Innova Medical Group, the world’s largest COVID-19 test provider, has secured the licensing rights for commercializing a new COVID-19 testing technology developed at the University of Birmingham. The new COVID test is a molecular test called the reverse transcription-free exponential amplification reaction (RTF-EXPAR) and produces results in just ten minutes.
The RTF-EXPAR technology is touted to be as sensitive as PCR and LAMP tests, which are currently used in hospital settings.
Given the speed of the RTF-EXPAR technology, the new test could be installed in various places such as airports, malls, entertainment venues and remote settings where clinical testing is not available.
The new technology is not only as sensitive as PCR tests but also faster and more sensitive than lateral flow (rapid antigen) tests.
What makes the test both speedy and mobile is that it does not require specialized lab equipment, significantly reducing wait times for test results as it bypasses the need to send samples to a lab.
The new RTF-EXPAR testing platform is also being adapted for the detection of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 as well as other viruses, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) which cause cancers like cervical cancer.
In a news release from the University of Birmingham, professor of biotechnology at the university Tim Dafforn explained that the RTF test works by amplifying “small quantities of viral genetic material, producing a detectable signal within ten minutes, which is much faster than PCR or LAMP testing and even quicker than lateral flow tests.”
The test achieves its speed in two ways: a new RNA to DNA conversion step designed by Dr. Dafforn and his research team that avoids reverse transcription, and an alternative DNA amplification process (EXPAR).
“The reverse transcription and amplification steps slow down existing COVID-19 assays like LAMP and PCR, which are based on nucleic acid detection. Thus, an ideal test would be both sufficiently sensitive and speedy,” said Dr. Dafforn.
In addition, EXPAR amplifies DNA at a single temperature as opposed to the lengthy heating and cooling steps in PCR.
Professor of Supramolecular Chemistry James Tucker from the University of Birmingham explained that while “LAMP also uses a single temperature for amplification, EXPAR is a simpler and a more direct process, in which much smaller strands are amplified. This makes EXPAR an even faster DNA amplification technique than not only PCR but also LAMP.”
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Innova Medical Group, which secured the licensing rights for the test, is the world’s largest provider of lateral flow tests. The company is planning for a global rollout of the RTF-EXPAR test for widespread use by 2023.
Robert Kasprzak, chief executive officer at Innova, said, “The RTF technology developed at the University of Birmingham hits a testing sweet spot. It’s just as sensitive as PCR and LAMP tests, but without the time constraints and laboratory equipment required for these methods. We’re excited about accelerating RTF’s growth and further complementing our current portfolio of healthcare diagnostic products, strengthening the pandemic management solutions we offer to global customers.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, Innova has delivered more than 1.5 billion lateral flow tests worldwide.