UF Health researcher: Omicron variant is more transmissible due to mutations

UF researchers share major discovery in Omicron variant’s mutations
Published: Dec. 4, 2021 at 12:47 AM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - University of Florida Health researcher Dr. David Ostrov mapped the numerous mutations of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and found changes that make it more transmissible.

Ostrov studied the changes to the virus’ spike protein at the request of the Global Virus Network. He determined the mutation enables the virus to more quickly enter a human cell. Other mutations may also inhibit an immune system protein which works to prevent viruses from entering cells. These changes make the virus highly transmissible.

Omicron has many times more mutations than other variants of concern including Alpha, Gamma, and Delta. These changes are expected to impact vaccine efficacy. Ostrov believes vaccine makers should create booster shots tailored to the new variants.

“The fact that it has so many mutations suggests to me that we are very likely to see a reduced efficacy of the vaccines,” said Ostrov.

He said it is too early to know how likely the variant is to cause severe illness but that data will come in within the next couple of weeks. Natural immunity does not appear to prevent infections based on the cases reported so far.

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Ostrov is researching an antiviral drug combination that could work against omicron and all other covid variants. In a study published this month, his team showed that combining a common antihistamine drug and a protein found in cow and human milk reduces virus replication by 99%.

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“It is more affordable than monoclonal antibodies, much more affordable than the antiviral drugs coming out from the large pharmaceutical companies,” said Ostrov.

He said the university is open to engaging in a private-public partnership to begin human clinical trials.

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