Health & Fitness

The Hong Kong biotech says its 30-minute coronavirus assessments are on par with the gold customary.


SINGAPORE – According to genetic testing company Prenetics, fast and accurate coronavirus testing has become a reality.

The Hong Kong-based company told CNBC last week that the accuracy of its rapid coronavirus tests was comparable to the "gold standard" of PCR testing.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have been widely used to detect coronavirus infections since the beginning of the pandemic. They are accurate at diagnosing patients, but it takes hours for results to return.

Prenetics tests, developed by researchers at Oxford University using a loop-mediated isothermal amplification technique, provide results in 30 minutes.

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

Several companies have released rapid tests, but most are antigen tests that detect proteins on the surface of the virus. PCR tests and Prenetics tests detect genetic material from the virus and are more accurate.

"We actually believe it is definitely a game changer," said Danny Yeung, CEO and co-founder of Prenetics.

"We can do tests without a laboratory … the results are much faster," he told CNBC's Street Signs Asia on Friday.

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

Zhang Wei | China News Service | Getty Images

He added that kits cost between $ 15 and $ 20 before taking into account the labor cost of running the test. The tests are available at Heathrow Airport in London and are reported to cost £ 80 ($ 103.48). This is less than the cost of many UK private PCR tests.

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

Accuracy concerns

PCR tests take a long time to process and are "very expensive" due to the laboratory equipment required. However, Yeung acknowledged that they are ideal. "PCR is always the gold standard."

Still, he said Prenetics' testing isn't too far off target. "In terms of accuracy, it is comparable to the PCR standard and also much better than antigen tests."

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, antigen tests provide results in an hour or less, but sometimes produce false negative results. That means a person with Covid-19 may test negative.

Yeung said antigen tests might fail to detect the virus in asymptomatic patients. "The challenge is that most of these people are asymptomatic when they travel or do population screening."

He added that his company's tests are "a really great solution" for airport control because of their speed and accuracy.

"I think this is a great test for point-of-care testing, for universities, for events, performances (and stadiums)," he said.


Katherine Clark