The Catalan Ministry of Health has earmarked €4 million to fund 19 research projects at IRISCAT centers, through a joint call with AQuAS and Biocat. We’ll tell you what the chosen researchers are working on.
In the BioRegion of Catalonia, researchers have been working against the clock since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many research centers have pivoted their research to search for ways to tackle this global healthcare crisis. In this context, the Catalan Ministry of Health, through its Department of Research and Innovation (DGRIS), launched an emergency call with collaboration from Biocat, geared towards healthcare research centers in the IRISCAT alliance (Health Research and Innovation Institutes of Catalonia). The call has earmarked €4 million for 19 research and innovation projects to prevent and treat the Covid-19 disease, chosen from the 42 proposals assessed by experts from the Catalan Ministry of Health and the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS), with external support from a dozen international advisers.
“We should highlight the proactiveness and flexibility of the Catalan research ecosystem, which has allowed IRISCAT centers to respond to the call in record time (the initial deadline for submitting proposals was just three days after the announcement), with projects of scientific excellence led in many cases by world-renowned researchers,” notes Biocat CEO Jordi Naval. Biocat, with DGRIS, will provide support and guidance for the 19 projects receiving funding, doing technical follow-up on the research and coordinating the resources available in the ecosystem, as well as clinical samples, research models and availability at facilities, among other issues.
Some of the selected projects are expected to make it to patients by the end of the year, giving healthcare professionals new tools to fight SARS-CoV-2, as scientific evidence is obtained. “The scientific excellence of the projects will allow them to be transferred from research to clinical practice in the short term to address this urgent situation as quickly as possible,” notes Robert Fabregat, director general for Research and Innovation in Health.
Soon, you’ll be able to learn all about each of these projects on the Biocat blog and social media, but for now here’s a quick rundown of these 19 solutions researchers are working on:
Researcher Julià Blanco is leading a project at the AIDS Research Institute (IrsiCaixa) and Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP) with an ambitious goal: to stop SARS-CoV-2 from entering human cells. How? By blocking a viral protein that is essential to this process: the S protein.
Rafel Mañez of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is leading a project in collaboration with RemAb Therapeutics and IrsiCaixa to identify a potential drug based on glycopolymers that helps enable neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2
Researchers Josep F. Nomdedeu Guinot and Silvia Vidal Alcorisa, of the Research Institute of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (IR Sant Pau), are leading a project to define an effective immune response to Covid-19. To do so, they will study the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in healthcare professionals’ blood.
Giuliana Magri, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM), has also set her sights on antibodies. In this case, she is leading a project to study the antibodies generated in response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection and generate specific antibodies as a therapy for Covid-19 patients and as a preventative treatment for high-risk individuals.
Antoni Torres, of the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS), is leading a project to study the antibodies developed by patients who have recovered from Covid-19. The goal? To use them as the starting point for a new SARS-CoV-2 therapy, based on producing and administering virus-specific antibodies.
Xavier Solanich, of the Bellvitge University Hospital, is leading a clinical trial on two drugs that suppress the immune system, already approved for other indications. The trial will include 84 patients with acute pneumonia caused by Covid-19 and elevated inflammatory markers.
Using the RUTI tuberculosis vaccine to boost the immune system of healthcare workers at risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2: this is the goal of this project that will be led by Pere-Joan Cardona of the Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP), with collaboration from the Foundation University Institute for Primary Health Care Research Jordi Gol i Gurina (IDIAPJGol).
Researchers Maria J. Buzon and Meritxell Genescà, of the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), will assess drugs with the potential to block the main entryways for the SARS-CoV-2, as determined in other types of studies, in a human lung explant model (live tissue culture).
Manuel Portero, a researcher at the Biomedical Research Institute of Lleida (IRBLleida), is leading a project to identify potential drugs targeting ACE2, a protein in the cell membrane that is a key gateway for the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus.
Repositioning an antibody initially designed to treat cancer in order to activate the immune system of Covid-19 patients: this is the focus of the project led by researcher Joan Seoane of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO).
Jana Selent, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM), is leading mass analysis of possible drugs to block SARS-CoV-2 from entering the cell, using 3D computer models and cell trials.
To develop and carry out preclinical studies on a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine based on its genetic material: this is the proposal from the project led by researcher Felipe Garcia at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS).
Researcher Josep Quer, of the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), is leading a full sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 genome using latest-generation techniques. The goal? To get significant information on the characteristics of the virus, its natural evolution and its weaknesses.
A study of the genome of Covid-19 patients to determine the genetic profile of those who develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): this is the project led by researcher Jordi Carratalà, of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), with collaboration from the Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM).
Also looking for biomarkers: the project led by researcher Ivan Castellví, of the Research Institute of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (IR Sant Pau). In this case, the goal is to identify a marker that could determine which Covid-19 patients will suffer worsening respiratory insufficiency.
Primary care also has a lot to do with research into Covid-19. Pere Torán and Concepció Violan, of the Foundation University Institute for Primary Health Care Research Jordi Gol i Gurina (IDIAPJGol), are studying immune response in healthcare professionals infected with SARS-CoV-2. Their goal: to understand the infection in a specific area, identify individuals with good immunological response and study acquired immunity. The project is being carried out in collaboration with the Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP).
Also through primary care, researchers Bonaventura Bolibar and Talita Duarte-Salles, of the Foundation University Institute for Primary Health Care Research Jordi Gol i Gurina (IDIAPJGol), in collaboration with the Catalan Institute of Health (ICS), are leading a project to develop predictive models for complications in Covid-19 patients.