trial Hampshire have found the test to be 97 per cent sensitive, meaning it can find 97 out of 100 positive cases, and 99 per cent specific, meaning only one in 100 people would get a false positive result.
DNANudge – 75 minutes to a result from a nostril swab
One of the new test kits, made by London-based DNANudge, scours DNA in nose swabs and takes just 75 minute
Sample type: Nostril
Turnaround time: 75 minutes
Tests per day: 15
Price: £28 each on average (UK paid £161million for 5.8m tests including 5,000 machines)
The DNANudge test can detect the virus from just a nostril sample – much less invasive than some throat swabs.
Once a swab is taken, it’s inserted into a handheld reader that provides results within just 75 minutes.
The DnaNudge has a sensitivity of over 98 per cent – meaning it can pick up on mild and asymptomatic cases – and specificity of 100 per cent.
The 100 per cent specificity means it can tell the difference between a person who doesn’t have the disease at all and a sample which wasn’t taken properly, meaning there aren’t any false negatives.
After successful trials on 500 patients in London hospitals, the ‘lab in a cartridge’ device was approved for clinical use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the end of April.
The Government has purchased at least 5,000 of the DNANudge machines, which can process up to 15 tests a day, to provide six million tests in the coming months.
The test, developed by Imperial College London’s Chris Toumazou, is based on the design of a DNA test and can give a result in just over an hour, significantly cutting down on the 48-hour wait for a laboratory diagnosis.
Matt Hancock has previously said about the machines: ‘By quickly detecting whether the virus is present in an individual, this new test is an important step forward in point of care testing which means that positive cases can be identified and contained quickly and safely.
‘I am hugely grateful to DnaNudge and their incredible work to innovate coronavirus testing, which will mean we can test millions more people in the coming months.’
SAMBA II – £30-a-go swab analyser is 99% accurate
The SAMBA II was created by University of Cambridge spin-off company Diagnostics for the Real World
Sample type: Nose and throat swab
Turnaround time: 90 minutes
Tests per day: 15
Price: £30 per test
The SAMBA II has shown to be almost 99 per cent accurate at analysing swabs and can give a result in just 90 minutes.
The portable machine can diagnose Covid-19 in less than 90 minutes, but only has the capacity to process 15 tests a day.
It was developed by University of Cambridge spin-off company Diagnostics for the Real World.
It scours DNA in throat and nose swabs to detect the virus.
Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge has been trialling the device since April.
They have shown to be so effective that the hospital switched nearly all of its coronavirus testing from standard lab tests to the Samba machines in May.
A Samba test, costing approximately £30 per sample, would outweigh the cost of each additional bed day at around £200 ‘many times over’, the team said.
The tests have been validated at the Public Health England, Cambridge in 102 patient samples and shown to have 98.7 per cent sensitivity and 100 per cent specificity.
The machines are already used to diagnose other blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
Randox – portable swab tester saves on lab time
Randox’s portable antigen test, called the Vivalytic, can process five swabs an hour
Sample type: Nose and throat swab
Turnaround time: 12 minutes
Tests per day: Five per hour
The Government partnered with Northern Irish firm Randox in April to ramp up testing in the nation.
Randox’s portable antigen test, called the Vivalytic, can process five swabs an hour. These are likely to be the same type of swabs currently used – that go in the nose and mouth – but processed at speed.
It has been scaled up across multiple hospitals in Northern Ireland.
The device is also used at the point of care and operated by a healthcare professional.
Randox says its device works by ‘identifying SARS-CoV-2 and differentiating it from nine other respiratory infections with similar symptoms, including influenza and all known coronaviruses’.
The devices are still being trialled.
In July, 750,000 swabs were recalled after they failed to meet the required safety standards. Randox said the issue was with one of its suppliers of its swabs.
The machines which process the swabs have not been deemed unsafe.
Pregnancy test-style kits – home tests for £5 being checked by PHE
Sir John Bell, an Oxford University scientist and key Government adviser, said cheap pregnancy-style tests devices were currently being assessed by scientists at Public Health England
Rapid tests for Covid-19 which give a diagnosis in minutes could be approved within weeks, according to a leading scientist.
Sir John Bell, an Oxford University scientist and key Government adviser, said the cheap devices were currently being assessed by scientists at Public Health England.
He did not reveal which tests have been selected for inspection by officials, but mentioned a ‘lovely test from the US’ being brought in.
He claimed they could be sold on Amazon or Boots for as little as £5 if they are proven to be over 90 per cent accurate.
Professor Bell said the devices, that are ‘no larger than a teacup’, plug into a socket in the wall and process swabs within an hour.
One from the US which is currently under review is able to process a sample in the time it would take for a person to have a shower or eat their breakfast, he claimed.
Sir John said scientists at Porton Down – government run laboratories in Salisbury, Wiltshire, are currently assessing rapid antigen tests.
Intelligent Fingerprinting – experimental kit that uses sweat
The rapid test scours sweat for the virus and takes just 10 minutes
This sweat-testing kit is not a confirmed part of the UK Government’s considerations but has potential as a simple alternative to swab testing.
British diagnostics firm Intelligent Fingerprinting and Imperial College London joined forces to develop a rapid test that scours sweat for the virus.
The test is said to take just 10 minutes to produce a diagnosis. It works by collecting fingerprint sweat onto a small test cartridge for analysis. The sample is then analysed by a portable DSR-Plus analysis unit.
The machine uses sensitive lateral flow technology and fluorescence measurement methods.
Its makes say the test is more hygienic and has less chance of being done wrong because it utilises sweat samples rather than a throat or mouth swab.
It’s unclear how accurate the test is or whether UK ministers are looking into it.