Mutating coronavirus: What it means for vaccines, treatments
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In a recent study, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) analyzed the viral genome sequences isolated from over 5,000 COVID-19 patients around the world.

Here are implications it has for vaccines, treatments, and testing:

• Vaccines

~ All viral vaccines contain material that resembles the virus they are trying to protect against. Concern is that virus will mutate to form “escape mutants" (mutated versions that the vaccine-induced antibodies won’t recognize)

~ Luckily, the novel coronavirus has a lower mutation rate than influenza. Mutations in the S gene (the gene that makes the spike) were comparatively rare.

• Antiviral drugs

~ Previous studies found two mutations in the enzyme gene that confer resistance to remdesivir, but the LSHTM study didn’t find many instances of these mutations.

~ The wide use of the drug, however, will put selective pressure on the virus (environmental factors that contribute to evolutionary change), so monitoring these mutations will be important.

• Tests

~ To diagnose a current infection, diagnostic tests look for certain genes from the virus.

~ Authors looked for variations in regions of the genome screened for in common diagnostic tests and found several mutations that could result in “false negatives”.

Although scientists have analyzed many genomes, the study of the genome-disease relationship is still a work in progress.

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