The GVN Is Connecting Academia, Governments, Public Health Organizations and Industry to Advance the Response for COVID-19 and Prepare for the Next Outbreak
Baltimore, Maryland, USA, February 18, 2020: The Global Virus Network (GVN), representing 53 Centers of Excellence and 9 Affiliates in 32 countries comprising foremost experts in every class of virus causing disease in humans and some animals, is holding regular strategic discussions with its members regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China this past December. The GVN, among other critical tasks, is forming subcommittees to make scientific recommendations requested of the network.
“GVN is serving as an information hub, not just for its Centers and Affiliates, but for public health entities and some industry leaders,” said Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, President of the GVN, and a Professor at the University of South Florida. “We will be providing recommendations and suggested guidelines for researching COVID-19 in laboratories worldwide, while working with organizations such as the China CDC and Africa CDC as well as companies with scientifically-proven products for testing.”
COVID-19 has spread to other global regions, including Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, The Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam. As of Tuesday morning, February 18, there are more than 73,000 infected around the world and at least 1,873 dead, including five deaths outside of mainland China. The numbers are likely higher.
“We have one of twelve antibodies against MERS and have submitted a grant to the European Union (EU) to study cross-reactivity and advance a SARS-2/coronavirus vaccine candidate,” said Ab Osterhaus, PhD, DVM, Director of The Research Center for Emerging Infections and Zoonosis (RIZ) at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, a Center Director of the GVN, and CEO of Artemis One Health Foundation, Germany. “At the EVAg meeting I am attending now, we are sharing information about an EU repository for the virus and we look forward to extending accessibility of the virus worldwide.”
“We have been involved in setting up the first diagnostics and helping countries establish this for case finding, as the most urgent need,” said Marion Koopmans, DVM, PhD, Head of the Department of Virosciences of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, Netherlands, who is director of its GVN Center of Excellence, and a worldwide reference in zoonotic viral diseases and emerging viruses. “With an EU network of more than 800 hospitals, we are preparing for observational studies and clinical trials, so that we may start enrolling patients if the outbreak grows further outside of China. Our research agenda includes addressing some key questions about risk factors and studying pathogenesis and immune response in the European population. Further, we have an interesting reference database of data and samples from patients with different human coronaviruses from previous years, coupled with animal infection experiments to study pathogenesis and transmissibility of the new coronavirus. Lastly, our animal work also involves vaccine evaluation and therapeutic antibody studies.”
Dr. Koopmans attended the recent World Health Organization (WHO) meeting convened last week to address COVID-19. This was the second time that the WHO convened scientists from across the globe to receive guidance from the scientific community during an acute outbreak. The meeting identified essential knowledge gaps and existing, ongoing research. Part of the meeting was dedicated to defining key priorities, which will be presented to a consortium of funders. As scientific advisor of both the WHO R&D Blueprint and GLOPID-R, Dr. Koopmans notes, “it is fascinating to see how these new coordination mechanisms work. Compared with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the response has been much faster, and prepared through the WHO Blueprint. It now is up to the scientific community to listen to the research needs, seek collaboration and share essential data immediately.”
“We are working with the GVN and Dr. Stacey Schultz-Cherry of St. Jude to submit a grant to the U.S. National Institutes of Health to focus on an animal model study of COVID-19,” said Elodie Ghedin, PhD, Professor of Biology and Global Public Health at New York University. “In collaboration with Dr. Michael Schatz at Johns Hopkins, we have also contributed to developing a new virus genomic sequence assembly application (iGenomics) that can be used with an iPhone in the field.”
“We are working on several projects, including a proposal from the EU Commission on animal model testing for antivirals in addition to projects with the government of Spain,” said Joaquim Segalés, DVM, PhD, Researcher from the Centre de Recerca en Sanitat Animal (CReSA), Spain,a GVN Center of Excellence.
“We continue to distribute virus samples internationally and are working to identify the structure of the virus and further genome sequencing,” said Mike Catton, MB BS, FRCPA, Deputy Director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia and Member of the GVN. “We look forward to hearing from GVN’s specialized subcommittee on BSL-3 versus BSL-4 laboratory testing for COVID-19.”
“Singapore is receiving many requests for virus isolates, and we are looking to our GVN colleagues to advise on how best to prioritize distribution,” said Linfa Wang, PhD, Director of the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School and a Center Director of the GVN, Singapore.
“We have researchers at the UB GVN Center of Excellence and UB – Roswell Park Drug Development Center with expertise in identifying potential drugs using target molecules and ‘repurposing’ software simulation approaches. Our GVN center can also develop and validate antiviral drug assays and collaborate with industry for bioanalysis and pharmacokinetics of investigational antivirals. The UB GVN Center also has Affiliate Centers in Zimbabwe and Jamaica that can contribute to evaluation of innovative early warning technologies for COVID-19 infection in their regions,” said Gene Morse, PharmD, FCCP, BCPS, a SUNY Distinguished Professor in the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Director of the Translational Pharmacology Research Core and UB’s Center for Integrated Global Biomedical Sciences as well as a GVN Center Director.
“Our lab is actively working on COVID-19 researching antiviral screening, monoclonal antibody screening, and vaccine testing, in both cells and mice,” said Mathew Frieman, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Affiliate Member of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a GVN Center of Excellence. “We have an infectious clone that we hope will be recovered this week in the BSL-3, and then we will be making mutants across many genes in the clone to advance the study of COVID-19.”
“RKI is currently supplying our international partners with coronavirus diagnostics, mainly PCR primers, probes and controls, but also other supplies, if needed,” said Heinz Ellerbrok, PhD, Deputy Head of the Highly Infectious Diseases Unit at the Robert Koch Institute, a GVN Center of Excellence. “We have started with shipment of PCR sets to Nigeria CDC on the 6th of February. In the meantime, RKI has supported, or is in the process of supporting, 13 partner institutions in 10 different countries, mainly in Africa, including Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, and also countries like Sri Lanka and Yemen.”
Nora Samaranayake, GVN