GVN and Monaco COVID-19 Diagnostic Conference: Promises and Challenges

Executive Summary

A December 2-3, 2021 Conference Towards the Deployment of a Global and Collaborative Diagnostic Arsenal to Detect and Fight Against Pandemics

Amid global spread of the Omicron variant, under the High Patronage of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Global Virus Network(GVN), the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, the Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco, the Fondation Merieux and the Princely Government of Monaco, hosted the international conference: GVN & Monaco COVID-19 Diagnostic Conference: Promises and Challenges from Thursday, December 2 – Friday, December 3, 2021. This conference brought together academia, industry, and government to boost innovative technologies for meaningful collaborations with a focus on developing countries. This two-day-workshop demonstrated that diagnostics are a central element in controlling pandemics by identifying cutting-edge technologies and platforms to be used for emerging pathogens, and by addressing how such novel technologies can readily inform public health strategies. Specific achievements and outcomes of this workshop include:

  • Providing progress of cutting-edge technologies for COVID-19 diagnostics and platforms to be readily available for the control of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and for future pandemic preparedness
  • Application of such novel diagnostic systems for implementation of global health strategies
  • Approaches for sharing resources and technologies, especially with developing countries.

Testing: Immunology, Saliva and Rapid Testing

In responding to emerging pathogens, it is critical to understand the dynamics of viral shedding in different individuals to identify the most vulnerable time point for viral transmission, to select efficient diagnostic tests, such as molecular and immunology tests, and to prevent super spreader events. Regarding testing, development of neutralizing antibody test has been very useful to understand the protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 in naturally infected and vaccinated people so as to predict the levels of protection against the virus in the context of waning immunity, and breakthrough infection and to implement public health policy. The presentations from Monaco have offered a first proof of concept on how one can test a whole population of vaccinated individuals for their neutralizing antibodies with the potential of a stewardship personalized strategy for future boosts.

Use of saliva samples have become a realistic and most useful strategy in COVID-19 diagnostics. Saliva based detection assays can decrease cost and turnaround time. Different assays with different demographic samples have demonstrated its usefulness and broad applications. Importantly, saliva may be superior to nasal swab for early detection of infection. Rapid tests for COVID-19 can be particularly useful, not only in developed countries but also in developing countries. Various advanced technologies and platform (i.e., CRISPR and biosensor based assays) are now available for sensitive and cost-effective diagnostics of COVID-19. These advanced techniques are adaptable and deployable in the field with point-of-care testing and massive throughout.

Biomarkers and Genomic Sequencing

Identification and monitoring of biomarkers in patients have potentials for predicting disease status and severity, identifying a target for antiviral drugs, and developing personalized treatments. Advanced genomic sequencing analysis facilitates rapid identification of emerging variants and predominantly circulating variants, leading to implementation of public health measures. Interestingly, water-waste surveillance approach also has potential to quickly identify circulating emerging variants and provide various valuable information required to protect the community. Sharing of data and availability of database systems for SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing enables us to track variants of concern and to predict the impact of mutations in the variants on the efficacy of existing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. Specifically, risk assessment algorithm is facilitating tracking the emerging variants and analyzing functional impact of mutation. In particular such programs predict that the Omicron variant could be of great concern due to the many mutations found in the receptor binding domains of the virus and their impact on the efficacy of vaccines and therapeutics.

Implementation of Diagnostic Tests in a Global Health Strategy

Global collaboration, partnership, and leadership are critical in mitigating the current pandemic and in preventing future ones. Health organizations, such as FIND and Unitaid, have worked to accelerate breaking the chains of transmission and providing the public health interventions measures by distributing affordable, accountable, and rapid diagnostic kits to developing countries. Yet, lack of testing in these countries (especially, remote and rural areas) have greatly hindered in mitigating the current pandemic. The important steps toward future pandemic preparedness will not only rely on providing access to inexpensive and rapid diagnostics, genome sequencing capacity, education, and training but also on providing education and training as well as regional manufacturing capacity with technical transfer.   Further, establishment of global partnerships for sharing samples (biobanking) and available database systems are enhancing our efforts to rapidly develop diagnostics for infectious diseases.

Conclusions

Diagnostics will be vital in preparing future pandemics. For the next pandemic preparedness, new levels of partnerships between academia, industry, and government will be necessary with globalized vision. In addition, we need comprehensive approaches with engineering, medicine, public health, and virology. Overall we need an “Operation Wrap Speed program” for diagnostics so as toaccelerate the development, clinical testing, manufacturing, and procurement of novel tests.     The Global Virus Network continuously establishes global partnerships, such as that with Monaco and Fondation Merieux, and merges the best experts worldwide in a science-driven and independent spirit to provide better strategies to mitigate current pandemics and to prepare for future ones. Our ongoing effort is to define the impact of the Omicron variant by global collaboration with the experts in protein structure, genomic surveillance and bioinformatics, virology, and clinical analysis, by disseminating scientific findings, and by providing advice on global public health measures. We are fluid in our specific research goals as the pandemic continues to evolve.

For the complete presentations of the conference, please click here.