A 20-second Covid test developed in Israel delivers results that are almost as good as the gold-standard PCR test – but at a fraction of the cost.

Like any over-the-counter antigen test, it uses a saliva sample, but is far more reliable, according to AI company Virusight Diagnostic.

Clinical tests conducted on 550 people of all ages in Italy scored Virusight’s instant test against the PCR, which generally requires a minimum three-hour turnaround in the lab. Virusight was 96.3% as accurate.

It was ranked as 92.7% as good as PCR for sensitivity – a correct positive result – and 96.8% for specificity – a correct negative result.

“This will be a gamechanger for industry that is still dealing with the ongoing effects of Covid-19 through lost productivity,” said Virusight CEO Gary Cohen.

The test will be launched commercially in Europe in the coming weeks and is awaiting regulatory approval in many other countries. It has been approved as an IVD (in vitro diagnostic) product.

“It provides consistently reliable ultra-rapid testing that correlates with RT-PCR for a fraction of the cost and time,” said Cohen.

“Organizations around the globe are trying to rebuild their businesses while still experiencing an average of 33% absenteeism, which is costing many millions of dollars a day. Having a simple, reliable noninvasive test available at the workplace will significantly help reduce transmission and keep employees and customers safe and healthy.”

Samples are collected via a mouth swab and immediately immersed into a cuvette containing a reagent. A miniaturized, highly sensitive spectral photometer analyzes the sample for the SARS-CoV-2 virus using artificial intelligence and sends the result to a phone or computer within 20 seconds.

Virusight, based at Ness Ziona in central Israel, is a joint venture between the ARC Innovation Center at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan and Newsight Imaging, developer of advanced Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors.

Prof. Eyal Zimlichman, Chief Innovation Officer at Sheba Medical Center and director and founder of ARC, said: “The real value of this way of testing will be seen at the point of care. Having this technology available in pharmacies, aged care facilities and clinics will enable definitive diagnosis immediately, resulting in better control of the pandemic, and also in faster treatment and better health outcomes for patients worldwide.”

Virusight says its ultra-rapid, point-of-care solution is scalable and easily implemented in any environment and could be adapted to detect other pathogens, such as HPV (human papillomavirus).

The clinical study on the Covid test was conducted by the University of Sannio in Italy in conjunction with Virusight’s partner, TechnoGenetics.