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Foundation Backing Expanded Pandemic Surveillance

Population genetics

(National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH)

Update: Helix says the precise grant amount is $898,000.

23 Dec. 2021. A population genomics company is receiving foundation support for expanding its detailed surveillance of respiratory disease outbreaks in the U.S. Helix OpCo in San Mateo, California confirms with Science & Enterprise that the Pandemic Prevention Institute, a project of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, is providing $900,000 to the company, but other terms of the award are not disclosed.

Helix provides population-wide genetics services with high-throughput sequencing and analysis for health care providers, life science researchers, and insurance companies. With the Covid-19 pandemic, Helix developed reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR, testing systems for clinical and at-home use to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 disease. RT-PCR tests detect the presence of viral RNA in the nose or throat and are considered the gold-standard for diagnosing SARS-CoV-2 infections.The company says its RT-PCR tests shows a true-positive sensitivity rate of at least 90 percent and true-negative specificity of at least 93 percent.

As reported by Science & Enterprise in July 2020, Helix is one of the companies backed by NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, designed to accelerate large-scale population testing for SARS-CoV-2. The RADx funds supported scaling up Helix’s testing services to process 100,000 samples per day by the end of 2020 and report results withing 48 hours.

Watch for Covid-19 and other respiratory disorders

With its high-throughput sequencing and analysis, Helix can also detect precise variations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The company uses those data, to compile its test results into a SARS-CoV-2 epidemiological surveillance dashboard for the U.S. As of today (23 Dec.), the dashboard shows the delta variant still dominant in the nation, but omicron infecting more people each day since 1 Dec. Helix contributes its data to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for that agency’s nationwide viral variant surveillance program.

Pandemic Prevention Institute’s $900,000 grant supports expansion of Helix’s viral watchdog services, starting with five health care systems in the U.S., providing epidemiological surveillance of Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases. The goal is to not only track the spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also alert health care providers and public health authorities of emerging threats. Rockefeller Foundation started Pandemic Prevention Institute to encourage development of systems that prevent and respond to future pandemics, including advance detection of health threats.

James Lu, CEO and co-founder of Helix says in a company statement released through Cision, “These capabilities are indispensable today for Covid-19 and will similarly be essential for monitoring other respiratory pathogens like pandemic influenza. Accelerating new technologies will enable provider systems and public health to rethink how they care for their populations.”

Rick Bright, CEO of Pandemic Prevention Institute, notes, “Omicron’s rapid spread continues to highlight the need for durable pathogen surveillance capabilities that will allow local communities to prepare for and prevent pandemic outbreaks.” Bright adds that “national viral surveillance illustrates the importance of public-private partnerships in pandemic prevention efforts now and in the future.”

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