Cerba Research has released two new exploratory tools intended to help clinical researchers enhance and accelerate their work in coming up with vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, as well as other infectious diseases. Developed by Cerba Healthcare scientists with the use of nasopharyngeal ongoing patient samples, the tools reportedly can be used efficiently on clinical specimens.
Outsourcing-Pharma (OSP) recently spoke about the new COVID-19 research tools with Jerome Sallette (JS), chief scientific officer of Cerba Healthcare.
OSP: Could you please provide an overview of Cerba’s COVID-19-related work since the pandemic landed on us? What questions came up in discussions among your staff, and what areas did you focus on?
JS: Cerba Research has been involved in multiple projects related to COVID-19, including clinical research on vaccines and treatments. We have been part of Operation Warp Speed and IVD work for government agencies to look at collective immunization.
We have had to rapidly mobilize staff to respond to the needs of our clients; in one case, rapidly starting a COVID-19 study in 10 days versus eight weeks. In addition, as our mother company, Cerba HealthCare, is a major diagnostics group, we have access to their anonymized specimen and data, as well as their medical and technical resources to boost our innovation pipeline.
OSP: Could you please tell us a little bit about the “viral load measurement for SARS-CoV-2 using digital droplet PCR” solution?
JS: Traditionally, SARS-CoV-2 viral load estimation is based on a calculation from the number of PCR cycles. Our dPCR method enables a direct quantification, which is more precise and more sensitive and especially useful to the longitudinal follow-up of subjects with lower viral load due to efficient treatment; this longitudinal follow-up is also possible thanks to the quantification of a respiratory cells housekeeping gene in order to have a viral load result per 10,000 cells.
OSP: Similarly, please tell us about your “whole-genome sequencing in NGS of the SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses. What unmet needs does this meet?
JS: Whole genome sequencing in NGS of viruses enables us to “read” the genetic code of those viruses. Therefore, any mutation can be seen and variants (known or new) can be identified by comparison to reference viral sequences, which is becoming more and more important with the arrival of multiple new variants since last December.
In addition, this test enables detection of potential co-infection with different respiratory viruses, but also with different variants of the same virus. Lastly, whole genome sequencing enables us to phylogenetically retrace the strains of the viruses and the proximity of the viruses infecting different subjects.
OSP: Why is this preferable to similar solutions offered by competitors?
JS: Other solutions include targeted sequencing (some regions of the viral genome only) or differential targeted PCR, for discriminating between already known variants. Whole genome sequencing is the only technique enabling what’s described in a).
OSP: Does this solution help detect previously discovered variations (such as the UK mutation), or any deviations from the original virus?
JS: Correct, both: previously detected variants, but also any deviation from the original virus.
OSP: How do these two products save time?
JS: Both products take more time than PCR techniques to get a result, but longer term, they provide more and unique information that can save a lot of time in the total scope of a clinical trial. For example, with the arrival of new variants, it is important to know if a vaccine or a candidate drug works only on a subset of the tested population because this is a feature of the products, or if they work only on certain variants (including potentially a new variant that was not documented previously).
OSP: Can you tell us anything about other COVID-related projects or products you’re working on?
JS: Cerba Research continues to work with government organizations and the biopharmaceutical sector to develop vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.
OSP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JS: We are constantly moving forward with our innovation pipeline to better serve our customers and make the best tools available for them. Access to Cerba Healthcare resources, COVID-19 specimen, and data enables us to be the ideal partner, not only for pharma, biotech, and CRO partners, but also for IVD professionals developing new kits, equipment, or biomarkers.