Approach to treatment

The EU has embarked on the worldwide race to find better treatments for the COVID-19 disease.

There are different routes to find a good treatment. The fastest is repurposing, by starting with a treatment that is already approved for another disease (and therefore deemed safe) and which could work for COVID-19. Other approaches include using the plasma of patients that have recovered from the disease and have antibodies in their blood to transfuse to new patients; monoclonal antibodies that inactivate the virus by binding to it; and the more commonly known approach of screening for compounds to develop a completely novel treatment.

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New projects

Extension activities, including clinical trials (September 2020)

In September 2020, the Commission announced the first of a series of new projects and extensions of ongoing projects to address the pandemic, especially related to clinical trials.

SUPPORT-E

Supporting high quality evaluation of COVID-19 convalescent Plasma throughout Europe (SUPPORT-E) will coordinate efforts to determine the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 convalescent plasma transfusion from patients who have recovered from the disease. SUPPORT-E is led by the European Blood Alliance and brings together 12 major research establishments and clinical centres from six EU Member States, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

EU-RESPONSE

An ambitious new EU-funded research initiative, EU-RESPONSE, will establish a clinical research network to treat COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases.

The EU-RESPONSE consortium, led by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), brings together 21 partners with world-class research capabilities from 13 EU countries, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, to build an European network for adaptive platform trials (APTs) for COVID-19 and emerging infectious diseases.

1st Horizon 2020 call for expression of interest (March 2020)

In January 2020, the Commission launched an emergency call, through which €48.2 million were awarded to 18 research projects. The projects, which involve 151 teams from across Europe and beyond, have started working on improving preparedness and response to outbreaks, rapid diagnostic tests, new treatments and new vaccines. Among these, 7 projects are receiving €17 million to develop effective treatments:

Fight-nCoV

Fighting-off Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) with broad-spectrum antivirals: establishing animal challenge model, that will prepare the way towards broad-spectrum antiviral treatments that can be taken intranasally. Led by Stockholms Universitet (SE)

SCORE

Swift COronavirus therapeutics Response. The project aims to develop of combination anti-viral treatments for patients infected with the coronavirus. Led by Academisch Ziekenhuis Leiden (NL)

Solnatide

Exploration of safety, tolerability and clinical efficacy of Solnatide IMP in patients infected with the 2019 new coronavirus. The project aims to test peptide-based treatments targeting life-threatening pulmonary diseases. Led by RTDS Association (AT)

ATAC

Antibody therapy against coronavirus (COVID-2019). The project aims to optimise, produce and test antibody therapies based on donated blood samples from recovered COVID-19 patients. Led by Karolinska Institutet (SE)

MANCO

Monoclonal Antibodies against 2019 New Coronavirus. The project intends to develop and evaluate monoclonal antibodies as treatments. Led by Erasmus Universitair Medisch Centrum Rotterdam (NL)

CoroNAb

Nanobodies and antibodies against 2019-nCoV. The project aims to rapidly identify, validate and produce antibodies that block the ability of the virus to infect cells, for treatment and prevention in humans. Led by Karolinska Institutet (SE)

RiPCoN

Rapid interaction profiling of 2019-nCoV for network-based deep drug repurpose learning (DDRL). The project aims to identify approved drugs that can be repurposed to treat coronavirus by profiling how they interact with viral components using AI. Led by Helmholtz Zentrum München Deutsche Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt (DE)

Special Innovative Medicines Initiative call (May 2020)

On 3 March 2020, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) supported through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, launched a special fast-track call for the “Development of therapeutics and diagnostics combatting coronavirus infections” with an EU contribution of €45 million, which was subsequently increased to €72 million. On 12 May 2020, following the independent evaluation of proposals, it was announced that 8 projects were short-listed for funding, including on 3 projects receiving €44 million in EU grants to develop new therapies:

  • CARE - Corona accelerated R&D in Europe.
    The project aims to identify candidates among existing drugs that could be effective as treatments (drug repurposing), and develop new drugs specially designed to tackle the virus, in order to deliver treatments for the current outbreak, as well as future coronavirus outbreaks. Led by Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale - INSERM (FR)
  • Impentri - Development of Impentri, an intravenous imatinib formulation for COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
    The project aims to run a randomised, double-blind clinical trial to test the efficacy and safety of a generic drug - imatinib - as a treatment for COVID-19 patients with lung inflammation. Led by Exvastat (IE)
  • MAD-CoV 2 - Modern approaches for developing antivirals against SARS-CoV 2. The project aims to develop new COVID-19 treatments by engineering human tissue to test new antiviral treatments. Led by Statens Veterinaermedicinska Anstalt (SE)

Story: Repurposing drugs and networks can help find outbreak treatments against the clock

Story: Studying animal coronavirus defences is opening route to human treatments

EIT health rapid response program (April 2020)

As part of its Rapid Response initiative in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, EIT-Health is supporting 15 short-term projects that focus on immediate and impactful solutions for a total of almost €7 million, with the participation of 41 partners. Among these, 1 project is receiving €471,000 to improve treatments:

COVERAGE-Immuno

The project is performing an in-depth, repeated evaluation of immunological markers and RNA data in COVID-19 patients. The team are monitoring how COVID-19 transitions to the immunological phase as well as analysing the effectiveness of early treatments. Led by INSERM (FR).

Recent and ongoing projects

EXCALATE

Stemming from the Antarex project, EXCALATE operates the Italian Supercomputer in CINECA. Supercomputers play an important role in coronavirus research and innovation efforts. They help simulate and analyse millions of molecules and identify potential drugs.

The platform is analysing COVID-19 proteins based on data available from the scientific community in order to accelerate the search of an effective therapy. A new project – Exscalate4CoV. (E4C) invites collaboration to screen potential drugs.

COMBACTE-NET - Combatting bacterial resistance in Europe

This Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) 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. In response to the crisis, COMBACTE-NET has mobilised to support global efforts to standardise information gathered from patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Through IMI, the EU is investing €109 million (2013-2021) in COMBACTE-NET, which a matching contribution from the pharmaceutical industry. The project is managed by University Medical Center Utrecht.

BioExcel

Another example of using the power of supercomputers is the BioExcel project. The HPC Centre of Excellence for Computational Biomolecular Research, can provide support for on-demand, large-scale virtual screening of potential medical compounds such as small molecule drugs, antibodies etc. BioExcel, led by KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), has received EU support totalling €12.8 million (2015-21).

SynBio4Flav

The SynBio4Flav platform is using synthetic biology to provide a cost-effective alternative to current flavonoid production. It is now extending its scope to help tackle coronavirus. The project is working on SynBio production and screening of novel flavonoids with potential for anti-SARS-CoV-2 drugs inhibiting critical viral activity. The project, which is led by CSIC (Spain) received a €7.4 million EU grant (2019-2023).

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