Local start-up sequencing Maltese strain of Covid-19

The BioArte scientific director Manuele Biazzo

A local start-up is working on sequencing the Maltese strain of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with the aim of publishing its results internationally by the end of the month.

The BioArte Ltd, which is based at the Life Sciences Park in San Ġwann and which was only established last July, is collaborating with the Medical Laboratory Services at St James Hospital, which provided RNA samples of the local Covid-19 strain.

“Once we have sequenced this genome, we will be able to compare it with international strains of the virus and establish whether it is identical, similar or different,” the company’s scientific irector, Dr Manuele Biazzo, said. “We have certainly seen different reactions locally to the virus in the first wave of the pandemic earlier this year compared to overseas and we would be making recommendations on how the local strain should be tackled.”

Additionally, the company is collaborating with the Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome – Italy’s largest paediatric hospital – to study the microbial composition of the nasal passages of children, which differ from those of adults and the elderly, in a bid to determine why the virus appears to have minimal impact on the young.

“While children may catch Covid-19, they appear to have a shield that protects them from the worst effects of the virus. While they are placed in isolation because they are carriers, they do not appear to suffer from symptoms that require hospitalisation. This is something that we want to understand immediately and share with the entire scientific community,” Biazzo explained.

The aim of this research, he added, is to identify whether this shield could in any way be replicated in adults, thus providing a path to more effective therapy.

The company is involved in another Roman collaboration, with GenomeUp, a specialist IT and AI machine-learning supplier, to handle the vast data that would emerge from its DNA and RNA research, as well as with local pathologists, to ensure it adopts procedures that are of the highest international standards.