As the world continues to struggle with the coronavirus or COVID-19, scientists in Singapore have discovered a new variant of the novel virus that causes less severe symptoms in patients, opening up new directions for the development of vaccines and treatments.

The strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 was first detected in Singapore in three patients who arrived from Wuhan during the beginning of the pandemic. It was later transmitted to many clusters in Singapore before getting contained, the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) and Duke-NUS Medical School mentioned during a press briefing on August 21.

Milder Variant of COVID-19 Strain

Coronavirus
Coronavirus outbreak in China (Representational picture) Pixabay

The patients who contracted the milder variant were not likely to suffer due to low blood oxygen or needed intensive care, the study suggested. The findings were published in The Lancet. NCID director, Prof Leo Yee Sin stated that the discovery has large implications for the scientists' understanding of the novel virus and also the vaccine development. The variant has a huge mutation or deletion in a region of the virus, which is known as ORF8.

In a sample of 39 patients having a milder variant, three of them had low blood oxygen. Also adjusting of the other factors including age, gender, and chronic medical conditions, patients having the deletion variant showed less severe symptoms, according to Dr. Barnaby Young.

ORF8 Deletions Play a Major Role

The researchers studied 131 patients who were infected with either the wild-type, the deletion variant, or a mixture of both the types. According to data, the deletions of ORF8 emerge due to the response to the human immune system. Similar deletions of ORF8 were detected in the case of SARS in 2003.

"I will tell you that there is (a lot of) excitement among us, as researchers, when we found this new variant. It opens up a lot of scientific basis and background for us to understand, each genetic segment, what it means to the virus, and what it means when it interacts with the human host," Prof Leo mentioned.

"At least with this point, we understand with the deletions of these particular regions, the disease is actually milder in manifestations," she added. This discovery will help the scientists to target that particular region with medicine and also support vaccine development, Leo claimed.

The deadly virus outbreak has created a major stir around the world as scientists are currently working to understand more about it. Researchers are working at a war-like speed to find a cure for the deadly disease and a vaccine is expected by the first quarter of 2021.