Variants of Concern and Surveillance

Viral diversity presents ongoing challenges for the diagnosis of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Several variants of public health significance have been identified since the start of the pandemic. Most notably, in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India to name just a few.

A mutation (viral or genetic mutation) of SARS-CoV-2 changes the virus' genetic sequence. New variants have one or more mutations that differentiate them from the predominant virus in the human population. Variants can, however, have different characteristics, and although further evidence is needed, there is enough to suggest they can be more transmissive or evasive to the current generation of vaccines.

The US FDA, in March 2021, highlighted ways variants have impacted SARS-CoV-2 tests and limited their efficacy. Abbott has been able to stay in lockstep with viral mutations, thanks to its longstanding Global Viral Surveillance Program. Our global surveillance effort helps detect variants by leveraging a network of expert collaborators that sequence the SARS-CoV-2 genome and also track other viruses with the aim to avert the next pandemic, through the newly-formed Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition.

With deadly COVID waves such as those in India and Brazil continuing to cause devastation, robust testing and variant surveillance across different regions remain critical. Gavin Cloherty Ph.D., head of Infectious Disease Research at Abbott said that. “Our program establishes a global network of 'eyes on the ground' that are always looking for threats, which helps the global health community to stay one step ahead of the next viral threat and allows us to utilize Abbott's expertise and technology to quickly develop tests to address these.”

Since 1994, Abbott’s Global Viral Surveillance Program is a unique program and through the model of 'testing, discovery, sharing, innovation and collaboration', it helps the world keep pace with sequence heterogeneity and the emergence of new virus strains in human populations. In 2019, this surveillance program detected the first new strain of HIV in 19 years. Earlier this year, the programme also announced the discovery of a rare group of people that controlled HIV without medication, and these individuals could be potentially a key to unlock cure.

Such work is crucial for research into new treatments and tests and enabling updates to existing ones. Cloherty further stated, “COVID-19 has demonstrated a clear need for advanced surveillance viral sequencing. It is critically important for the role of testing and understanding pathogenic threats that are emerging that will help us test, diagnose and hopefully prevent future pandemics."

Abbott continues to collect virus samples from around the world to detect the mutations of different virus’ genetic sequencing. With decades of experience in viral surveillance, Abbott specifically designs tests with viral evolution in mind. The Global Viral Surveillance Program and the Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition vigorously analyse data to ensure diagnostic tests can continue to detect variants.

Molecular, serology and rapid tests are affected by viral mutations differently due to the inherent design differences of each test. Molecular, serology and antigen testing have different roles to play in detecting the SARS-CoV-2. None of the identified variants of public health significance have impacted Abbott's COVID-19 assays, and the Abbott virus surveillance network’s continued vigilance will ensure science stays ahead of the virus.


Preprint detecting SARS-CoV2 Molecular, antigen and serological tests (medRxiV)
Disclaimer: This article is a preprint and has not been peer-reviewed. It reports new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.
Covid Viral Mutations: Impact on testing
Variant Types - CDC
Detection new HIV Strain 2019
Abbott Media Release



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