Coronavirus, South Africa 'Chances are high' the South African Covid-19 variant is in the U.S.: Illumina CEO
s to try to track these new variants. First start us off by telling us what you’re already doing you’ve already announced a partnership with cdc and helix to try to track. In particular, this b117 variant that’s thought to be more contagious. Absolutely we have been involved with the pandemic since the very beginning. So in december 19 2019 our teams were in wuhan working with the chinese cdc to first identify what was the origin of this pneumonia of of unknown origin at the time and then in january 2020 we were working with the team in shanghai who published the first Viral genome and since then we’ve been working around the world with cdcs, with private labs, with public health systems to try and track the outbreak of this of this pandemic. Right now we are working with a number of governments around the world, so we’re working with the uk government, as they sequence you know their outbreak and in the u.s, as you said, we’re working with the cdc and labs like helix to do sequencing of the virus. That we have here in the us – and we know that through that partnership already with helix and cdc you’ve identified some of the first cases of that b117 variant, also known as the uk variant. But you know dr fauci was talking last night about this south african variant and how it could be more concerning because of its potential ability to evade some of the protection from our vaccines and our monoclonal antibodies.
What are the chances? Do you think that the south african variant is actually here in the u.s and we have not picked it up yet? I think the chances are high meg, because the reality is in the us we’re doing very little genomic surveillance. So if you look at countries like the uk, for example, they sequence about 10 percent of the cases that they see and statistically you want, to. You know, to sequence, about five percent to get a good view of what’s happening in your community here in the us. Currently, we sequence about 0.3 percent of the positive cases and so we’re getting not a great picture of what’s happening out there. Now, as you said, we identified in the first week of january that we already have the uk string the b117 strain and we’re up to 130 cases. Now that we’ve identified working with helix in the cdc uh – and you know we see it now – we think uh we’ve seen it across eight states. We think it could be uh in a much larger number of states than that. Now we haven’t seen the south african variant, as you said, but i think that’s more of a function of the fact that we’re just not looking enough rather than the fact that it’s actually not here. Why don’t we sequence more. This has been a question that i’ve had you know, since we first heard about this uk variant, we learned how much sequencing england was doing.
We learned how much denmark was doing over and over through this pandemic. We’Ve been talking about the technological prowess of the united states, you guys are based here. We have so many genome sequencers. Why have we not been sequencing more? You know, it’s a great question and one. I think that is really a wake up call for us here. In the us you’re right, we have the technology here and in fact, we power a lot of the sequencing that’s happening around the world and there’s a very clear case for why you need sequencing and you need genomic based pathogen surveillance. The surveillance is, what tells you in the first place, if you have an outbreak, and one of the aha moments in of the of the pandemic was when we realized in the spring of last year that the virus had been spreading in the u.s for weeks and Months before we even realized, it was here and so there’s a very strong case, as you said that you need this genomics based pathogen surveillance to even know. If you have an outbreak, it could be an outbreak of a coronavirus like we have today, but it could be emerging antimicrobial resistance. It could be a bioterrorist attack or another zoonotic transmission, and today, without this comprehensive surveillance, we don’t even know if those things are happening. So this is a very clear case to do genomics based pathogen surveillance and we are standing it up.
Some countries, though, because they have national health systems, so they have a coordinated strategy. You know from the government have been able to get ahead of it. So, for example, the uk is a great example of a country that’s moved quickly and put together, starting in the the spring summer of last year. You know this genomics based surveillance network, so they have a really good understanding of how the virus is spreading within their community and you’re, seeing that in other countries, you’ve seen australia, for example, stand up its national network uh. You see countries like germany and france that are standing up theirs. In fact, on monday, the eu commission has said that member states should stand up their own surveillance networks, their own genomic surveillance networks and sequence about five percent of the positive samples. Now we don’t have – or we haven’t had yet that central coordinating, uh effort here in the u.s and so what’s happening is you’re. Seeing you know regional cdc’s you’re, seeing some health systems uh all do their own sequencing, but there hasn’t been a central effort to coordinate and push a mandate for sequencing and then that’s what we really need now it’s encouraging to see. You know the the early work coming out of the biden administration. It seems that there is a recognition that we need something like this and in in terms of the plans that have been put out. There have been specifically call outs, for you know, pandemic preparedness for surveillance, and so i think we’re starting to see that recognition, but but clearly we’re behind shepherd smith.