Global Virus Network Responds to Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Global Virus Network Responds to Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Baltimore, Maryland, USA, May 31, 2018: The Global Virus Network (GVN) is mobilizing a coordinated effort to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through its Centers of Excellence.  The GVN represents 41 Centers of Excellence and 7 affiliates in 26 countries and comprises foremost experts in every class of virus causing disease in humans.

“The GVN Centers of Excellence are directly contributing to the fight against Ebola, working in different research areas that are of crucial importance to confronting such epidemics,” said Prof. Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, President of the GVN.  “Several of GVN’s Centers are also sending scientists to the DRC.  Moreover, the GVN is currently serving as a hub to aggregate and disseminate information on each Center’s individual responses to the outbreak to better coalesce and inform a collective approach. In tandem with organizations such as the WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), and other international institutions, the GVN will coordinate research and response efforts and serve as a catalyst for shared information to focus efforts on the areas in greatest need.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of May 29, 2018, there are 36 confirmed cases, 13 probable cases, and, 4 suspect cases, totaling 53 cases including 25 deaths. Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 by the Ebola River in the DRC (formerly known as Zaire).  It is not definitively known where Ebola originates, however, it is believed that bats are the main reservoir for the virus.

Four species of ebolaviruses cause disease in humans and the one causing the outbreak in the DRC is Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus).  Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) spreads to people through direct contact with bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the virus and presenting disease, objects contaminated with the virus, as well as dead bodies from EVD. The virus can also spread to people through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected fruit bats or primates.

“When my colleagues and I co-founded the GVN in 2011, we made a commitment to share data so that science could be fast-tracked in situations such as the latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC,” said Dr. Gallo, who is Co-Founder and International Scientific Advisor of the GVN and The Homer & Martha Gudeslky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder and Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a GVN Center of Excellence.  “Without an organized network of the world’s leading virologists supporting implementation organizations such as GOARN, the science of the epidemic will progress slowly.  We have an experimental vaccine that we believe may be effective, but more research is needed.”

GVN Center of Excellence, The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), is heavily involved in Ebola virus research and the deployment of equipment and supplies to the DRC.  Said Michael Oldstone, MD, Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology at TSRI and Co-Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, “Our group has been studying Ebola in Sierra Leone for more than four years. We are focused on detailing the innate and adoptive immune response in those dying and those that survive, studying host genetics and viral genetics, and analyzing biomarkers for, and molecular mechanism of, the enhanced vascular permeability, or the so-called hemorrhagic component.”

Erica Ollmann Saphire, PhD, Professor, Department of Immunology and Microbiology at TSRI and Co-Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, who is researching the proteins of the Ebola virus, said her team has mobilized loads of donated personal protective equipment and supplies to the DRC. The tools were already delivered to Kinshasa to support epidemiology, mapping, and immune studies. Dr. Saphire will also be studying the immune responses in survivors and vaccines. She founded and directs a global effort to understand and develop antibody therapeutics against these viruses, and has recently engineered improved antibodies that are being evaluated for treatment of disease.

Kristian G. Andersen, PhD, Assistant Professor, Director of Infectious Disease Genomics, STSI, Department of Immunology and Microbiology also at TSRI, and whose lab in the past used virus sequencing to understand and track past outbreaks such as Ebola, Lassa, and Zika, said, “The current outbreak is confusing.  The most critical questions at this point relate to understanding (1) the scale of the outbreak, (2) when it started, and, (3) how it is spreading.  Is it human-to-human infection or repeated animal to human infection?  We can address all those questions by sequencing the virus from a subset of the cases, and we are on standby to assist.”

At Emory University, Raymond Schinazi, PhD, DSc, the Frances Winship Walters Professor of Pediatrics, Director of the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology and Co-Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, is working with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on repurposed drug therapy for Ebola.  “Working with colleagues at the CDC, we recently discovered some really interesting, new, safe and potent repurposed drugs that are approved for human use for other indications that are highly effective against Ebola virus in culture,” said Dr. Schinazi.

At the Rega Institute for Medical Research at the University of Leuven, Johan Neyts, PhD, Professor of Virology and Director of the GVN Center of Excellence, is developing a novel technology that allows for the rapid production of inexpensive vaccines against the yellow fever virus.  This vaccine no longer needs to be kept cold for storage and transport. Dr. Neyts said, “The technology allows us to easily design vaccines that protect not just against yellow fever but also a second pathogen.  Our team is currently working towards the construction of a dual yellow fever/Ebola vaccine using this technology.  The fact that such a vaccine would, in contrast to current Ebola virus vaccine (candidates), no longer need a cold-chain, would be an important asset.”

GVN Centers of Excellence are working closely with GOARN on a variety of issues including diagnostic, epidemiological studies and clinical management in conjunction with other Centers of Excellence such as the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston National Laboratory in the USA, Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, the Institute for Virology at the University of Marburg in Germany, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, several French Pasteur Institutes of the International Network of the Institut Pasteur, and the Fondation Mérieux in France.

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.  It enhances the international capacity for reactive, proactive and interactive activities that address mankind-threatening viruses and addresses a global need for coordinated virology training through scholarly exchange programs for recruiting and training young scientists in medical virology.  The GVN also serves as a resource to governments and international organizations seeking advice about viral disease threats, prevention or response strategies, and GVN advocates for research and training on virus infections and their many disease manifestations.