Chapter 2: The resistant variant

In the second chapter of this series, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong introduces our guest, Tulio de Oliveira, a Brazilian-South African geneticist and bioinformatician whose work led to the identification of new coronavirus variants in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Known as a “virus hunter,” De Oliveira founded and runs a laboratory at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, where he’s studied coronavirus samples since the start of the pandemic.

De Oliveira’s discovery in December of multiple mutations explained why South Africa had seen a sudden rise in coronavirus cases. When De Oliveira presented his findings days later to the World Health Organization, they helped other scientists spot a variant in the U.K. that had one of the mutations discovered in De Oliveira’s lab.

De Oliveira tells Dr. Soon-Shiong about how this all began with his quest to understand South Africa’s sudden rise in cases, and how he later made another alarming discovery: that these mutations have given the virus variant new resistance to many monoclonal antibodies as well to antibodies present in convalescent plasma.

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.