Many Spanish research centres are working overtime in an effort to reduce the threat and find a vaccine for the coronavirus, some of them within European projects
One of the greatest resources we have in Spain to combat the COVID-19 is our scientific and research community. Many research groups have been studying the virus even before the outbreak and current health crisis began in order to find a cure.
Such groups include a team from the Fight Against AIDS Foundation at the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital in Badalona (Barcelona) which is preparing a pioneering clinical trial, one of the first in the world. Its aim is to stop transmission by administering an antiviral to mild cases to reduce the viral strength while also administering an antimicrobial to those who have been in close contact in protect them.
Another of the most promising research projects is being handled by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC – acronym in Spanish), who have seen possibilities in a drug developed for the treatment of melanoma. They have demonstrated in vitro that plitidepsin can stop the multiplication of the coronavirus HcoV-299E, which belongs to the same family as that of the outbreak. The next step will be to test it on different types of SARS-type viruses (those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome) in collaboration with Pharmamar, the pharmaceutical company that put plitidepsin on the market.
Collaborating with Europe
At present, eight Spanish centres are participating in six of the 17 projects selected by the European Commission to tackle the virus. One of them is the Carlos III Institute of Health (ISCIII), which is involved in the European project I-Move-COVID-19 (Multidisciplinary European network for research, prevention and control of the COVID-19 Pandemic).
This initiative aims to organise a European multidisciplinary network for research, prevention and control of the disease. It will analyse the coronavirus in humans and in different animal species, study how it is spread and identify different ways of controlling it from spreading further. In particular, ISCIII researchers will participate in primary care and hospital networks, and develop clinical, virological and epidemiological studies.
In addition, it has extended the objectives of several research projects which were already underway to also investigate the health threat caused by coronavirus. This research work includes studying its effect on the most vulnerable populations, possible co-infections with other respiratory viruses such as influenza and to carry out drug trials and studies on possible new vaccines. In addition, ISCIII is working closely with public administrations and health centres providing them with up-to-date scientific information to maximise the collaboration with these institutions and control infection rates.
The ISCIII has also developed a commercial validation program for diagnosis kits, to which several Spanish companies have adhered, in order to detect the virus, in coalition with the Spanish Agency of Medicine and Health Products (Aemps – acronym in Spanish). In this way, the process is accelerated so that these kits reach health centres as soon as possible.
Along the same lines, the National Centre for Microbiology (CNM – acronym in Spanish) has established a specific technique that allows suspicious cases to be ruled out or confirmed in less than 24 hours. In this way, it has assumed part of the growing demand for diagnostic services that are currently saturating part of the national health system. In addition, this centre is working day and night on the genome sequencing of the virus.
TheCatalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology is also focusing its efforts in this field. Right now it is leading the European project Convat, for the implementation of a platform for the rapid diagnosis and monitoring of coronavirus at a global level.
An initiative in which the University of Barcelona is also collaborating. Its aim is to offer a new device based on optical biosensor nanotechnology that will detect the virus in approximately half an hour from the patient’s sample and without having to send it to the laboratory.
In addition, the work of the National Epidemiological Surveillance Network (Renave – acronym in Spanish) has been directed to address the needs that have been arisen from the epidemic. And simulation programmes are also being developed to help prepare for similar scenarios that may occur in the future.
Among the other centres participating in European projects is the National Centre for Biotechnology (CNB – acronym in Spanish), whose work is based on developing monoclonal antibodies that help to fight off and protect the body against coronavirus, taking advantage of the research that was done from a previous research project.
Another institution that is involved in the research is the National Supercomputing Centre of Barcelona, which is involved in the Exscalate4CoV (E4C) initiative, whose objective is to use high-performance computing to enhance the intelligent design of drugs in silico (by computer simulation). A system that could considerably reduce the time needed for drug development.