The centres will receive more than 2.4 million euros from the European Commission to fund six Spanish projects devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19

 

It has been full steam ahead for Spanish science in the race to find out more about the Wuhan coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2. Eight national research centres have been selected by the European Commission to participate in six different projects dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of this virus from a total of 17 projects chosen by the Commission in the urgent call that was announced on 30 January for proposals to tackle this virus.

 

Virus of the family Coronaviridae. Photo: LUIS ENJUANES/ CNB-CSIC

 

Coronavirus detection in 30 minutes

 

Among the teams selected by the European Commission are two led by researchers from the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). One of them is the CONVAT project, led and coordinated by the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology by CSIC Research Professor Laura Lechuga.

The CONVAT project seeks to develop a new device based on optical biosensor nanotechnology that will allow the detection of coronavirus in approximately 30 minutes, directly from a patient’s saliva sample, without the need to perform the analyses in clinical laboratories. The cost would be less than ten euros and could be carried out anywhere in the world without the need for expert lab technicians.

This technology, as Laura Lechuga points out, had already been developed by her team for the early detection of bladder and bowel cancer, and for the detection of environmental contaminants in seawater, and now it can also be used for the detection of coronavirus. The project is scheduled to last two years, so the rapid diagnostic kit will not be ready for the first wave of the coronavirus, but may be useful for detecting it later on, if the virus continues. This technology will also be used to monitor and supervise the possible evolution of the virus in animals and thus prevent outbreaks of infection in humans.

 

Main façade of the CSIC headquarters. Photo: CSIC

 

The project also involves a team from the University of Barcelona led by Jordi Serra, who has extensive experience in the study of coronavirus; a team from the University of Marseille (France) and another from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Italy. For its implementation, the ICN2 team will receive 840,843 euros and the UB, 400,152 euros.

Luis Enjuanes and Isabel Sola, from the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología-CSIC, are leading the MANCO project (Monoclonal Antibodies for Novel Coronavirus), which seeks to develop monoclonal antibodies to protect against Covid-19. This new project, for which the CSIC centre will receive 125,000 euros, will gain from the research and experience of a previous project (IMI-ZAPI), which developed protective antibodies against another coronavirus strain (MERS-CoV).

 

European Network on Coronavirus and Advanced Drug Design

 

The Instituto de Salud Carlos III, together with the Instituto de Salud Pública y Laboral de Navarra, is participating in another of the projects selected by the national centres of Microbiology (CNM), with the researchers Inmaculada Casas and Francisco Pozo, and of Epidemiology (CNE) with the researcher Amparo Larrauri. This project has been called I-MOVE-COVID-19, it seeks to create a multidisciplinary European network for research, prevention and control of the Wuham coronavirus, which will be coordinated from France. ISCIII will have a budget of 210,000 euros and will participate in the Primary Care network, the hospital network and the combined clinical, virological and epidemiological studies.

 

The MareNostrum, the most powerful super computer in Spain. Photo: BSC

 

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center – Centro Nacional de Supercomputación will receive 232,375 euros for its participation in the EXSCALATE4CoV (E4C) project, which aims to use high-performance computing to enhance the intelligent design of ‘in silico’ drugs. That is, advanced computer-aided drug design, combined with biochemical and phenotypic tests, to reduce drug creation times. The project also involves international computer centres and specialised centres in Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden.

The Institute for Biomedical Research of Barcelona (which will receive 197,500 euros for the RiPCoN project) and the BCN Peptides (318,750 euros, for the Solnatide project) have also been selected by the European Commission.