Thermo Fisher Scientific

Thermo Fisher Scientific Works to Combat Risking STI Epidemic with Better, Faster Testing Interview with:

Manoj Gandhi, MD PhDSenior Medical Director of Genetic Testing Services, Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Dr. Gandhi

Manoj Gandhi, MD PhD
Senior Medical Director of Genetic Testing Services, Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Dr. Gandhi has been working to advance the quality of medical care globally. Using his knowledge of Clinical Medicine and Molecular Biology/Pathology, he is focused on bridging these two fields and bringing innovative solutions that help advance science, the practice of medicine with the ultimate goal of impacting patient lives, whether it be in Infectious Diseases or Oncology or Personalized Medicine. This approach allows him to explore creative ways to utilize technology to help better identify diseases and improve the direction and value of treatment. What are the most common STIs prevalent in the US and worldwide today?

Response: By far, the most common STIs in the US and worldwide is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cervical cancer in women and Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) that is the cause of genital herpes. Outside of these two major causes of STI, the others that are very common are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis and Syphilis. It is important to note that the reported cases represent only a subset of the individuals with an infection as many may be asymptomatic and could be spreading these STIs to others. HIV is another STI that is common but usually rests in its own category due to its impact. How has the COVID pandemic impacted the incidence of STIs? 

Response:  The report by the US CDC, based on surveillance data from 2020, showed that STIs decreased during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic but resurged and surpassed previous years by the end of 2020. The early decline seems to be a mirage and several factors may have contributed to this mirage. One major factor seems to be underdiagnosis and reduced screening efforts rather than an actual reduction in new infections. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals were not going to health care professionals to be assessed for a number of illnesses, including STIs, out of concern of contracting COVID-19. Other factors seem to be reduced STI clinic staffing, as healthcare resources were diverted towards dealing with COVID-19; laboratory and testing shortages; lapses in health insurance coverages; and telemedicine practices during the pandemic that does not capture infections in the surveillance data. However, by the end of 2020, it was clear that the STI epidemic had progressively gotten worse and that true incidence of STI was worse than previous years. Since then, this upward trend has continued and STIs seem to be a major problem from a public health standpoint. Has the use of PrEP medications increased or decreased the incidence of STIs? 

Response: Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a terminology that is used specially in relation with HIV. With respect to HIV, PrEP has made a huge impact on reducing the risk of contracting HIV through sex or injection drug use. However, it is important to understand that PrEP is not used in the context of other STIs like gonorrhea or chlamydia. So, while PrEP has a major impact on decreasing incidence of HIV, it has NO impact on other STI’s. The mainstay for preventing these other STI’s, (other than HIV) like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis, Syphilis etc., is using condoms during sex and getting tested if someone is at risk of being exposed. What role does testing play in curbing the spread of STIs?  

Response: Testing is a critical first step in managing the spread of most infectious diseases, and STIs are no exception. Whether or not somebody is presenting symptoms, if they’ve been exposed or think they’re at risk, testing should always be the first step. When individuals are aware of their infection status, not only can they receive the necessary treatment to address the disease, but they can also make sure to take proper precautions to ensure preventing the spread to others. In this respect, “Knowledge is Power; and Ignorance is NOT bliss”. Do you foresee a role for at home testing for STIs (i.e., for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea or herpes, analogous) like COVID testing? 

Response: Right now, the technology isn’t ready to support “true” at-home testing in STIs like the rapid antigen tests for COVID-19. The current at-home solution for STIs involves self-collection of samples in the comfort of one’s own home and then shipping out the samples to be tested in a laboratory. This provides a good alternative with privacy and ease of access for those who don’t want to or are not able to visit their healthcare provider to get tested. Having said that one can foresee a time when there is a true at-home test for STIs similar to what we had for COVID-19. While progress is ongoing, the immediate priority should be on getting people tested for STIs and making sure they’re getting the treatment they need, whether it be in the conventional hospital-lab based system or the convenient at-home collection followed by lab testing. How would you describe your work as Senior Medical Director of Genetic Testing Services at Thermo Fisher Scientific? 

Response: At Genetic Testing Solutions (GTS) in Thermo Fisher Scientific, we look to bridge molecular biology with clinical medicine. By bringing these two fields, we develop innovative solutions that help advance science and the practice of medicine, with the ultimate goal of impacting patient lives. We envision this in the field of infectious diseases, oncology, personalized medicine, reproductive health and much more. We are truly at the forefront of diagnostic technology and making a real difference at the bedside. What types of projects are you involved in? 

Response: Over past few years, our team has been heavily involved in the global COVID-19 response from a testing standpoint and we still continue to support this effort. As we transition to an endemic state, we are now looking forward to different areas of application of our technologies. Currently we are heavily invested in Infectious diseases as that covers indications like respiratory infections, STI’s, Gastrointestinal infections, Urinary tract Infections, Women’s Health, as well as advancing our efforts in lower middle-income countries which have quite different set of challenges to deal with such as HIV-drug resistance. We are also involved in other disease areas like select oncology applications, pharmacogenomics, and reproductive health. Our goal is to develop tests that meet pressing needs in the clinic and in research and we’re excited to continue that work. What is Thermo Fisher Scientific’s mission in the sphere of STIs? 

Thermo Fisher ScientificResponse: Thermo Fisher Scientific’s mission is “to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer”. We live this mission every day and it reflects in the sphere of STIs, as well, where we are helping make the world “healthier”. Within GTS, this is about providing the best and most effective tools possible to help clinicians provide the best quality care for patients with STIs. We believe that every test can mean another saved life; whether it is to decide if a person is healthy or sick or whether it’s a genetic test to identify what treatment would be most effective. We will continue to work to develop tools like these, and also ensure that these tools are available to those who need them the most. Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Response: The incredible advancement in the field of molecular diagnostics has made testing faster and more accurate than it ever has been, as we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of molecular diagnostics in labs around the world and has shown the power of such technologies. It is time for us continue the momentum with a strong shift towards broad adoption of these technologies.

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Last Updated on April 24, 2023 by Marie Benz