To tackle the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the European Commission is funding eight large-scale research projects, aimed at developing treatments and diagnostics for the coronavirus. They were selected in a fast-track call for proposals, launched in March by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private partnership. Led by the Statens Veterinaermedicinska Anstalt, Sweden, and partnered by institutions from France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, the MAD-CoV 2 project aims to dive into the molecular details of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and apply this knowledge to develop new COVID-19 treatments.
The novel coronavirus shares many similarities with the original Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) which emerged 17 years ago and was extensively studied by the Penninger group at IMBA, who was among the first to describe ACE2 as host cell receptor of the original coronavirus. Recent studies confirmed that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 also binds to ACE2 in its host with even higher binding affinity – also explaining the severity of the disease. ACE2 is mainly expressed in the human lung, which is why in most COVID-19 patients, the lungs are heavily affected by the virus. However, ACE2 is also found in additional tissues such as the human heart, kidneys, blood vessels and intestine, which might explain the multiple organ failure oftentimes caused by COVID-19. Recently, IMBA scientists and colleagues produced groundbreaking results in blocking viral infections in human organoids by inhibiting interactions with the SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2.
The aims of MAD-CoV 2 are to engineer human tissues from stem cells and to test novel therapies and vaccines; to provide critical evidence on the role of clinical grade ACE2 in viral replication and COVID-19 pathogenesis; to perform high-throughput screens to genetically map, at a single amino acid resolution, essential host factor that are critical for SARS-CoV-2 replication; and to rapidly translate this knowledge into novel therapies to fight the current and, importantly, future corona virus outbreaks.
Resulting data and unique tissue reagents will be made available to the entire scientific community for drug testing and development.
Press Release by the European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_837
The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) is a public-private partnership between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical industry represented by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Its aim is to improve health by speeding up the development of, and patient access to, innovative medicines, particularly in areas where there is an unmet medical or social need.
IMBA - Institute of Molecular Biotechnology - is one of the leading biomedical research institutes in Europe focusing on cutting-edge stem cell technologies, functional genomics, and RNA biology. IMBA is located at the Vienna BioCenter, the vibrant cluster of universities, research institutes and biotech companies in Austria. IMBA is a subsidiary of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the leading national sponsor of non-university academic research. The stem cell and organoid research at IMBA is being funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and the City of Vienna.