The Covid test designed for virus mutations
In December it was announced that a new coronavirus variant was the cause of a rapid rise in infections in the UK. While it is so far not believed to result in more serious disease, it does appear to be substantially more transmissible than other strains.
The B117 variant of Covid-19 has raised serious concerns as the world tries to contain the virus, while scientists are trying to understand how the many mutations - 17 in total - might affect current SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests.
Dr. Manoj Gandhi is the Medical Director at Thermo Fisher Scientific, who have designed Applied Biosystems™ TaqPath™, a Covid-19 molecular diagnostic test that can detect the virus even when mutations in the genome arise. "Mutations are the norm for viruses. In fact, high mutation rates in response to selective pressure is especially common in RNA viruses, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 has been mutating at a rate of about one to two mutations per month" he explains.
"What makes this new variant different is that it seems to have acquired mutations much more quickly than scientists expect resulting in a reported 70 per cent increase in transmissibility. "
Gandhi says that Thermo Fisher's tests target multiple areas of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, which helps identify the virus even if it mutates. "Of the 17 mutations in this variant, 8 occur in the S gene that encodes for the spike (S) protein, while the others occur in other regions of the genome" Gandhi says. "Only 1 mutation out of all 17 is important to be aware of in relation to the Applied Biosystems™ TaqPath™ COVID-19 assay - the 69-70del of the S gene."
"If a patient infected with a variant that has the 69-70del mutation is tested using our TaqPath COVID-19 assay, it will result in an S gene “drop out.” This drop out does not mean a result is negative, only that the S gene could not be detected.
"Because of the multi-target design of our assays, the 69-70del mutation has not been found to impact test results obtained using our products, and the probability of a mutation in the S gene impacting the accuracy of our test results is low" Gandhi adds.
Zoom enters the healthcare market - a timeline
Since the pandemic began Zoom has become an integral part of daily life for people working from home, as well as a vital tool for families and friends to communicate. However it's also been eyeing up the healthcare space since 2017, and following the boom in telehealth the company has been rolling out additional services. Here we chart Zoom's move into healthcare.
2011 - 2013
Zoom is founded in San Jose, California, by Eric Yuan, formerly of Cisco. He got the idea to create a video calling platform from his visits to his girlfriend while he was a student, which would take 10 hours by train.
A beta version is released in 2012, which can host up to 15 participants. In 2013 this rises to 25. By mid-2013, Zoom has 1 million users.
2014 - 2017
Zoom attracts investors, including Sequoia Capital, Emergence and Horizon Ventures. By January 2017, Zoom has a series D funding worth $100 million.
2017 - 2019
Zoom for Telehealth launches, including an integration with EHR system Epic. It has cloud-based video, audio, and content sharing features, a "waiting room" for patients, and can easily be integrated into healthcare provider's workflows.
In 2019 Zoom goes public, with its IPO rising 72% in one day.
As a result of the pandemic, Zoom gains 2.2 million new users, more than in the whole of 2019. On the 23rd of March alone - the day the UK lockdown was announced - the platform was downloaded 2.13 million times around the world.
Share prices rise to around $150, and founder and chief executive Eric Yuan becomes one of the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $7.9 billion.
Early security issues are addressed by encrypting data with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). By now the the platform allows 99 people to be on a call simultaneously
New features launch, including Zoom Home and Zoom for Chats. Throughout the year the platform is used to replace most kinds of real life events: work meetings, online classrooms, church services and social events.
Renamed Zoom for Healthcare, users can share secured video, audio, and content through desktops, mobile phones, and conference devices. As well as Epic, it can be integrated with Strmr, IntakeQ, and Practice Better.
It can also be used with diagnostic cameras and other point-of-care devices, including digital stethoscopes.
In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, Zoom Global Healthcare Lead Ron Emerson said: "Our service is not simply a virtual care and telemedicine platform but a multi-purpose platform that can satisfy the needs of healthcare institutions."
"It can be used for administrative tasks, including telemedicine, medical team meetings, recruitment, medical education, employee training, and disease prevention. Analysing electronic records managed by Zoom could provide meaningful insights into patient care."
Phoenix Children's Hospital, Belfast's Hospital Services Limited, Butler Health Services and the global Project ECHO are among Zoom for Healthcare's current customers.