Raleigh testing company gets CDC contract to track COVID variants

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Once again the Triangle area is on the cutting edge of COVID-19 research.

A Raleigh-based medical lab company has now been contracted by the CDC to track variants of the coronavirus.

The company which has been processing a significant portion of the nation's PCR test for the COVID-19, is involved in an effort to make sure vaccines don't fall behind in effectiveness.

As nearly half of all Americans are now vaccinated in order to survive the virus, it is also trying to survive by mutating.

"Some of those mutations affect or could affect how well the vaccine works down the road," said Steve Hoover the vice president of operations at Mako Medical.

ABC11 spoke to him at the company's facility in the Vance County town of Henderson where technicians are performing DNA sequencing on tests from across the country to identify coronavirus variants.

And variants show up all the time like the one that caused a massive outbreak in England according to Hoover who said, "The B 117 variant that has been in the news a lot, the UK variant. That variant has about 17 mutations."

Mako's medical director for genomics, Matthew Tugwell, gave us a tour of the variants tracking lab.

"Once we have a positive result, those samples get brought over here," he said while walking through a section of the lab that houses several different types of analysis machinery.

But while processing 100,000 PCR tests a day from 43 states it just isn't possible to look for variants in all the positive results, according to Mako which has been spot tracking variants on its own since January.

Fortunately the CDC, knowing how important variant tracing is, has now stepped in with funding to not only continue the tracking but ramp it up.

"We just couldn't afford to sequence everything. But with the CDC coming in as a monetary backer and a tremendous partner, it's allowing us to sequence up to 5,000 positives a week," Hoover said adding that the work is crucial for our nation and the world in order to continue protecting us from COVID-19, "Vaccine manufacturers will alter their vaccines over time where they have a stronger product as we get smarter with what we're doing."

And the whole process is also making us more prepared for the next pandemic.
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