HKU research team isolates Omicron variant

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have successfully isolated the Omicron variant from clinical Covid-19 specimens, in a crucial development which would enable the development of vaccines against the variant.

The university on Tuesday said this is the first time in Asia in which a research team has successfully been able to isolate the variant – which has rapidly spread around the world.

It added the team is assessing its transmissibility and immune evasion capability, as well as exploring opportunities for the urgent development and production of inactivated whole virus vaccines.

The HKU team succeeded in isolating the variant late Monday, four days after the first two Omicron cases were confirmed in the SAR and five days after the variant was first reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa.

Chair of Infectious Diseases Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, who led the research project, said the team recognised the serious threat of the variant and jumped into action immediately.

“Isolating the variant is the first step in the urgent study of the variant,” he said.

The team is now further isolating and purifying the variant virus for inactivated whole virus vaccine production.