UPenn Medical School develops low cost COVID-19 test called RAPID

The test was developed as an alternative to RT-PCR tests, which require trained laboratory technicians to perform and can take days to get results back.
By Mallory Hackett
12:10 pm

Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have developed a diagnostic test for COVID-19 made of scalable materials that can deliver results within minutes at a fraction of the cost of other tests.

Called RAPID 1.0 (Real-time Accurate Portable Impedimetric Detection prototype 1.0), the test was developed as an alternative to RT-PCR tests, which require trained laboratory technicians to perform and can take days to get results back, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The new test uses a screen-printed electrode, which the researchers say can be mass-produced, to detect the virus in nasal-swab or saliva samples. Results are returned within four minutes and can be read on a benchtop instrument or on a smartphone.

What’s more, the RAPID test costs $4.67 to produce, according to the researchers. Meanwhile, the average cost of a PCR test is $148, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker.


When performance-tested, RAPID was 87.1% accurate in detecting COVID-19 from nasal swabs and 90% accurate for saliva samples.

Additionally, the test was able to detect COVID-19 at “extremely love concentrations,” meaning it can test for the virus within two to three days after the onset of symptoms. The researchers say this could be helpful in catching individuals in the early stages of infection in order to stop further spread.

"Quick and reliable tests like RAPID allow for high-frequency testing, which can help identify asymptomatic individuals who, once they learn they are infected, will stay home and decrease spread,” Dr. Marcelo Der Torossian Torres, a postdoctoral researcher at Penn and an author of the study, said in a statement.

“We envision this type of test being able to be used at high-populated locations such as schools, airports, stadiums, companies – or even in one's own home.”


The research team assessed the performance of RAPID using both COVID-19 positive and negative clinical samples from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which included the UK B117 variant.

They analyzed 139 nasal-swab samples and 50 saliva samples in a blind test.


Even as more Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine, testing is still a major part of President Biden’s National Strategy for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. So far, about 35% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since taking office, the Biden Administration has made a number of moves to expand testing.

These include a $231.8 million deal with Ellume in February to deliver 8.5 million tests across the U.S., a $650 million investment to expand testing for K-8 schools and for underserved settings, and a $12 billion investment to expand testing in schools, for racial and ethnic minority groups, and for people living in rural areas.

The Food and Drug Administration has also played a critical part in making COVID-19 tests available. It recently shared that it will allow marketing for some COVID-19 screening tests before their effectiveness is studied in asymptomatic individuals.

Additionally, the FDA has authorized numerous mail-order, in-home, OTC or app-connected COVID-19 tests over the past year. Notably, it gave its first EUA for home testing to Lucira last November, its first OTC in-home diagnostic test EUA to Ellume Health last December and its first at-home OTC molecular test EUA to Cue Health this March.


"Prior to the pandemic, our lab was working on diagnostics for bacterial infections. But then, COVID-19 hit. We felt a responsibility to use our expertise to help – and the diagnostic space was ripe for improvements," Dr. César de la Fuente, professor at Penn and the research team lead, said in a statement.

"We feel strongly about the health inequities witnessed during the pandemic, with testing access and the vaccine rollout, for example. We believe inexpensive diagnostic tests like RAPID could help bridge some of those gaps."


Innovating on a budget

In May, we look at how companies all over the world are creating new digital health tools with less funding.


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