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Meet the IMI projects already helping to fight COVID-19

A number of IMI’s projects are making valuable contributions to the global effort to tackle COVID-19. The contributions include knowledge, tools and expertise, and while some come from projects in the infectious disease field, projects working in other areas, such as data management and Alzheimer’s disease, are also stepping up to the plate.

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH
Particles of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH



ZAPI – knowledge and tools for a rapid response to a coronavirus outbreak

Outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (i.e. diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans) are the focus of the ZAPI project. Launched in 2015, ZAPI brings together some of the world’s top virologists with the goal of delivering a platform and technologies to facilitate a rapid response to disease outbreaks. One of the diseases chosen by ZAPI as a case study is MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which, like COVID-19, is caused by a coronavirus.

The surfaces of both viruses feature ‘spike proteins’ which help the virus to break into cells and infect them. ZAPI developed a number of antibodies that block the MERS spike proteins; tests in animals showed that these could be effective as treatments for MERS. The team also drew on a MERS spike protein to create a vaccine; again, tests in animals showed that it appears to be effective.

ZAPI has also advanced the development of a biomanufacturing platform that means production of vaccines or therapeutic antibodies can be rapidly scaled up. Finally, they have compiled a master file to facilitate the fast-track regulatory approval of vaccines and therapeutics in emergency situations. This has been shared with regulatory and other authorities.

ZAPI is now running tests to see if the MERS therapeutic antibodies are also capable of blocking the spike proteins on COVID-19, and the initial results are promising.

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COMBACTE – access to a clinical trial network specialised in infectious disease studies

IMI’s COMBACTE projects have set up a pan-European network of 975 hospitals and 800 laboratories for clinical studies and trials on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Now, scientists are turning to the networks to identify sites for clinical trials of potential COVID-19 treatments.

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EHDEN – harmonising clinical data to facilitate reuse and advance research

EHDEN is offering to harmonise organisations’ clinical data to a standard model, while preserving patients’ privacy. This will make it easier to aggregate and jointly analyse data from different sources, something that is essential if we are to stop the outbreak and save lives. Organisations with data for harmonising have until 14 May to apply to take advantage of EHDEN’s offer; successful applicants will receive a grant as well as technical support from EHDEN to help them through the process.

Elsewhere, EHDEN partners were also active in the COVID-19 ‘study-a-thon’ hosted by the Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics (OHDSI) community. The virtual event drew on diverse data from 37 healthcare databases, some of which included COVID-19 data. This showed that standardising data can facilitate fast analysis and so support evidence-based decision-making. So far, the study-a-thon has resulted in two papers, both of which are available online as pre-prints.

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AETIONOMY & PHAGO – tools for a new COVID-19 knowledge space

IMI’s AETIONOMY and PHAGO projects focus on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, but that doesn’t mean their outputs aren’t relevant for COVID-19 research. Now a group of institutions, including AETIONOMY coordinator Fraunhofer SCAI, has included tools developed by the projects in the newly-launched COVID-19 Knowledge Space.

The Knowledge Space helps researchers to navigate the rapidly-growing volume of publications and data on COVID-19 and mine them for novel insights on the disease. It includes the AETIONOMY project’s SCAIView information retrieval system, which allows for semantic searches in large text collections by combining free text searches with the ontological representations of entities. It also includes the PHAGO project’s Biomedical Knowledge Miner (BiK>Mi), which provides tools to access and validate knowledge encompassing all of the latest information pertaining to COVID-19.

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eTRIKS – standards starter pack

Data standards are vital tools in data management, as they make it easier to load data into knowledge management platforms and compare it to other datasets that have applied the same standards. IMI’s eTRIKS project created a ‘standards starter pack’ to raise awareness of, and provide guidance on, data standards in clinical, genomic and translational data management. The starter pack is referenced in the European Commission’s open access guidelines for projects working on COVID-19 and related topics.

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DO>IT – informed consent forms for clinical research

Clinical research participants have to sign an informed consent form (ICF). IMI’s DO>IT project has developed templates and guidance on how to prepare informed consent forms that enable the use of study participants’ health data and biosamples while respecting their rights as data subjects. The templates are referenced in the European Commission’s open access guidelines for projects working on COVID-19 and related topics.

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c4c – resources on COVID-19 for children and families

c4c is one of IMI’s projects in the paediatric field, and now the team has compiled a set of trustworthy resources on the coronavirus for children and families. The resources come in a range of languages and formats and target different age ranges.

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HARMONY – COVID-19 data initiative

HARMONY is a big data focused on blood cancers. Now, they have launched an open call for data partners to join the HARMONY COVID-19 Data Platform. Data integrated in the platform will be used for internal HARMONY projects addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on the treatment of blood cancers; and for external projects on COVID-19.

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