(SKY NEWS) – COVID-19 testing machines that can make a diagnosis in less than 90 minutes are to be rolled out across the UK.
Ten of the portable machines, called Samba II, are already being used to diagnose coronavirus patients at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge as of this week.
Developed by a University of Cambridge spin-off company called Diagnostics for the Real World, researchers said their COVID-19 tests had been validated by Public Health England (PHE) – and that they were expected to be launched in hospitals across the country.
The government has come under increasing pressure as testing numbers have remained low, with testing of frontline NHS staff only beginning in high numbers at the weekend, and Boris Johnson promising on Wednesday to “massively ramp up” testing.
Researchers said the Samba II – originally developed for early HIV diagnosis – is “extremely sensitive” at detecting active infections, with 98.7% of people correctly identified as having COVID-19.
Nasal and throat swabs from patients are loaded into the machines which look for tiny traces of genetic material belonging to the coronavirus.
In less than 90 minutes, Samba can deliver a diagnosis – unlike current tests which can take 24 hours or longer, researchers said.
Dr Helen Lee, inventor and chief executive of Diagnostics for the Real World, said: “Our goal has always been to make cutting-edge technology so simple and robust that the Samba machine can be placed literally anywhere and operated by anyone with minimum training.”
The machines will be used to test NHS staff and members of the public suspected of having COVID-19.
Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Sir Chris Hohn has donated £2.3m to make the test more widely available, with 100 machines being bought with his donation.
Tests in 102 patient samples had 98.7% sensitivity – ability to correctly identify positive cases – and 100% specificity – the ability to correctly identify negative cases, the researchers said.
Martin Curran, from PHE Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, who conducted the evaluation, said: “I am extremely happy with the performance of the Samba test because it matched the routine centralised laboratory results.”