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QIAGEN CEO details how company tracks the spread of COVID through wastewater testing

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QIAGEN CEO Thierry Bernard joins Yahoo Finance Live to explain how his company is utilizing technology to track the spread of COVID through wastewater and also discusses how to track the monkeypox outbreak.

Video Transcript


- Accurately testing wastewater for COVID could help cities and towns prepare for outbreaks, stock up supplies, or put measures in place to prevent further community transmission of COVID-19. And one company recently receiving a nod from the CDC for wastewater testing is German company QIAGEN.

Joining us now is the CEO of QIAGEN, Thierry Bernard as well as Anjalee Khemlani of Yahoo Finance. Great to have both of you on the program. I want to kick things off just by asking you to give us a little bit of a breakdown of your company, Thierry. Just kind of breaking down exactly how important this technology is, which we've been actually hearing about through most of this pandemic.

THIERRY BERNARD: Thanks for the invitation. And QIAGEN has been around for more than 50 years now as a dedicated company to molecular testing, both for life science and molecular clinical diagnostic. And so we are specialized in providing laboratories, research centers, academia, clinicians. We test either under what we call a PCR format. PCR has become obviously extremely popular with COVID-19, the COVID-19 pandemic, but also next generation sequencing. And now, more recently, with what we call digital PCR.

And this is the digital PCR technology, which is at the very core of this wastewater testing that is going-- that is going to become so key in the surveillance of this COVID-19 pandemic.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Thierry, that's a very good point. Anjalee here. On that wastewater surveillance, obviously the CDC relying on that because we don't have more widespread and sort of streamlined testing in the country. What are some of the-- obviously, the benefits there that we can actually test it. But what are some of the constraints in terms of how long before COVID is actually in the area we can actually test for it?

THIERRY BERNARD: And I would say, first of all, waste water testing is not something completely new and is not born with COVID-19. This is a technology that has been used, for example, for the surveillance of potential outbreak of polio disease, for example. What is helpful to understand is that when you have a pandemic like COVID-19 you always have three phases.

There is a Phase I, where there is no commercial test available. And where basically public institution like the CDC in the US or other in other countries need to come up with a test. Companies like QIAGEN are providing those institutions with components like DNA components. In the case of COVID it was RNA component to help them preparing and developing a test.

And then you have a Phase II, where you have the apparition of many commercial tests for COVID. You had PCR tests but more recently antigen testing, home testing as well. And at the time as well, if possible, the emergence of therapeutic solutions such as drugs or vaccines. With COVID--

- Thierry, this comes at a time, of course, when there's a lot of COVID fatigue that has been kicking in. I mean, I'm thinking about the US, Europe, obviously more developed countries. But what are you seeing in your data and what does that tell you about where we are in the pandemic?

THIERRY BERNARD: And I was coming there because I was going to Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III of the pandemic. And obviously, this is where like we are seeing it in the US, but in other countries this fatigue. But COVID has not disappeared. The most recent statistics in the US only are proving that we are probably at officially more than 100,000 cases of COVID per day. And the non-official statistic because now with basically, so many home testing done, we have more issues to trace the actual number of tests.

Some unofficial statistics are saying that we are probably on average at 500,000 daily cases of COVID. So COVID has not disappeared. But obviously the mortality is much more under control. We guesstimate at the moment that the average number of deaths is far too important still but is down to 300 deaths per day. So what does it mean? These are probably instead of constantly bothering the population with extremely restrictive measure, we need to go into what we call surveillance of the measure-- of the virus. And for this you have different techniques.

A very non-invasive very efficient technique is to test wastewater because the advantage is on a tiny, tiny bit of water you can detect in advance, potential coming outbreak of the virus for a very large population, more than two million inhabitants. This is what we are doing currently in cities like New York or in cities like Boston.

- Right.

THIERRY BERNARD: This is easier because it's not impacting the patient but it's a very proactive way to see if the virus is coming back again.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Right. And speaking of monitoring. There's also another virus obviously that people are watching right now and that is the outbreak of Monkeypox. I know that there are many testing companies that have started jumping on that. Are you doing anything to help with that?

THIERRY BERNARD: Of course. And I'm going to take my usual explanation around the different phases of the pandemic. Phase I, this is where we are currently. Where a company like QIAGEN is providing the CDC, for example in the US, with component. In this case may need DNA components so that the CDC can come up with a test and also decentralize this test to the local public health laboratories in every state.

We are not at the level yet where we can say that it's going to be a pandemic. I believe that there will be an acceleration of cases of Monkeypox because the typical contamination or basically latent phase, incubation phase is 2 to 3 weeks.

So to really see if there will be a massive acceleration of cases will be around the week of June the 20th. What is clear today, it depends on the sources. But it seems that cases have accelerated threefold week on week, number one. Number two is that the virus is now infecting countries that were not endemic to this virus. Endemic countries are mostly in Africa.

So it's clear that it's accelerating. And therefore diagnostic companies like QIAGEN, but also others are currently developing tests, mainly PCR to try also to help the public authorities to basically tackle that virus again.

- Yep, tracking all this is so important. Thierry Bernard, QIAGEN CEO, and Anjalee Khemlani of Yahoo Finance. Thanks so much. Appreciate the conversation.