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Thermo Fisher Scientific, Helix, Rosalind, RADx Team up for New SARS-CoV-2 Variant ID Method

NEW YORK – Thermo Fisher Scientific said on Wednesday that it has been collaborating with Helix and Rosalind to develop a new genotyping method for SARS-CoV-2 that aims to speed up the identification of emerging new variants of the virus.

The project was funded with an undisclosed amount from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering as part of the National Institutes of Health's RADx initiative to increase SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity.

"Our approach makes it possible to conduct surveillance testing on a significantly larger number of samples and quickly determines which variant is present in a sample," Eric Lai, co-lead investigator of the NIH RADx initiative, said in a statement. "If we start seeing a trend where we are unable to assign lineages using known markers in the genotyping assays, it is an early warning that a new variant may be emerging and helps determine which samples should be sent for sequencing. This is significant because emerging variants have the potential to evade vaccines, cause diagnostic test performance issues, or cause more severe disease."

In January, the team and its collaborators published a preprint in MedRxiv describing the PCR-based method, which allows for the variant-agnostic detection of SARS-CoV-2 and can assign lineages to viral variants. It also described how the approach could be used to rapidly develop a targeted panel for currently circulating strains.

Rosalind's cloud-based analytics platform acted as a centralized tool in the collaboration to aggregate and analyze data from labs in real time. Thermo Fisher said it has updated its TaqMan SARS-CoV-2 Mutation Panel to include four markers that can detect the Omicron and Delta variants.

The approach can be implemented in any testing lab performing real-time PCR and "allows for a significant scale-up of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance efforts in the United States," according to the team. Data generated from the program will be available through the Rosalind Tracker website.