Lab worker using pipette in labratory

Behind the Science: Keeping Up with All the Variants

An inside look at how One Health Labs advanced modeling creates accurate testing for COVID-19 variants.

If there’s one thing we have learned about COVID-19 in the last two-plus years, it’s that it is always changing. From one mutation to another, this virus continues to evolve. So how does One Health Labs create accurate COVID tests that address each new variant?

The technology behind biotech innovation has grown in “leaps and bounds” in recent years, making it all possible, says Jesse vanWestrienen, the cofounder of One Health Labs’ parent company, Biomeme.

It began when The Human Genome Project sequenced the complete human genome in 2003 after 13 years of research. A lot of advances have been made since then, and today’s technology enables newer platforms to do the same thing in one to two days. That pace of innovation, now moving faster than Moore’s Law, means that new biomedical technology can be developed more quickly and with more reliability than ever before.

Using Publically Available Data

Genome sequencing information is publicly available through two main databases: one run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the other hosted in Germany. Essentially, this is crowdsourcing for disease identification. During the pandemic, millions of COVID genomes were added to these databases by a global surveillance community, and that information can now be used to identify new variants.

These two databases, containing millions of pieces of genome sequence data are why the COVID-19 vaccine – and the tests to detect COVID-19 – were developed so quickly. No one was starting from scratch. Organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and biotech companies like Biomeme can download that genome data to their platforms; from there, they can use computer modeling to analyze and classify the variants, design tests to detect them, and vaccines to treat them.

How One Health Labs’ Modeling Works

The first full genome of SARS-CoV-2 was released in January 2020 and researchers around the world began the race to develop effective tests and vaccines. One Health Labs received Emergency Use Authorization for their SARS-CoV-2 test on March 31, 2020. The first vaccine was available through Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the U.S. in December 2020 – the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that many of us received; the Moderna vaccine followed with EUA approval on December 18, 2020.

Biomeme downloaded that same sequence data and designed specific assays (think: laboratory tests) in selected regions of the genome. They then used multiple assays to identify the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, its variants, and to differentiate it from other viruses. Once they identified the genome, they developed a universal PCR test that can detect if any of the current variants are present in a sample. Since these databases are updated daily with data from around the world, Biomeme updates their data and assays monthly to verify that their test remains applicable to all known variants.

Utilized by One Health Labs, Biomeme’s PCR test remains nearly 100 percent accurate for virus detection. This is important for surveillance and treatment reasons – healthcare workers need to quickly identify what variant is present in a patient to provide effective treatment. For example, some antibody treatments were less effective with the omicron variant. In a severe case, it is important to provide the best treatment as quickly as possible.

“The advantage of using Biomeme technology is that we have developed a full platform that is a very easy to use, field-based, portable testing kit with a shelf stable reagent, so within an hour, you have your result,” says vanWestrienen.