GLOBAL VIRUS NETWORK (GVN) ADDS FOUR PREEMINENT ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS TO STRENGTHEN GLOBAL COLLABORATION IN VIRAL RESEARCH AND RESPONSE TO PANDEMICS

The Four New GVN Members Form Three New Centers of Excellence and One Affiliate from Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and North America

Baltimore, Maryland, USA, January 28, 2021: The Global Virus Network (GVN), comprising foremost experts around the world in every class of virus causing disease in humans and some animals, today announced the addition of three new Centers of Excellence including the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health in the United States of America (USA), and one Affiliate,  the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago through GVN’s Center of Excellence in HIV and HCV Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory in the Center for Integrated Global Biomedical Sciences, at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (SUNY), USA. The latest additions bolster GVN to 61 Centers of Excellence, with 11 Affiliates in 34 nations.  The GVN is a global authority and resource for the identification and investigation, interpretation and explanation, control and suppression, of viral diseases posing threats to mankind.

“We look forward to working with each of these esteemed new members to combat the current pandemic emergency and plan for, and mitigate, future outbreaks,” said Dr. Christian Bréchot, President of the GVN and Associate Vice President for International Partnerships and Innovation, Professor, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Internal Medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

”These new Centers and Affiliate offer not just deeper global reach, but encompass some of the world’s most cutting-edge science and thought leadership,” said Dr. Robert Gallo, GVN co-founder and international scientific advisor, who is also The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine and Director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), Chinese Academy of Sciences, offers, among other world-leading expertise, valuable resources in bat viruses and coronaviruses and will be an important Center for studying response to emerging viral diseases.

“I support increasing global collaborations and transparency in science, particularly related to this current pandemic crisis,” said Dr. Zhengli Shi, Professor at WIV and director of GVN’s new Center in China.  “In addition to sharing our coronavirus research and any new breakthroughs with my fellow colleagues at the GVN, I am also looking forward to sharing my experience in Africa, particularly the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service, regarding our surveillance studies in bats, rodents and camels in East Africa.”

Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands is renowned for conducting research in innate immunity, non-specific vaccines, targeting leukocytes, and metabolic differentiation, especially against coronaviruses.

“I am looking forward to increasing my collaborations with the GVN,” said Dr. Mihai Netea, a GVN Task Force member who will direct the new Center, and who also heads the division of Experimental Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “I am pleased that our research in understanding the factors influencing variability of human immune responses, the biology of sepsis and immunoparalysis in bacterial and fungal infections, and the study of the memory traits of innate immunity is already helping to shape GVN’s thought-leadership on utilizing innate immunity to mitigate our current pandemic and future ones.”

The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in the USA leads major genomic studies of Lassa virus, Ebola virus, and Zika virus and have carried out extensive work in virology and microbial diagnostics, including contributions to the development of innovative technologies.

“My lab has contributed to a range of fields including human and microbial genomics, information theory, and infectious disease diagnostics and surveillance, while developing new and cutting-edge diagnostic and computational technologies for outbreak prevention and response,” said Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a Professor at the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), who will direct the GVN Center.  “Together with the GVN, we can expand our study of pandemic resilience in the future.”

The University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago routinely investigates a variety of important human and animal pathogens vectored by mosquito, tick, culicoides and bats including dengue, Chikungunya, Zika and bat coronaviruses, and will contribute to many of GVN’s initiatives. UWI St. Augustine joins the GVN as an Affiliate through GVN’s Center of Excellence in HIV and HCV Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory, at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, USA.

“We look forward to working with our GVN collaborators, particularly at the University at Buffalo, SUNY to share our expertise in viral epidemiology research, as well as, to participating in broader training programs to enhance our virus research capacity,” said Dr. Christine Carrington, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at UWI St. Augustine and Director of the new GVN Affiliate.

Dr. Gene D. Morse, Distinguished Professor and Director at the Center for Integrated Global Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, SUNY who leads the GVN Center of Excellence said, “I am pleased to see my colleagues from Trinidad and Tobago come under the GVN umbrella. I look forward to helping them share resources with the GVN, test and develop antiviral therapies and biomarkers, promote translational science and build infrastructure and capacity for global virology research.”

GVN members collaborate on research areas including immunology and vaccines, antiviral drug therapy, virus-host interaction, diagnostic virology and epidemiology, morphogenesis and structural biology, emerging and re-emerging viruses, viruses as biotechnological tools and trending topics in virology. GVN is at the frontline of virology research to share knowledge, collaborate, and train the next generation of virologists as effective tools to combat epidemics of the future.

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About the Global Virus Network (GVN)

The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, existing and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprising eminent human and animal virologists from 61 Centers of Excellence and 11 Affiliates in 34 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation of virologists, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews

GVN MEDIA CONTACTS:

Chandrani Raysarkar
Phone: 240-535-1574; Email: [email protected]
Nora Samaranayake
Phone: 410-706-1966; Email: [email protected]

A Statement from the Global Virus Network (GVN) on the Need for Innovative Strategies to Mitigate SARS-CoV-2 Variants and Expand Vaccination Strategies

BaltimoreMaryland, USA, January 15, 2021: As hospitalization and mortality from COVID-19 continue to surge around the world, it will be imperative to quickly distribute the vaccines that are proven to at least show short-term protection and overall safety. Combining vaccine distribution to protective measures (mask, physical distancing and hand washing) and novel approaches to treatment, offers, for the first time since the beginning of this pandemic, valid hope in mitigating the virus outbreak and returning the world to normal life. Yet, there are hurdles and challenges to overcome, namely, the emergence of viral variants and the potential shortage of vaccine doses. In this context, experts of the Global Virus Network (GVN) are joining forces and expertise to address these points and offer solutions.

The Mutations

The rapid global spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants that have emerged from the UK and South Africa have brought great concern.  Epidemiological and modeling studies have shown their increased transmissibility, yet, these studies also show that the new variants do not significantly affect disease severity and mortality. These variants contain several mutations. Importantly, the two variants contain the N501Y mutation in the spike protein that can increase binding affinity of the virus to its host receptor, ACE2. Moreover, the variant from South Africa shows the E484K mutation that might, at least theoretically, enable the virus to escape the host’s immune response.

GVN experts are studying how these mutations affect currently available vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. A recent study showed that the 501Y mutation did not drastically affect the activity of neutralizing antibodies in convalescent serum. The effect of the E484K mutation on immune evasion and reinfection is currently characterized by using convalescent sera. The front-runner vaccine companies, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have stated that their vaccines can be effective against these variants. Since the vaccines are designed to elicit robust levels of polyclonal neutralizing antibodies, these minor changes may not greatly reduce protective efficacy of vaccines. However, this needs to be evaluated by using live viruses of variants. Also, a most important question regarding current and future vaccines is their impact on cellular immunity — which should be key for controlling the emergence of such variants. For diagnostics, the mutations in the spike proteins might lead to a failure in RT-PCR assay, and thus, targeting the consensus sequences for primer design would be required.

The Vaccine Strategies

Other than the development of mutations, another challenge relates to the potential shortage of doses in the context of mass vaccination programs to curb the current pandemic. Since last December, several COVID-19 vaccines were granted emergency use authorization by regulators. These vaccines so far require two doses of vaccinations. Limited capacity by vaccine manufacturers are making it difficult to secure sufficient doses of vaccines to rapidly vaccinate as many people as possible and stop viral transmission. To boost their effort, the UK government has altered the vaccination regimen with the second dose of both vaccines being postponed to 12 weeks (as opposed to the recommend 21 and 28 days respectively) after the first dose. Other countries are also considering the same strategy.

GVN’s Collective Expert Opinion and Recommendations

GVN experts emphasize the need to urgently obtain data and evidence-based decisions on the strategy to extend the second dose timing to 12 weeks, or beyond what has already been tested in clinical trials. Indeed, GVN experts have several concerns about protective efficacy, vaccine safety and generation of new variants. Thus, GVN recommends additional and innovative studies to address several other possibilities for overcoming the shortage of vaccines and also to reinforce vaccine efficacy and duration of effect, such as using: (1) half the amount of vaccine for prime and boost vaccinations  (2) heterologous prime and boost immunization by a combination of a COVID-19 vaccine and a non-specific effect of vaccine (i.e., BCG and oral poliovirus vaccine), and (3) heterologous prime and boost immunization by a combination of different COVID-19 vaccines (i.e., use of Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines). GVN suggests launching well-designed clinical studies immediately so that the world can quickly learn which strategy is most effective. Experts in GVN Centers and Affiliates stand ready to collaborate and evaluate these vaccine strategies and extend their collective efforts to generate novel therapeutics.

About the Global Virus Network (GVN)

The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, existing and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprising eminent human and animal virologists from 61 Centers of Excellence and 11 Affiliates in 34 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation of virologists, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews

TOP SCIENTISTS CALL ON GLOBAL HEALTH AGENCIES TO FUND INNATE IMMUNITY RESEARCH AS ADDITIONAL MEASURE TO FIGHT PANDEMIC VIRUSES

Global Experts Host Symposium and Agree that Innate Immunity May Be Effective, Globally Available Tool to Supplement Delay in Vaccine Availability and Distribution

Baltimore, Maryland, USA, January 08, 2021: The Global Virus Network (GVN) and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis co-hosted a December 11, 2020 international symposium on innate immunity and COVID-19.  Participants included nearly 950 registrants ranging from eminent virologists, researchers, health care professionals, health activists, government officials and representatives from the World Health Organization. GVN now joins top scientists from around the world to make an urgent appeal to funding agencies and regulatory authorities to prioritize innate immunity research as a means to fight pandemics.

Symposium speakers reviewed a range of topics, but a common recurring theme is the idea that innate immunity is an effective tool to not only address COVID-19, but also future pandemics. Select quotes from speakers at the event include:

“One aspect of global collaborations is the realization that needs in one country shift at a very different rate than needs in another country even though we go through crises at the same time. Here in the US, while the majority of the population wait for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, my colleagues in, for example Ghana and Zambia are thinking of different priorities and that is the reason we must think of science globally,” said Dr. Michael S. Avidan, Head of the Department of Anesthesiology, Washington University School of Medicine, USA.

“The importance of innate immunity, though very timely now due to COVID-19 goes beyond this pandemic, and has longstanding implications,” said Dr. Christian Brechot, President of GVN and Professor at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, USA. “Clearly this is an underappreciated field and I can firmly say that we have evidence of innate immunity having a major impact, globally. I am glad that the GVN has been able to co-host this one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary symposium to encourage the scientific community, funders and policy makers to think outside the box.”

“We can scale innate immunity research by remembering that global health crises should not be distinguished by global north or south, by taking notice even when health crises are not as global as the cholera or HIV. We should remember that during the Ebola outbreak we had diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics and yet it caused the devastation that it did,” said Dr. Annie Sparrow, Special Advisor to the Director-General, World Health Organization, Assistant Professor, Population Health Science & Policy, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA. “Clearly vaccines are not the be all and end all answers to pandemics and we have to prioritize marginalized, yet potent fields like innate immunity research if we want to fight the next pandemic with some efficacy.”

“The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is an RNA respiratory virus, which is highly contagious and has now claimed more than 1.9 million lives globally.  It’s fair to say that this virus is particularly susceptible to innate immunity,” said Dr. Robert Gallo, The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder and Director, Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Co-Founder and International Scientific Advisor of GVN, USA. “Though I see promising developments in the messenger RNA vaccines it could still take a year and then some to make the vaccines accessible to all.  Utilizing vaccines that stimulate innate immunity can save lives until effective ‘classical’ vaccines are developed and distributed during pandemics.”

“Scientists involved in vaccine development often speak of innate immunity playing an accessory role in the development of adaptive response such as from a vaccine, while evidence suggest innate immunity is also an essential part of the mechanism of Live Attenuated Vaccines (LAVs) effectiveness,” said Dr. Konstantin Chumakov, Director of the Global Virus Network Center of Excellence in Maryland, USA.

“If we infect a plant and the plant survives, then the plant grows resistant to a certain disease. Keeping this theory in mind when we performed the same experiment in the mouse model it clearly demonstrated that BCG vaccines can indeed protect against heterologous infections,” said Dr. Mihai Netea, Head of the Division of Experimental Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Nijmegen University Nijmegen Medical Center, Netherlands and member of the GVN SARS-CoV-2 Task Force. “When we performed the experiment on humans with attenuated yellow fever vaccine virus, we found that individuals that received the BCG attenuated vaccine had significantly less virus in their bodies than the ones who received a placebo.” Dr. Netea pointed to plants and insects as complex organisms live for years without any vaccines and depend only on innate immunity responses.

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About the Global Virus Network (GVN)

The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, existing and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprised of eminent human and animal virologists from 59 Centers of Excellence and 11 Affiliates in 34 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation of virologists, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews

GVN MEDIA CONTACTS:

Chandrani Raysarkar

Phone: 240-535-1574; Email: [email protected]

Nora Samaranayake

Phone: 410-706-1966; Email: [email protected]