Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that emerged in China in December 2019 is the main causative virus to the disease now known as COVID-19.
The European Commission has been at the forefront of supporting research and coordination European and global research efforts, including preparedness for pandemics.
In addition to a number of past and ongoing research actions related to coronaviruses and outbreaks, the Commission launched several new actions in 2020.
A better understanding of COVID-19 and its spread is essential in order to detect the disease, treat and protect patients and ultimately control the epidemic. This is why on 30 January 2020, the European Commission launched a request for expressions of interest entitled 'SC1-PHE-CORONAVIRUS-2020: Advancing knowledge for the clinical and public health response to the [COVID-19] epidemic' with a budget of €47.5 million.
17 research projects were shortlisted for funding following evaluation by independent experts.
These projects will advance our understanding of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), contribute to more efficient clinical management of patients infected with the virus, and to the public health preparedness and response to the outbreak.
The 17 projects, involving 136 research teams from across the EU and beyond, will work on
Research teams are expected to share data rapidly so that results can immediately inform the public health response.
Such rapid reaction is made possible by the standing budget line for emergency research funds that the Commission maintains as part of the Horizon 2020 annual work programmes for health research.
The newly launched Exscalate4CoV (E4C) is offering access to screening facilities for rationally selected compounds against the novel coronavirus. E4C uses supercomputers to search for therapies (small molecule drugs). It is also establishing a pipeline of phenotypic and target based screens to evaluate the efficacy of repurposed, commercial and de-novo designed compounds.
E4C invites organisations to submit proposals for screening of their compounds for efficacy profiling on the E4C Biology platforms. Full criteria and conditions are defined in the “Drug-Box” submission portal on the E4C website.
A call for research proposals (deadline 31 March 2020) was announced by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) on 3 March 2020 that aims to support projects that develop treatments and diagnostics to better tackle the COVID-19 outbreak and to increase preparedness for future possible outbreaks.
The IMI is a public-private partnership between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry through its association EFPIA.
The European Commission funds IMI through Horizon 2020 and will contribute up to €45 million to this call. A commitment of a similar scale is expected from the pharmaceutical industry so that the total investment could reach up to €90 million.
For some years, the European Commission has invested heavily into research to prepare for this type of public health emergency as well as setting emergency research funding mechanisms.
The Commission has also invested in the development of clinical networks over many years to ensure preparedness for delivering clinical research in response to new infectious disease outbreaks
Several EU funded projects (from both Framework Programme 7 and Horizon 2020) are currently contributing to the European and global preparedness and response activities.
This project received a €24 million EU grant in 2014. The project supports the readiness of hospitals in Europe and enhances their understanding of the dynamics of the outbreak.
Activities implemented by PREPARE are planned and conducted in close collaboration with partner networks and the European Commission, and in alignment with WHO and ECDC.
The European Virus Archive - GLOBAL (EVA-GLOBAL or EVAg) is a virtual collection for human, animal and plant viruses, that provides researchers with the necessary material for diagnosing coronavirus infection. It was awarded €12.2 million in 2015,
This new project received a €15 million EU grant in January 2020 for diagnostics and data mining, including the use of social media.
In January 2020, this new project received €14 million to focus on data mining and providing epidemic modelling.
The Commission is working with other research funders through GLopid-R. This network is mobilised to facilitate a rapid and effective response to this outbreak, through the coordination of research agenda and addressing priority research needs. The EU grant to support this network is €1.3 million.
One of the outcomes of the EU funded project Antarex. It is fully operational at the Italian Supercomputer in CINECA, analysing COVID-19 proteins based on data available from the scientific community in order to accelerate the search of an effective therapy against the pandemic virus.
TRANSVAC2 supports a European vaccine research and development infrastructure, currently offering researchers working on the Coronavirus the opportunity to apply for its wide range of technical vaccine development services. TRANSVAC2 started in May 2017 with a €10.6 million EU grant.
The applications of this centre or excellence can be used for on-demand, large-scale virtual screening of potential medical compounds such as small molecule drugs, antibodies etc. The applicability depends on the specific case of pandemic cause.
The access policy of this joint undertaking foresees prioritised and immediate access to its supercomputers for emergencies - as is the case in pandemic crises.
This initiative brings together 13 biological and medical pan-European research infrastructures that facilitate the sharing of raw data and research outputs, and are making available to researchers analysis pipelines and computational power to analyse or re-perform analyses related to COVID-19. EOSC-Life is supported by a €23.75 million EU grant.
ACCELERATE has allowed CERIC, the Central European Research Infrastructure Consortium, to launch a call for fast track access to Covid-19 related research. Applicants will be able to access selected instruments without the regular evaluation procedure. ACCELERATE is supported by a €3.3 million EU grant.
A number of relevant projects are also supported through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private partnership between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry through its association the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA)
This project is creating new platforms and technologies to facilitate a fast, coordinated, and practical response to new infectious diseases as soon as they emerge. Their focus includes other coronaviruses, potentially allowing for transfer of technology and expertise for the current outbreak.
This project aims to transform medical practice by making it easier for doctors to deliver personalised, evidence-based antibiotic prescriptions thanks to the use of innovative diagnostic strategies. The project focuses on respiratory tract infections in community care settings but the project’s findings are also likely to be relevant for other infections, such as the novel coronavirus.
This project is dedicated to building strong clinical, laboratory and research networks across Europe. COMBACTE-NET has established a pan-European network of clinics and hospitals for more efficient and speedy testing of novel treatment strategies, a network of microbiology laboratories to support the diagnosis of patients and identify the most appropriate treatments as well as to validate diagnostics tests. An epidemiologic network has also been established in the COMBACTE-MAGNET project that harmonises and connects various European systems of disease surveillance.
Through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP 2), the following projects are also currently active in the coronavirus outbreak:
This project has a response framework that alleviates administrative, regulatory and ethical bottlenecks and mobiles research capabilities ensuring swift action to initiate fit-for-purpose clinical and laboratory research in varying settings within sub-Saharan Africa.
Institut Pasteur de Dakar, one of the partners of the project, is leading the activities for country preparedness under the direction of the Africa CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention).
Focuses on epidemic preparedness, is currently collaborating with the Africa CDC to offer assistance in terms of surveillance and laboratory skills training.
EDCTP supports networks of research centres that are involved in clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa. These NoEs facilitate research collaboration by uniting diverse institutions in the 4 regions of sub-Saharan Africa.