Efforts being made to study impact of vaccines, diagnostics on UK variant of virus: DBT secy Swarup

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New Delhi, Jan 5 (PTI) Amid concerns over the UK-linked strain of coronavirus, Department of Biotechnology Secretary Renu Swarup Tuesday said that efforts are being made to study the impact of vaccines and diagnostics on the new variant.

She said the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), formed to ascertain the status of new variants of the virus through genome sequencing, will also focus on samples from clusters where the infection level of coronavirus is high.

'We are also making an effort now to study what is the impact of these vaccines and the diagnostics on this UK variant,' Swarup told a press briefing.

The genomic surveillance consortium is already conducting genome sequencing on the samples of those returned from the UK.

The total number of cases infected with the new strain of the novel coronavirus in India now stands at 71, Swarup said.

The new UK variant has already been reported by several countries including Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.

As much as five percent of the positive cases of COVID-19 from all states and UTs are also being tested for Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) as part of the strategy to detect and contain the mutant variant, she said.

'This is really our preparedness to see how we would want to bring in new technologies to help us to be prepared proactively if there is any other variant that comes in (or) is either noticed in our sampling strategy or if we get to know of any variant coming from any other country.

'We have heard about the UK, there is also news about South Africa. It will help us to prepare for this,' she added.

The UK variant is defined by multiple mutations in the spike region as well as mutations in other genomic regions. These mutations are rapidly increasing the number of variants of the virus, she said.

It is also significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated increased transmissibility of up to 70 per cent.

Referring to a recent report, Swarup said the UK strain has been renamed and there are about 23 mutations with additional six synonym mutations.

'There are eight mutations in the RBD (receptor binding domain) spike protein. We are trying to see how the vaccines would impact it. We are seeing vaccines produce antibodies against many regions. So it is unlikely that small changes would impact the effectiveness of the vaccine as it moves forward,' she said.

As many as 10 institutes are part of the INSACOG consortium. These labs are: Department of Biotechnology - National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani; DBT-Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneswar; Indian Council for Medical Research – National Institute of Virology, Pune; DBT- National Centre For Cell Science Pune; Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; DBT- Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad; DBT-InSTEM/ National Centre For Biological Sciences, Bengaluru; National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Bengaluru; CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology; Delhi, and National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi. PTI PR TIR TIR