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QIAGEN CEO details how the company is tracking the spread of COVID through sewage testing

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

Video Transcript


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

Joining us now are QIAGEN CEO Thierry Bernard and Anjalee Khemlani from Yahoo Finance. Great to have you both on the program. I want to start by asking you to give us a brief description of your business, Thierry. Just sort of an exact breakdown of the importance of this technology, which we’ve actually heard about for most of this pandemic.

THIERRY BERNARD: Thanks for the invitation. And QIAGEN has been around for more than 50 years now as a dedicated molecular testing company for both life sciences and molecular clinical diagnostics. And so we specialize in supplying laboratories, research centers, universities, clinicians. We test either in what we call a PCR format. PCR has obviously become 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 it is digital PCR technology, which is at the very heart of these wastewater tests that will become so essential in monitoring this COVID-19 pandemic.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Thierry, that’s a very good point. Anjalee here. When it comes to sewage monitoring, the CDC obviously relies on that because we don’t have more widespread and streamlined testing in the country. What are some of the – obviously, the benefits that we can actually test. But what are some of the constraints in terms of how long before COVID is actually in the zone we can actually test it?

THIERRY BERNARD: And I would say, first of all, wastewater analysis is not something completely new and was not born with COVID-19. This is a technology that has been used, for example, for monitoring a possible outbreak of poliomyelitis, for example. What’s 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 a public institution like the CDC in the US or others in other countries has to offer a test. Companies like QIAGEN provide these institutions with components such as DNA components. In the case of COVID, it was an RNA component to help them prepare and develop a test.

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

Thierry, this comes at a time, of course, where there is a lot of COVID-related fatigue that has started. I mean, I’m thinking of the United States, Europe, obviously more developed countries. But what do you see 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 that’s where we see it in the United States, but in other countries, that fatigue. But COVID has not gone away. The most recent statistics in the United States alone prove that we are probably officially over 100,000 COVID cases per day. And the unofficial stat, because now with so many at-home tests done, we have more trouble tracking down the actual number of tests.

Some unofficial statistics say we’re probably averaging 500,000 daily COVID cases. So COVID has not gone away. But obviously mortality is much more controlled. We estimate for the moment that the average number of deaths is still far too high but that it has fallen to 300 deaths per day. So what does this mean? These are probably instead of constantly pestering the population with extremely restrictive measures, we have to go into what is called surveillance of the measure–of the virus. And for that, you have different techniques.

A very effective technique that is very non-invasive is to test sewage because the advantage is on a tiny, very small piece of water that you can detect in advance, potential future outbreak of the virus for a very large population, more of two million inhabitants. That’s what we’re doing right now in cities like New York or in cities like Boston.


THIERRY BERNARD: It’s easier because it doesn’t impact the patient, but it’s a very proactive way to see if the virus comes back.

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

THIERRY BERNARD: Sure. And I’ll take my usual explanation around the different phases of the pandemic. Phase I is where we are now. Where a company like QIAGEN supplies components to the CDC, for example in the United States. In this case, DNA components may be needed for the CDC to offer a test and also decentralize this test to local public health labs in each state.

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

So to really see if there will be a massive ramp-up in cases, it will be around the week of June 20th. What is clear today depends on the sources. But it looks like the cases have increased threefold week over week, number one. Second, the virus is now infecting countries that were not endemic to this virus. Endemic countries are mainly found in Africa.

It is therefore clear that it is accelerating. And so diagnostic companies like QIAGEN, but also others are currently developing tests, mainly PCR to also try to help public authorities to tackle this virus again.

Yes, tracking all of this is so important. Thierry Bernard, CEO of QIAGEN, and Anjalee Khemlani of Yahoo Finance. Thanks a lot. Enjoy the conversation.