Researchers in Singapore have discovered a new COVID-19 variant that causes less severe symptoms in patients, opening up new avenues for vaccine development and treatments.
It’s a mild strain that was first detected in Singapore in three patients who had arrived from Wuhan in the early stage of the pandemic.
It spread across a few clusters before being contained, said the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) and Duke-NUS Medical School in a press briefing on Friday (Aug 21)
This variant of the virus has stopped circulating in Singapore since early March.
So why are researchers here excited?
“I will tell you that there is (a lot of) excitement among us, as researchers when we found this new variant. It opens up a lot of scientific basis and background for us to understand, each genetic segment, what it means to the virus, and what it means when it interacts with the human host,” said Prof Leo.
“At least with this point, we understand with the deletions of these particular regions, the disease is actually milder in manifestations,” she added.
This mild variant of the virus has a large 382 nucleotide deletion in a region of the virus known as ORF8.
The large 382-nucleotide deletion resulted in a virus that is less deadly. Patients infected with this strain has a better clinical outcome relative to those infected with viruses without this deletion.
The discovery will allow researchers to target that region with medication, said Prof Leo. It could also support vaccine development.
Further studies to understand the function of the ORF8 protein and the effects of removing this protein are ongoing.
The findings were recently published in the international scientific journal The Lancet.