The two research centers in animal health with a high biosafety level have started new projects focused on finding a treatment and a vaccine to fight COVID-19.
Centre de Recerca en Sanitat Animal IRTA-CReSA
IRTA-CReSA has transferred a total of 500 masks, 20 monkeys and 150 single-use gowns to three hospitals in Catalonia: the Germans Trias i Pujol and Hospital Clínic hospitals in Barcelona, and the Josep Trueta Hospital in Girona. Regarding scientific activity, the IRTA-CReSA center has had a coronavirus research line for 6 years with MERS-CoV, chaired by Dr. Joaquim Segalés, Dr. Júlia Vergara-Alert and Dr. Albert Bensaid, now expanded to investigate with SARS-CoV-2. Following the pandemic, IRTA-CReSA has joined a newly created consortium together with the IrsiCaixa Institute, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Grifols company to develop antiviral products, antibodies and a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 . This same consortium has received financial aid provided by the Health Department of the Generalitat of Catalonia, with two projects awarded through an urgent call to combat COVID-19.
The IRTA-CReSA center has a High Biosafety Unit that allows conducting in vitro and in vivo experiments with small and large animals with pathogens of danger group 3. On the other hand, IRTA-CReSA has started a collaboration with the Institute of Germans Trias i Pujol research to assist in the sequencing of samples from COVID-19 positive patients with clinical symptoms. The task of IRTA-CReSA is to isolate the virus from the sample, perform RT-PCR diagnostic techniques and extract the genetic material from the virus to send it to the IGTP Institute for sequencing. On the other hand, the researchers participate in numerous virtual talks to the pharmaceutical, livestock, veterinary and public health sectors, in addition to attending almost daily to several requests from the state and national media to resolve doubts about the coronavirus.
Centro de investigación en Sanidad Animal (INIA-CISA)
The Research Group on Immunoprophylaxis of viral diseases transmitted by vectors, of the Center for Research in Animal Health (INIA-CISA), led by Dr. Alejandro Brun and Dr. Javier Ortego, will participate in the research project together with the University from Santiago de Compostela (USC) to obtain a vaccine against COVID-19, with the support of aid granted by the Directorate of the Carlos III Health Institute under the FUND-COVID19. INIA-CISA researchers will carry out tests on mice in their High Biosafety Unit of Level 3 and 3+. On the other hand, some projects led by Dr. Luis Enjuanes of the National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC) develop animal experimentation at INIA-CISA. In addition, several projects are being requested for calls on antivirals, vaccine development, development of diagnostic methodologies, and epidemiological research with diagnostic tools. Given the need for the use of the animal facility by researchers from the CSIC and the INIA-CISA for the experiments with the SARS-CoV-2, two additional boxes are being enabled.
On the other hand, on March 25 INIA-CISA began diagnostic work for the early detection by PCR of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Under the Coordination of the Carlos III Health Institute, it carries out these studies for essential services personnel of the Madrid City Council to ensure the detection of weak positives of asymptomatic people who are on the street working. At that time it also has the help of the Reference Laboratory for respiratory viruses in Spain, at the ISCIII National Center for Microbiology. After studying the situation and due to the complexity of the operation and the equipment available in the CISA, a maximum of 300 PCR tests were offered per day, giving the results in 24 hours. Since his arrival at INIA-CISA, thousands of samples have already been analyzed.
At CISA there are specialized groups that have previously worked in health emergencies and with great experience in virological analysis by large-scale PCR, and their contribution could be very useful. In fact, the procedures developed by CISA researchers have been transferred to laboratories in Ibero-America and are part of the expert advisory group for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), having participated in the drafting of a guide document for establishing the diagnosis of COVID-19 in animal health laboratories. Through the contacts established by the MEDILABSECURE project, controls, primers and probes were requested from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, which arrived very quickly and the in-house PCR technique based on the recommended guidelines began to be developed and verified by WHO.