Last December, no one thought that Covid19 would be a major global crisis. By late January however, the picture was beginning to change and ICGEB scientists had the foresight to recognise the danger looming and began to prepare for research on coronaviruses. Whilst research labs all over the world are in lockdown, ICGEB research activities related to Covid19 remain active.
We are also providing protocols for pharmaceutical grade production of interferon, which in some studies has been reported to assist in Covid19 therapy. In the challenge that the pandemic has presented ICGEB has been a quick responding Organisation, able to directly assist Member States during a moment of crisis.
The coming months will see more effort placed on Research and Development for combatting the virus, and also in building capacity in our Member States so that they can develop infrastructure and expertise for dealing both with Covid19 and any future epidemics, which are certain to occur. Our scientists are working 24/7 to provide screening platforms for testing new therapeutic molecules. A great deal of effort is being placed on repurposing drugs – testing medications that are already in the clinic for possible efficacy against the virus – which avoids lengthy clinical trial and safety assessments. Our teams in Trieste and New Delhi are working together to identify such compounds and to perform biological validations for potential therapeutic value. Likewise, identifying which forms of immune response provides the best protection against the virus is a major priority for our team in New Delhi, aiming to identify therapeutic antibodies, which could be “humanised” and used rapidly for therapeutic purposes.
Other major questions remain. Why do some individuals recover extremely easily, whereas others fail to recover and succumb to the virus? Studies to understand the genetics underlying these differences are at the forefront of ICGEB’s activities.
We have issued a special call for research grants aiming to support research activities on Covid19 in our Member countries, in collaboration with our own scientists. This provides a wonderful means of building capacity in some of the poorest and most vulnerable nations.
ICGEB will continue facing these and future challenges directly, and, as a reliable international partner, will continue to work to ensure that science can provide benefits for all countries.