UW researchers develop fast, highly-accurate COVID-19 test

University of Washington researchers have developed a new, quick COVID-19 test that they say matches the accuracy of PCR tests.

The university announced Monday the ‘Harmony’ COVID-19 test has both the speed of rapid over-the-counter antigen tests, and the accuracy of PCR tests used in clinics and hospitals. The Harmony kit detects genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, like standard PCR tests, but can take less than 20 minutes to provide results.

"We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough that it could be used anywhere," said UW associate bioengineering professor Barry Lutz. "We hope that the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world."

UW says the test uses a ‘PCR-like’ method to detect the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome in a nasal swab sample. The kit detects three different regions of the virus’ genome, which allows it to keep up with new strains; if one region has too many mutations, the kit can still detect the other two.

(Mark Stone / University of Washington)

As an example, UW says the omicron variant has dozens of mutations in the region of the genome that encodes the ‘spike protein.’ The Harmony kit can still detect this as the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The kit also comes with a low-cost detector that pairs with a smartphone and is used to provide test results. Researchers say it fits into a car’s glove compartment.

The university notes that test accuracy has been an ever-present issue during the pandemic – at-home antigen tests, which only detect pieces of proteins created by the virus, is around 80-85% accurate. PCR tests are around 95% accurate or better, but require several cycles of heating and cooling to detect genetic material in a sample.

RELATED: Washington launches website for free at-home COVID-19 tests

Initial results published in a research paper pin the Harmony kit’s effectiveness at 97%.

"For a long time, the options have been either a PCR test that is expensive and typically takes a day or more to get a result, or a rapid antigen test that gives fast results and is low cost, but typically has lower accuracy than a lab PCR test," said Lutz. "From the first day, we designed our test to be manufacturable at low cost and high volume, while delivering fast results with PCR-like performance."

Lutz and his colleagues started a company based on their research, Anavasi Diagnostics, supported by $300,000 WE-REACH and $14.9 million National Institutes of Health grants, to further develop their Harmony prototype kit and scale up manufacturing.

Lutz says he hopes to have the kits available first for clinics, workplaces and schools. After that, they would look to adapt the kit for at-home use.

RELATED: 'We need your help'; King Co. hospitals at breaking point for capacity

READ MORE: 'We need your help'; King Co. hospitals at breaking point for capacity

Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 13 Seattle app. Download for Apple iOS or Android. And sign up for BREAKING NEWS emails delivered straight to your inbox.

Stay connected with FOX 13 News on all platforms:
DOWNLOAD: FOX 13 News and Weather Apps
WATCH: FOX 13 News Live
SUBSCRIBE: FOX 13 on YouTube
DAILY BRIEF: Sign Up For Our Newsletter
FOLLOW: Facebook Twitter Instagram

Watch FOX 13 Seattle for the latest news: