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The Science Behind the Coronavirus, Series III: Mutations

In the third installment of the Los Angeles Times series “The Science Behind the Coronavirus,” Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the executive chairman of the Times, examines the pandemic’s latest threat: a second wave of global infections fueled by mutations to the virus. The multiple mutations resulting in these variants, Dr. Soon-Shiong explains, raise critical questions about the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies, convalescent plasma and even antibody-based vaccines which have been designed to block the first wave of SARS-CoV-2.

Joining Dr. Soon-Shiong is Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a Brazilian-South African geneticist and bioinformatician who, along with a team of scientists, made the seminal discovery of the multiple mutations that gave rise to a contagious new variant in South Africa.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is a surgeon and scientist who has spent his career studying the human immune system to fight cancer and infectious disease. In mid-October, Soon-Shiong’s company, ImmunityBio, received permission from the Food and Drug Administration to begin Phase 1 trials of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. He has also received approval to begin trials in South Africa, where he will explore the potential of his T cell vaccine to prevent infection from these mutated virus strains.