Abbott’s CEO says he has a crew of “virus hunters” for brand new variants of Covid

An Abbott Labs employee receives the BinaxNOW Covid-19 antigen rapid test at her workplace.

Abbott Labs

Abbott Labs has a team of “virus hunters” working with health officials around the world to monitor Covid-19 variants as some mutant strains show the ability to evade detection, CEO Robert Ford said during an interview, which aired Tuesday as part of CNBC’s Healthy Returns the event.

“They’re always on the lookout for new viruses, and in this case we’ve put a team together to monitor all possible mutations,” he said of the coalition pandemic defense. “It can’t be just a US thing, you have to work with all the countries, all the universities, all the different collection points, then I think this is the way to go.”

The Food and Drug Administration warned clinical staff in January that new variants could lead to false negative Covid-19 test results. The agency identified three tests, none of which were performed by Abbott, and which may be less accurate because the part of the SARS-CoV-2 gene sequence that the tests were looking for was mutated in some variants.

Ford also made it clear that with the rate at which Covid-19 is mutating, there is no time to be wasted. Scientists need to “chase these mutations,” he said.

In the meantime, scientists are developing a new generation of tests that will look for parts of the virus that are less likely to mutate and give false negative results.

Antigen tests, such as those used in Abbott’s popular Binaxnow Covid-19 tests, target proteins in the virus that are less likely to mutate over time.

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