The Global Virus Network (GVN), headquartered in Baltimore and representing 53 Centers of Excellence, including the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and nine 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 growing novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, which originated in Wuhan, China, in December. GVN has identified areas to support its centers and work with international organizations addressing the growing epidemic.
“GVN Centers of Excellence and Affiliates, with strong working relationships among them, are poised to engage in any outbreak situation by providing the world’s only network of top basic virologists from around the globe covering all classes of human viral threats,” said Christian Bréchot, MD, PhD, president of GVN and a professor at the University of South Florida. “Many members of the GVN are initiating various projects regarding diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics to combat this rapidly expanding, novel, outbreak. However, there are still resource needs and information gaps that need to be filled, and GVN is helping to serve as that important resource. In particular, we have engaged GVN Africa to foster collaborations on diagnostics and other important resource needs.”
“We are organizing a workshop for the diagnosis of 2019-nCoV in Dakar for 15 countries in a joint partnership with Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention [Africa CDC] in collaboration with the World Health Regional Office for Africa and the West African Health Organization before the epidemic arrives,” said Amadou Alpha Sall, PhD, general administrator, Institut Pasteur in Dakar, the region’s top biomedical research facility, and member of GVN. “We are contributing to build ‘the Africa We Want’ in 2063 Africa agenda, while making sure that we anticipate the threat rather than reacting to it. This is a new model of work for Africa under the leadership of Africa CDC catalyzed by Ebola and other outbreaks that may change the public health practice in Africa in the coming years.”
2019-nCoV has spread to other global regions, including Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam. As of Thursday morning, Feb. 6, there are over 28,000 infected and more than 560 dead, while the rest of the world reports more than 260 confirmed cases and two deaths outside of mainland China. The numbers are likely higher.
On Jan. 29, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), a GVN Center of Excellence in Melbourne, announced that, for the first time outside of China, it successfully grew 2019-nCoV from a patient sample in the laboratory and was the first to share the virus with public health laboratories globally and the World Health Organization (WHO). This provides those laboratories, including those within GVN, with crucial information to help combat the virus.
Mike Catton, PhD, deputy director of the Doherty Institute and member of GVN, said that possession of a virus isolate extended what could be achieved with molecular technology in the fight against this virus.
The Doherty Institute-grown virus is expected to be used to generate an antibody test, among other uses, which allows detection of the virus in patients who haven’t displayed symptoms and were therefore unaware they had the virus.
"An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate,” Catton said.
On Jan. 23, after Chinese researchers published the sequence of 2019-nCoV, a GVN partner, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), announced that it will fund three vaccine initiatives with $12.5 million, including GVN Center of Excellence, the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centere at the University of Queensland (UQ). Further, on Feb. 3, CEPI and GSK announced that GSK will make its established pandemic vaccine adjuvant platform technology available to enhance the development of an effective vaccine against 2019-nCoV. Adjuvants are added to a vaccine to boost the immune response to produce more antibodies and longer-lasting immunity, thus minimizing the dose of antigen needed.
“The University of Queensland’s ‘molecular clamp technology’ provides stability to the viral protein that is the primary target for our immune defense,” said Paul Young, PhD, head of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at UQ, Australia, and a member of GVN. “The technology has been designed as a platform approach to generate vaccines against a range of human and animal viruses and has shown promising results in the laboratory targeting viruses such as influenza, Ebola, Nipah, and MERS coronavirus. The availability of the GSK adjuvant will enable us to carry out important pre-clinical experiments designed to assess vaccine effectiveness.”
Other GVN researchers are sourcing their MERS and SARS coronavirus expertise to advance vaccine development for this new outbreak. “With our experience and novel contributions to the MERS and SARS outbreaks as well as the deadly zoonosis influenza viruses, H7N7 and H5N1, we are working to develop a vaccine against this new novel coronavirus,” 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 GVN, and CEO of Artemis One Health Foundation, Germany. “Specifically, we are poised to study T-Cell and IgM antibody response using our expertise in animal models.”
Linfa Wang, PhD, director of the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School and a center director of GVN, Singapore, is developing diagnostics for 2019-nCoV with collaborators in China. Wang, who sequenced and named Australia’s bat-borne Hendra virus more than 25 years ago, has obtained multiple isolates of the virus and is focused on studying serology and cross-reactivity and contamination on diagnostics. Wang believes the deadly new coronavirus “appears to be more infectious than the 2003 SARS coronavirus.” Further he warns, “Despite the possibility for criticisms of an overreaction, it is imperative that we act quickly and effectively, as the alternative of an underreaction could potentially lead to more deaths worldwide.”
“We are funneling resources towards this new novel virus research on animal infection, transmission, and reservoirs,” said Joaquim Segalés, DVM, PhD, researcher from the Centre de Recerca en Sanitat Animal (CReSA), Spain and a center director of GVN. “We also have a number of reagents against MERS available and are waiting to receive isolates of the virus, hopefully from our GVN colleagues.”
“Our GVN colleagues in Melbourne at the Doherty Institute are shipping a sample of this new novel virus as we speak,” said Johan Neyts, PhD, professor of virology, Rega Institute for Medical Research at the University of Leuven and a center director of GVN. “We are researching a potential vaccine, based upon our Plasmid Launched Live Attenuated Virus [PLAV] technology based upon other viruses, including yellow fever, Lassa and rabies. Further, we are a leading research center developing antiviral compounds and will apply our research to develop therapeutics for 2019-nCoV.”
“The GVN wishes to help and collaborate with other scientists globally, and especially to include the China GVN and China CDC, whose scientists, under the leadership of Dr. George F. Gao, have made important initial contributions to the genomic characterization and epidemiology of this deadly virus,” said Robert Gallo, MD, co-founder and chairman of the International Scientific Leadership Board of GVN. Gallo is also The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine and Director, IHV, at UMSOM, a GVN Center of Excellence.
About the Institute of Human Virology
Formed in 1996 as a partnership between the state of Maryland, the city of Baltimore, the University System of Maryland, and the University of Maryland Medical System, IHV is an institute of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is home to some of the most globally recognized and world-renowned experts in all of virology. IHV combines the disciplines of basic research, epidemiology, and clinical research in a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune disorders — most notably HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. For more information, visit www.ihv.org and follow us on Twitter @IHVmaryland.
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, exiting, 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 composed of eminent human and animal virologists from 53 Centers of Excellence and nine affiliates in 32 countries worldwide, 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 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. GVN is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit www.gvn.org. Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews.