Interviewer: Professor Emma Thomson, thank you for taking the time to record this interview with us today.
We would like to discuss the emergence of the Omicron variant, and what we know about this variant so far.
The first question is, what are the specific mutations identified in the Omicron variant and have these been identified before or have novel mutations emerged?
Prof. Thomson: Hi, thank you very much for the invitation to speak again today.
The Omicron variant is a virus variant, which is really quite significantly different from its predecessors.
As you know, the Delta variant has been dominant throughout most of the world recently,
but Omicron is a virus that has around 50 changes to its structure,
and many of these changes,
30 of them are in the spike protein,
and the spike protein is really important because of its role in binding to
the ACE2 receptor and also in antibody-based immunity,
and in fact, also T-cell-based immunity.
Importantly, many of these changes we do recognise from previous work,
but having them all together like this, is really quite unprecedented.
We know that, for example, of the 30 changes in the spike protein,
15 of them sit within the receptor binding domain,
and the prediction is that these will very significantly reduce binding by antibodies.
That's the early warning signal from the genetic sequencing.
We're now starting to see emerging studies that do confirm that
these changes in the structure of the spike protein
are affecting the response to vaccines.