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Taiwan microchip company grants TGen funds for COVID variant tracking

(AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

PHOENIX– Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute announced Monday it had received a grant from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to track variants of COVID-19.

The grant for TSMC, who is building a $12 billion plant in the Valley, will attempt to boost TGen’s efforts to sequence the genomes of different COVID-19 samples within the Arizona population, according to a press release.

TGen is also under contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to sequence the samples. The government organizations are monitoring for the appearance of mutations and variants that could increase COVID-19’s virulence.

TGen’s Arizona COVID-19 Sequencing Dashboard includes over 21,000 sequenced genomes of positive cases in the state, according to the release.

The TSMC grant will accelerate TGen’s goal of providing a genomic sequence for each new COVID-19 variant in Arizona, the release said.

“While the numbers of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths plummet as more Arizonans are vaccinated, we cannot let down our guard as we continue to monitor the changing nature of this coronavirus, but also prepare for whatever the microbial world throws our way in the future,” Dr. David Engelthaler, director of TGen’s infectious disease division, said in the release.

TGen did not disclose the value of the grant.

Since the company is providing a detailed molecular analysis of COVID-19, TGen is able to track the specific virus variants involved in each case, and officials hope to use this information to identify mutations that may lead to vaccine breakthroughs.

Even though officials recognized that the current research has a significantly regional perspective, TGen plans to publicly release the laboratory procedures developed with the grant in order to enable replication of their sequencing methods, which will further improve the global pandemic response.

“Our long term goal is to ‘democratize’ sequencing, to decrease the costs and time and make the data accessible and actionable — in essence to make our society more pandemic-ready by providing rapid ‘pathogen intelligence’ to clinicians and public health officials,” Dr. Engelthaler said in the release.

“TSMC’s support will help us build a 21st century genomic infectious disease surveillance system in Arizona and beyond.”

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