Episode 2 – SARS-CoV-2 variants with Dr Justin Lee, CDC, Professor Vasan, CSIRO & Dr Chantal Vogels, Yale School of Medicine

Posted: 2 August 2021 | | No comments yet

Listen to this podcast to discover how SARS-CoV-2 variants are sequenced and why PCR assays could provide an alternative for resource-constrained places.

In this episode of Drug Target Review’s podcast, sponsored by Bio-Rad, Deputy Editor Victoria Rees speaks with Dr Justin Lee from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Professor Vasan from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Dr Chantal Vogels from Yale School of Medicine, US. The topic of this podcast is focused on SARS-CoV-2 variants and why it is important to identify these as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“If emerging variants do have increased transmission, or perhaps have the ability to cause more severe disease, the sooner we know about them, the more effective our public health interventions can be,” said Dr Lee.

The discussion also includes how SARS-CoV-2 variants can be sequenced, as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages to the technologies used for this.

“The variants are essentially detected by comparing against the original Wuhan reference strain and then comparing against it, what has changed. Unless we are able to track these variants, in almost real time, we will have lost the edge if a particular variant emerges that is dangerous… However, in practice it takes a long time for the patient turning positive to the sequencing being completed,” said Professor Vasan.

Also in this episode, Dr Vogels explains how her team developed a PCR assay that can aid in the monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 variants in areas with fewer resources. 

“In an ideal situation, you would have the ability to diagnose someone, determine which variant it is and then make an informed decision on how to treat this patient. However, it is hard to do that on a very short time scale. For instance, with next-generation sequencing – which is currently the golden standard for variant identification – it takes time,” said Dr Vogels. “Right now, there is at least some more capacity for sequencing and there is definitely development to sequence more and at a larger scale. However, there are many areas in the world where sequencing is just not accessible and that is because it is expensive, time consuming and you need specific expertise. Without the access to sequencing, it is very hard to do any sort of variant surveillance. But, many places are equipped to run PCR and having a variant PCR can at least help to get a rough idea of population-level variants that are circulating.”

The speakers conclude that identifying and monitoring SARS-CoV-2 variants will be key in ending the pandemic.

Keep an eye out for Drug Target Review’s next podcast, coming soon!

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