The Molecular Virology Group (Marcello) in Trieste continued its studies on detection and molecular mechanisms of different arboviruses but has been mainly involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic providing support to the ICGEB Member countries. Activities included in the formulation for protocols for SARS-CoV-2 molecular and serological diagnostics, online tutorials and reagents to be able to develop low-cost in-house assays. Covid-19 viruses circulating in several countries have been sequenced for the first time and made available to the scientific community. A pipeline for testing antivirals against SARS-CoV-2 has been set-up allowing the identification of novel drug candidates. The Vector Borne Disease Group (Sunil) in New Delhi, investigates the molecular mechanisms of infection of different arboviruses in both the host and vector. During the Covid-19 pandemic, her group set up antiviral assays for SARS-CoV-2 testing as well as studying re-infections. The group of Chandele in New Delhi runs a joint program with the Emory Vaccine Center, Atlanta, USA to understand human immunity to infectious disease. The newly established Emerging Viruses Group (Schafer) in Cape Town will focus on oncogenic viruses relevant in the Sub-Saharan African context. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, surge diagnostic capacities have been developed to support the South African NHLS laboratories. Moreover, SARS-CoV2 pseudovirus neutralisation assays have been set up to test infected and vaccinated patient serum for neutralising antibody capacity towards the main circulating SARS-CoV2 lineages.
The Molecular Virology Group in Trieste made advances in setting up a pipeline for full genome sequencing (Licastro et al J Virol 2020, Alm et Eurosurveillance 2020) and in the identification of antiviral compound against SARS-CoV2 (Marcello et al Redox Biol 2020, Milani et al BioRxiv 2020; Rajasekharan et al BioRxiv 2020). The Vector Borne Diseases Group in New Delhi was among the first groups globally to examine reinfection of SARS-CoV-2 in patients (Shastri et al., SSRN, 2020). Further, the assay facility for SARS-CoV-2 antiviral testing has been assigned as one of the nodal centres for antiviral testing for the entire country by the Department of Biotechnology and Indian Council of Medical Research, India. The ICGEB Emory Vaccine Program Group – while continuing to study human immunity to dengue and chikungunya virus, the lab contributed extensively to understanding B cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 in recovered individuals from India (Nayak K, 2020, BioRxiv, 2020). The lab was also successful in making human monoclonal antibodies specific to the receptor binding protein of SARS-CoV-2 that can be explored for improved diagnostics, therapeutic and prophylatic regimes in the future.The Emerging Viruses Group in Cape Town, while the lab’s main focus has been on oncogenic viruses (particularly KSHV and HPV), new research activities in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic have been started. In a recently published study, plasma samples from Healthcare works has been tested for SARS-CoV2 neutralising capacity using a SARS-CoV2 pseudovirus neutralisation assay (Riou, Schafer et al., 2020, MedRxiv). Moreover, several diagnostic pipelines have been established as surge testing capacities.