The first day of the joint meeting also included discussion on harnessing the powers of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform pandemic preparedness
Monte Carlo, Monaco, October 20, 2023: The first of three days of the annual meeting of the Global Virus Network (GVN), hosted in partnership with the Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM, a GVN Affiliate), the Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco, and the Princely Government of Monaco, began yesterday with a scientific session on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) as a preview to the day’s principal focus: discussions about advancing pandemic preparedness and response in Europe and other regions of the world with discussions led by the High Patronage of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, among other dignitaries including from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GVN.
Participants from Belgium, Denmark, France, Monaco, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States of America spoke specifically about collaborative pathogen surveillance, the development of broad-spectrum antivirals for outbreak preparedness, and the roles of big data, citizen science, wastewater monitoring, and using artificial intelligence (AI) in advancing research predictions and preserving precious resources.
H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco said, “I am delighted to support and attend this symposium to improve pandemic preparedness here in Monaco and abroad. We have a duty to remain vigilant, strengthen global governance, and strengthen infrastructure and healthcare systems. Through the support of the Global Virus Network and Dr. Linfa Wang of Singapore, Monaco—during the COVID pandemic—was able to carry out tests to identify neutralizing antibodies and advise those with a higher risk towards COVID infection, while enabling us to strengthen our vaccine campaign.” Another global challenge important to H.S.H. Prince Albert II is climate change, which also has significant public health consequences. He continued, “Climate change knows no borders, and it is not only felt by those of us in Monaco, but the world over, impacting public health. Monaco advocates a One Health approach. Scientific knowledge will help us be better prepared. Responses must be collective and result in everyone working closely together. Public health transcends borders and belongs to a common community. We need solutions to build a more resilient and sustainable world.”
His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, who has been a catalyst for an inter-disciplinary response to climate change, gathering a wide array of experts including political leaders, economists, theorists, journalists, academics, and celebrities to converse and protect the world for future generations, said “It would be tragic to leave behind a world more tragic than we received it. Only we can do it—make the change—but we need to do so in unity. Environmental issues are dependent on numerous other social challenges of our time. The way we treat the world around us inevitably impacts how we treat those around us. It is reprehensible to witness Russia and Russian Orthodox Church’s support of inconceivable and irreparable human and environmental damage on Ukraine. We condemn this war. If we care about God’s creation, we cannot be indifferent to what is occurring in Ukraine, in addition to the loss of lives and infrastructure in the Middle East, as we as human beings are unable to compromise and come together.”
Dr. Robert Pebody of WHO Europe in Denmark emphasized the need for “collaborative data collection, analyses and information sharing to inform better decision making and action, save lives and save economies.” Further he emphasized the need for improved “biosecurity, genomics, early event detection and systems in place to rapidly assess those threats and how they affect human health.”
Dr. Linfa Wang of Duke -NUS Medical School in Singapore said, “Serological profiling shows us that spillover happens frequently, even in countries with no bats as people travel to and from countries. Spillover happens all the time, and in different parts of the world. The threat is there. A key lesson from the recent pandemic is that international collaborations and networking is a must. With SARS-CoV-2, it was very frustrating to not be able to advance critical science to solve the problem due to politics interfering in the process. The Global Virus Network is integral in enhancing these scientific networking and collaborative opportunities.”
Dr. Johan Neyts of the Rega Institute for Medical Research, University of Leuven-Belgium, said, “In the context of epidemic and pandemic preparedness the world needs, what I call ‘pan-family antiviral drugs.’ There are numerous families of viruses that have epidemic and pandemic potential, so we have an opportunity to work collaboratively and be prepared with cutting-edge, universal drug therapies. Vaccines take time to develop, and in some cases such as HIV due to the nature of its retrovirus class, are more scientifically challenging to develop.”
The session “Harnessing AI to Transform Pandemic Preparedness” uncovered progress and perspectives on the application of AI to virus surveillance programs. While currently available AI is still a relatively blunt instrument, it can be trained to effectively identify clusters of infections and variants of concerns, and serve as a rapid tool to assist public health researchers and officials.
Dr. John Lee of the European Bioinformatics Institute in the United Kingdom highlighted AI’s contributions in expediently advancing experiments by analyzing enormous amounts of data to predict mutations and observing how it affects protein structures and the likelihood of the virus escaping a vaccine. Dr. Lee said, “While AI can synthesize a vast amount of information, we still need to be careful that the information is summarized correctly.”
Dr. Marcel Salathé of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland advises the group of researchers and thought leaders in the audience, “You don’t want to miss the AI train.” He continued that AI does not inherently infringe on privacy rights, and that data collection can be utilized in a centralized or decentralized structure, noting that there were no security breaches from a decentralized model. Studies showed that phone apps tracking COVID cases and notifying those with exposure, significantly impacted hospitalization and death rates.
Dr. Richard Scheuermann of the National Library of Medicine at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said “We can use AI to predict those who are more at risk and intervene early and save lives by mitigating disease progression.”
For the full three-day agenda of the GVN Annual Scientific Meeting in Monaco, visit: https://gvn.org/gvn-2023-monaco/
About the Global Virus Network (GVN)
The 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, the GVN is a coalition comprised of eminent human and animal virologists from 71 Centers of Excellence and 9 Affiliates in 40 countries, working collaboratively to train the next generation, 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 https://gvn.org/. Follow us on X at @GlobalVirusNews.
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