Monitoring COVID variants to ensure test effectiveness

Monitoring COVID variants to ensure test effectiveness
Diagnostics Testing | Jan. 28, 2021

Abbott is intently monitoring the mutations of COVID so we can ensure our tests can detect them, as we do with many viruses. We have conducted a thorough analysis of the new variants, and we are confident that our tests remain effective at detecting these strains. The new mutations are primarily located in a different part of the virus than where our tests that detect the virus are targeted, and therefore do not affect test performance.

It is highly likely that future COVID-19 strains will remain detectable because we design our tests to be robust, knowing that virus mutations will naturally occur over time.

As potential future SARS-CoV-2 mutations are identified, we will continue stress testing our diagnostics -- both through an examination of their genetic sequence to determine if there are viral mutations where our tests target in addition to testing real-world samples. The Abbott Global Viral Surveillance Program, which has partnered with laboratories and organizations in 45 countries around the world, will be actively acquiring samples for sequencing and evaluation across our testing platforms to monitor and assess performance.

Abbott's approach to tracking virus mutations

At Abbott, we know that all viruses mutate and we specifically design our tests with viral evolution in mind. As new strains are discovered, we need to vigorously analyze them so we can ensure our diagnostic tests can detect them. This is why we created our viral surveillance program decades ago. It allows us to have dedicated scientists and partners around the world focused on this effort. Abbott has worked to detect and monitor emerging virus strains to stay ahead of mutating viruses like HIV, hepatitis and now, COVID-19.

We will continue to carefully review all available data, study the virus to ensure that future forms of COVID-19 are detectable by our full suite of diagnostic products, and share that knowledge with the scientific community.

Evaluation of variants

As more contagious variants of COVID-19 have emerged, Abbott is quickly and carefully examining the full genetic sequence of these new variants. Through this analysis, we have found that these new strains are primarily characterized by a distinct set of mutations in the virus’ spike protein. Abbott’s diagnostic tests that detect the presence of COVID-19, including our molecular and antigen tests, do not rely on the spike protein to identify the virus. That’s why we are confident our tests are effective at detecting COVID-19 variants.

Importance of Testing

While additional mutations are inevitable, the best way to prevent the virus from becoming more dangerous in the future is to do everything we can to slow infections now.

Now more than ever, testing remains a critical part of our COVID-19 recovery effort, in partnership with vaccination and other important measures such as mask wearing and social distancing. Our top priority remains making tests available to those who need them most, through the direct sale of tens of millions of tests to organizations such as schools, workplaces and pharmacies.