Hku successfully isolated omicron from clinical specimens

Immunofluorescence staining of infected cells shows abundant nucleocapsid protein expression (middle and right), while the uninfected group is shown on the left, hkU said.

(Courtesy of HKU; Photo source: RTHK)

The department of Microbiology of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) announced that the successful isolation of the omicron mutant virus strain from clinical specimens will be used in the development and production of inactivated whole virus vaccine, marking the first successful isolation and culture of the omicron mutant virus strain in Asia.

Hku said the team would use the cultured virus in animal models to assess transmissibility, immune escape and pathogenicity, and explore possibilities for joint development and production of an inactivated whole virus vaccine. Study leader Yuen Kwok-yung, chair professor of hkU’s Department of Microbiology, described the isolation of the mutant virus as the first step in launching urgent research on the mutant virus.

On 27 November, the scientific team at the Children’s Hospital in Rome released the world’s first images of the novel Coronavirus variant omicron strain. The images show that the Omikron strain has more spike protein mutations than the Delta strain of the novel coronavirus variant. These variations vary and are mostly located in areas that interact with human cells.

Contrast of spike protein mutations in Delta and Omicron strains.

Omicron may have entered Europe before reporting to South Africa

Omicron continues to spread globally, with confirmed cases now reported in 20 countries. In Europe, 44 cases of the new variant have been detected in 10 European Union countries, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Germany has reported confirmed cases with no history of travel abroad and no contact with people traveling abroad. Authorities are watching closely to see if community infections have emerged.

Although Omicron was first reported to the WHO by South Africa, its origin may change as scientists learn more about the mutated strain.

According to the Washington Post, Dutch officials said in a statement On November 30 that they had detected the omicron variant in samples collected on November 19 and 23. “It is not clear whether the individuals had traveled to South Africa,” which reported its detection on November 25.

The earliest known confirmed cases of Omicron were in southern African countries, the report said. According to the GISAID global database, the first confirmed sample was collected in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 9 November; Five confirmed omicron samples were collected in Botswana on Monday.

But experts warn that omicron could have originated in another country. Even countries with world-leading genetic sequencing programmes have assessed only a fraction of cases. Gene-sequencing laboratories in many countries are combing through recent samples, not just in the last few days, but in the past month.

Modena: It’s less effective on Omicron
At present, the symptoms of infection caused by Omicron are relatively mild. Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association, said omichron can cause mild illness, with symptoms including sore muscles, tiredness and a mild cough. But so far, it has not been found that the infected people have lost taste and smell, nor obvious symptoms, and some patients can be treated at home.

However, according to experts from the National Health Commission, novel coronavirusS protein mutations in K417N, E484A or N501Y suggest enhanced immune escape ability; The triple mutation K417N+E484A+N501Y was found in Omicron. In addition, omicron has several other mutations that may reduce the neutralization activity of some monoclonal antibodies. The superposition of mutations may reduce the protective efficacy of some antibody drugs against omicron mutant strains, and the ability of immune escape against existing vaccines needs further monitoring and research.

However, Stephane Bancel, head of Modena Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement to the Financial Times that existing COVID-19 vaccines may not work as well against omicron as against the Delta variant, which first appeared in India last year and has since spread rapidly around the world.

As for the specifics, Bansel added, “We need to wait for the data.” He noted that adjustments to current vaccine production may be needed and that it would take months for pharmaceutical companies to mass produce a new vaccine against the newly mutated strain.

For its part, Oxford University rejected Bansell’s comments in a statement, saying that there is no evidence to date that existing vaccines are ineffective in preventing the emergence of severe infections with new mutated strains because there is currently a lack of available data on omicron. “Caution should therefore be exercised in assessing the impact of vaccines on mutants,” it said. Oxford University also said it was ready to work with Astrazeneca to speed up development of a vaccine against the new variant.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson also said on Monday that they, like rival Modena, had begun studying vaccines for Omicron in case their vaccines did not work against the new mutants. But a new vaccine for Omicron could take up to 100 days to develop.

In China, a number of vaccine companies have said that they are closely monitoring the situation of the mutant strain, or are starting new vaccine research and development. Sinovac said that it has started to actively collect and obtain information and samples of the new strain through its global partner network. It will carry out evaluation and research as soon as possible to understand the impact of the omicron strain on the existing novel Coronavirus inactivated vaccine and the necessity of developing the vaccine of the new strain. If required, the company can rapidly advance the development and mass production of new vaccines and is able to meet the vaccine demand. Concino said the company has begun developing a vaccine against the new mutant strain. Abbot responded that it had been working on the vaccine since the evening of November 26. Wantai Biotechnology, Wuhan Bovo Biotechnology And Guangdong Huanan Vaccine Also said they were developing vaccines against the omicron variant.

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