American multinational pharmaceutical and healthcare company Abbott has partnered with an Indian research firm to study viral evolution and transmission patterns for SARS-CoV-2, especially in marginalized and transient populations.
The company under the Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition, an industry-led global scientific and public health partnership dedicated to the early detection of and rapid response to future pandemic threats, has entered into a partnership with YR Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education, a Chennai based non-profit organisation in India for identifying, tracking, analysing and testing emerging threats around the globe, including COVID-19 variants.
“We are looking at viral evolution and transmission patterns for diseases including HIV, hepatitis, and SARS-CoV-2, especially in marginalized and transient populations. Our work together can inform test and treat programs to help effectively reduce the incidence and spread of these diseases in and out of the country. We also work together on virus discovery to mitigate future pathogens of concern,” Mary Rodgers, a principal research scientist at Abbott said.
“We are looking at our work together can inform test and treat programs to help effectively reduce the incidence and spread of these diseases in and out of the country. We also work together on virus discovery to mitigate future pathogens of concern,” said Rodgers.
Rodgers explained that Viruses are continuously changing through an accumulation of mutations - they are being tested by nature to make the virus fitter and more adapted to humans. “Over time, the right combination of mutations shows up, and the pathogenicity or transmissibility of the virus changes. At this point it can become a variant of concern,” said Rodgers.
Abbott and its partners are surveilling for new and known diseases at the sites from Colombia, to India, to South Africa, to Thailand, and more. “Beyond SARS-CoV-2, we are focusing on hepatitis and HIV to help in the global fight to address these ongoing epidemics and from our viral surveillance, we are discovering other viruses, like tropical diseases, that are showing up in new places or re-emerging undetected,” said Rodgers.
“In these instances, we are working closely with our partners to alert local public health to ensure cases can be tracked and accurately identified which could involve designing new diagnostic tests to help identify infections,” Rodgers added.
In Senegal, Abbott has an existing surveillance partnership with IRESSEF, the Institut de Recherche en Santé, de Surveillance Epidémiologique et de Formation as part of the Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition. Abbott worked with IRESSEF to collect and analyze samples of SARS-CoV-2 from the first two waves of infections in 2020 and early 2021 for this study.
“Abbott and our partner studied two primary variants that circulated and dominated Senegal for most of 2020 and early 2021. Our findings showed that these Senegalese variants had higher levels of fitness and infectivity from their mutation characteristics; in fact, one variant was able to prevent Alpha’s takeover of the country. However, both variants were eventually outperformed by Delta,” said Greg Orf, senior scientist at Abbott.
“Since these variants were more fit, we decided to utilize a special kind of calculation called a phylogeographic analysis. This allowed us to take the genetic data and merge it with air travel data to predict the import of SARS-CoV-2 into Senegal, and its export and dispersal from Senegal to other parts of the world. Including air travel data was important because it adds a layer of information that can help resolve ambiguities that the genetic information alone may leave,” said Orf.
Orf further explained that the type of analysis is not new, but it helped us map and better illustrate the travel of these variants, month-by-month. Of particular importance is that the early variant B.1.416, after emerging in Senegal, was exported to Europe - first to France and Spain, and then onto the UK, Italy, and others. After variant B.1.1.420 was imported from Italy, it was re-exported back to Europe as well as the US, Japan, and Australia, Orf said.
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