The COVID Crisis: Test Developed At Columbia University Gives Results In 30 Minutes

July 29, 2020

Harlem’s Columbia University, in partnership with the biopharmaceutical company Sorrento Therapeutics, announced Wednesday an agreement that would bring to market a coronavirus saliva-based test people can take at home.

The home test can be completed in one step and would take only 30 minutes to produce a result.

Currently, all commercially available tests for the coronavirus must be shipped to a reference laboratory unless the lab collecting the original sample has purchased expensive equipment to do so on-site.

The process has created a significant backlog of tests that have resulted in people waiting several days to more than a week for their results.

Columbia’s at-home test, which Sorrento will market under the name the “COVI-TRACE,” contains all the testing materials needed in a single tube and requires no specialized laboratory equipment, according to a news release from Sorrento.


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The test was developed by Dr. Zev Williams and his team at the Columbia University Fertility Center.

The test process is a simple one:

  • A small sample of saliva is collected in a cup and then placed in a tube containing enzymes and reagents that can detect the COVID-19 virus.
  • The tube is then placed into a heat block or hot-water bath to keep the sample warm throughout the chemical reaction.
  • The reaction should take 30 minutes or less.
  • If the tube turns yellow, the test is positive.
  • If the tube turns red, the test is negative.

Preliminary study results found the test 97 percent accurate on 30 samples with the virus, and 100 percent accurate on 30 samples without the virus. The study results were published in June by Williams and his colleagues on the non-peer-reviewed server MedRxiv.

The prospect of a quick at-home coronavirus test provided a piece of good news amid the ongoing pandemic.

“Testing for SARS-CoV-2 needs to be fast, frequent and far-reaching,” Williams said in a news release. “We are delighted to work with Sorrento Therapeutics in the hope that COVI-TRACE may be scaled and deployed in the U.S. and around the world to combat the spread of COVID-19.”

Columbia and Sorrento did not specify the exact timeline it would take to get the home test to market, but the CEO of the pharmaceutical company made it clear they want to move quickly.

“COVI-TRACE will be a key asset in our diagnostic solutions, and we intend to move rapidly to submit an emergency use authorization request to the FDA and prepare for full-scale production,” Dr. Henry Ji, CEO of Sorrento, said in the news release printed in Patch.

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