03 Mar 2020   |   News

IMI launches €45M coronavirus research call

The call is part of a wider strategy announced by the European Commission to contain the outbreak of COVID-19

Geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of 3 March 2020. Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) launched a fast-track call for proposals to speed up the development of new drugs and diagnostics to halt the global outbreak of COVID-19.

Researchers can apply for €45 million from EU’s research programme Horizon 2020. Proposals could include accelerating the progress of drugs in development, repurposing existing drugs, addressing drug resistance or developing new diagnostic tests.

The EU’s €45 million cash will be matched with in kind contributions from pharmaceutical companies taking part in the projects.

EU commissioner for research and innovation Mariya Gabriel said the call, “Will help speed up the development of treatments and diagnostics in the face of this global emergency, and increase our preparedness for future outbreaks.”

IMI executive director Pierre Meulien, said collaborative projects involving companies, universities and public bodies “have the potential to dramatically accelerate” the development of new therapies and diagnostics.

Existing IMI projects already cover research relevant to the current outbreak. For example, ZAPI (Zoonosis Anticipation and Preparedness Initiative), which aims to respond quickly to viral infections, that like COVID -19, jump from animals to humans, has done work on the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). IMI says many of the findings on potential therapeutics and vaccines could be relevant for COVID-19.

Similarly, the IMI project, COMBACTE-NET has a network of clinical and laboratory sites across Europe, which is now being mobilised to process data from COVID-19 patients and support the worldwide effort to build understanding of the virus.

EU boosts containment efforts

IMI’s call for proposals came shortly after the European Commission announced a coordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak on Monday, with the launch of a ‘Corona’ response team, bringing together oversight of all the separate strands put in place to control the virus.

As of Monday, the infection has spread to 18 of 27 member states, with 2,100 confirmed cases and 31 deaths.

In addition to the €45 million call by the IMI, the commission also announced a €10 million call for research on new and more efficient clinical management infected patients, as well as public health preparedness and response.

In total, the EU has pledged a total of €232M to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, of which €130 million is going to the World Health Organisation.

Member states are also stepping in with research investment of their own. The German government has announced a €10 million fund, calling on scientists to better understand the virus and how it is transmitted, and to advance the development of therapies and other treatments.

In the UK, the government confirmed up to £40 million will be available for research to develop a vaccine, in its battle plan for dealing with the disease. Two UK research groups have generated novel COVID-19 vaccine constructs that are now in animal testing. However, even in the best case scenario, health secretary Matt Hancock said a new vaccine is still “months away”.

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