Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Roche develops new research test kits for Omicron variant

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A sign at a diagnostics site for Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche is seen, in Burgess Hill, Britain, October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

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ZURICH, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Roche's (ROG.S) newly acquired subsidiary TIB Molbiol has developed three new test kits to help researchers detect mutations in the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, Roche said on Friday.

Governments around the world are urgently scouring databases for recent cases of COVID-19 infections, screening travellers and decoding the viral genomes of the new variant as they try to measure how far it has spread.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron as a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern", saying it might spread more quickly than other forms.

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"We are able to offer a test that can specifically identify the novel B.1.1.529 Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant to help better understand its spread and behaviour," Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche Diagnostics, said in a statement.

While the WHO has said widely available tests can detect individuals infected with any variant, most PCR tests cannot distinguish between Omicron and Delta, the dominant and most infectious version of the virus.

Until now, the world body has recommended only the TaqPath test produced by U.S. firm Thermo Fisher (TMO.N) as a proxy.

The new Roche and TIB Molbiol testing kits, made only for research use, can differentiate between unique mutations in Omicron compared to other SARS-CoV-2 variants, Roche said.

They can thus help researchers detect Omicron and study its spread versus other variants. Roche said they could also be used to monitor the potential impact of therapeutics, vaccines, and public health interventions on the spread of variants.

Roche acquired Berlin-based TIB Molbiol on Dec. 1 to expand its PCR-test portfolio to combat new infectious diseases.

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Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Paul Carrel and Clarence Fernandez

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