COVID-19: Response from EIT Health Germany community

The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread rapidly across the world affecting every aspect of life. It is a public health crisis without precedent in living memory, and each and every one of us is called upon to respond.

As a response to the ongoing health crisis, EIT Health will provide the support and connections necessary during this time to allow everyone to contribute positively to this global action. Having in mind that many of our Partners are already working on COVID-19 related activities and many more have ideas, activities and resources that they can and want to contribute to these efforts, EIT Health has decided to take advantage of its community and offer a response platform. The platform is designed to facilitate the sharing of resources within our community, by gathering and connecting ‘Asks’ or ‘Offers’. With that in mind, at EIT Health we can make the right connections between those that ‘need’ and those that ‘have’, so we can facilitate collaborations between members of our community and beyond. Interested parties are requested to fill in this form.

In addition to the EIT Health response, many EIT Health Germany partners have also undertaken activities and initiatives that are helping fight the pandemic. Here are some examples:

Supporting the development process of countermeasures

The spread of the pandemic has initiated an unprecedented mobilization of the scientific community and their priority is to help develop countermeasures, be it vaccines, therapies, or diagnostics, and if and when successful, make them immediately available to those in need. To begin with, researchers from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel are using statistical model to analyze the genetic genealogy of pathogens and calculate the beginnings of the coronavirus epidemic.

Profil , a CRO specialized on early phase clinical trials, is stepping up to this responsibility by offering support to companies developing vaccines against COVID-19. As one of the leading phase 1 units in Europe, they can offer experience with Europe’s regulatory landscape as well as years of routine in conducting early phase trials in their two clinics in Germany. Our Austrian partner, Boeringer Ingelheim is conducting a computational screen of their entire molecular library, with the aim to identify novel small molecules with activity against the virus.

Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies have started a collaboration with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) to support the development of a preventive vaccine candidate for COVID-19. Janssen’s vaccine program will use the Janssen AdVac® and PER.C6®  technologies that provide the ability to rapidly upscale production of an optimal vaccine candidate. In addition to Janssen’s efforts to develop a vaccine candidate, the company is working closely with global strategic partners to screen its library of antiviral molecules to accelerate the discovery of potential COVID-19 treatments and provide relief for people around the world.

As of 13 March 2020, Roche’s cobas SARS-CoV-2 Test to detect novel coronavirus is available in markets accepting the CE mark. Following the FDA Emergency Use Authorization, the first commercial test for SARS-CoV-2 will enable expedited coronavirus testing to meet urgent medical needs.

Studies as support measures

The Austrian Institute of Technology Health Information Systems has joined forces with the Medical University Vienna, Medical University Grau, Lech-Zürs Tourism and the Management Center Innsbruck to rapidly set up an online longitudinal study to investigate coronavirus symptoms, COVID-19 disease as well as changes in daily routines for people put under quarantine to draw conclusions about the disease progression.

The École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has also launched several studies, as part of a larger package of actions combatting COVID-19, ranging from developing a treatment or vaccine to deploying rapid responses to mitigate the crisis’s impact on people. Currently ongoing are studies on “Structure-based design of protein-based anti-virals and vaccines targeting SARS-CoV-2” led by Prof. Bruno Correia, “Host genetics of life-threatening SARS-CoV-2 infection in previously healthy patients” led by Prof. Jacques Fellay, “MedCo for COVID-19: Understanding the pathology through international, privacy-conscious data sharing” led by Prof. Jacques Fellay (SV) and Prof. Jean-Pierre Hubaux (IC) and “Understanding epidemic spreading” led by Prof. Pascal Frossard (STI).

Community mobilisation

Other partners have decided to take advantage of the collective knowhow and expertise of their members and researchers. For example, BioM has decided to open a call for solutions against COVID-19, asking its members for contributions associated with the pandemic, and has additionally provided them with a exchange platform for the search for partners, technologies and expertise in the context of COVID-19 research projects. On the other hand, EPFL is calling its researchers to apply to the open SNSF call, open to researchers from all disciplines with ideas how to tackle the coronavirus and its impact.

Fraunhofer IME is providing the key link between biologists and data scientists in the EU funded consortium Exscalate4CoV (E4C), to counter the coronavirus pandemic. E4C strives to identify molecules that could work against the virus by using advanced screening and computing techniques.

On a more human-approach level, the Aachen University has started an initiative to bring people together, those who need help or can provide help for daily life activities (errands, household support, childcare). Bayer has contributed with financial contributions and product donations totaling over € 1 million for hospitals in Lombardy and China to help contain the pandemic, while Beiersdorf has mobilised its European production network and produced 500 tons of medical disinfectants  made available primarily to clinics and hospitals, medical and nursing staff as well as other public functions such as the police and fire brigade.

EIT Health- supported startups have also joined the fight. Climedo Health offers its web-based platform for clinical data collection including digital patient diaries free of charge for medical practices, clinics, research institutes and non-profit organizations doing research related to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) / SARS-CoV-2. Climedo’s predefined digital eDiaries and ePROs (“electronic Patient Reported Outcomes”) will allow test subjects to submit potential symptoms, side effects or information on their state of wellbeing remotely via a mobile device or computer, even while being quarantined.

Ares Genetics , a Curetis Group company, and the Chinese genomics company BGI Group started collaborating on making molecular testing for the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV in January 2020, resulting in next-generation sequencing testing service for infection control and monitoring of 2019-nCoV evolution . The test kit was CE-IVD certified in February 2020 and as of 16 March 2020, it is made available to diagnostic laboratories in Europe through Curetis network of distribution partners. More information here

It is inspiring to see the world coming together to fight this pandemic. The EIT Health network is called upon to play a role in responding to the crisis and we are dedicated to supporting our community in this challenging time. Stay healthy, stay safe!