FBR's COVID-19 ResourcesWe're committed to improving health through education
List of Resources
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website
- White House briefings
- COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
- FEMA’s Rumor Control page
- American Anthropological Association’s webpage of COVID-19 resources
- SAGE Publishing’s COVID-19 webpage
- Research!America’s coronavirus resources
- Americans for Medical Progress’ COVID-19 resources
- American Society for Microbiology’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) resources
- EARA’s global overview of how animals are helping in COVID-19 research
- BIO COVID-19 Therapeutic Development Tracker
Nearly every medicine, medical device, surgical procedure and therapy we have today has depended on animal testing and research. Animal research is one of the first steps in medical discovery.
“There are diseases in which you vaccinate someone, they get infected with what you are trying to protect them with, and you actually enhance the infection. You can get a good feel for that in animal models,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said during a White House briefing on March 26.
Contrary to the claims of animal rights groups, animal models have been and will continue to be crucial to medical development and public health.
The FBR team rounded up articles in the news in recent weeks on potential treatments and potential vaccines for the new coronavirus, as well as other COVID-19 developments, and the animal models used to develop them. In addition, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News put together a list (found here) of potential COVID-19 treatments in development.
Animal Research on the Front Lines
Researchers working with rhesus macaques published results in Nature on May 26.
Novavax started clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, in Australia. Animal tests showed positive results in low doses.
Researchers working with rhesus macaques found the first human neutralizing monoclonal antibody for COVID-19.
“In remdesivir’s case, government researchers narrowed the search from 1,000 compounds to the chemical that would become remdesivir, confirmed its potency in laboratory tests, tested it in monkeys, and finally sponsored a pivotal clinical trial in humans,” the report said.
“In mice, the vaccine provided full protection against viral replication in the lungs, which researchers tested by giving mice the vaccine and then deliberately infecting them with the virus,” The New Yorker reported about Moderna’s experimental vaccine. “(Scientists place a small drop of virus-laced fluid over the mouse’s nostrils. Similar trials on rhesus macaques are about to start.)”
The report said:
“‘This is promising data, but it’s early data,’ said Dr. Dan Barouch, director of vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who was not involved in the work. ‘Over all, I would say this is good news.’
… And on Wednesday, Dr. Barouch and his colleagues published a study showing their prototype vaccine protected monkeys from coronavirus infection.”
“Such chimeric mice would be very useful for studying COVID-19, which gravely impacts human, but barely affects mice,” State University of New York at Buffalo physiology and biophysics professor Jian Feng said.
“Despite the medical progress animal research has enabled, some activists are trying to restrict its use by arguing that it’s inhumane. But animal research is tightly regulated by the federal government,” FBR President Matthew R. Bailey said. “Just like in hospitals, researchers are required to use appropriate anesthetic and analgesic drugs to ensure animals don’t experience pain.”
“Three studies published Wednesday suggest it should be possible to come up with a coronavirus vaccine — tests performed on animals have shown the right results to prove a vaccine could be possible,” NPR reported.
Two studies published in Science found antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 provide some level of immunity in rhesus macaque monkeys, though it is unknown how long protection lasts.
“In one of the studies, nine rhesus macaque monkeys, which share 93 percent of the same DNA as humans, were injected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus quickly spread and all of the animals developed viral pneumonia, though all of them recovered within 28 days,” The Hill reported.
“Our partnership with Bharat Biotech will accelerate our vaccine candidate through the next phases of development,” Jefferson Vaccine Institute Director Matthias Schnell said. “We will be able to complete animal testing and move to a phase 1 clinical trial [in humans] rapidly.”
“Animal studies have raised expectations, too. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on Wednesday published research showing that a prototype vaccine effectively protected monkeys from infection with the virus,” the article said. “The findings will pave the way to development of a human vaccine, said the investigators.”
“Once they’ve determined an animal’s coronavirus symptoms, [Utah State University Professor Brett] Hurst said they can treat the animals with the drugs that proved to be successful in the human-cell model,” the report said.
“Another thing that was similar to humans is that most of the animals [primates] didn’t get sick, visibly ill, but there were a couple that did,” said Dr. Skip Bohm, chief veterinary medical officer of the Tulane National Primate Research Center.
“One way to find out whether vaccines can prevent transmission would be to study them in animals that are naturally susceptible to the virus and seem capable of spreading it, such as ferrets and hamsters, says [University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research aerobiologist Douglas] Reed,” the article said.
“When researchers identify the genetic sequence of a protein or enzyme that is essential to the virus’s replication, they then look for a compound that blocks it, called the inhibitor. The compounds are developed into a drug that not only lasts long enough in the body to kill the virus but is also nontoxic,” the report said. “Only then can it move to animal trials and, eventually, human trials.”
“CureVac said late last week that its lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate generated ‘high levels’ of virus-neutralizing titers in animal models and that it ‘has the potential to induce a strong immunologic response to neutralize SARS-CoV-2,'” the report said.
Two Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers will collaborate with scientists from the University of New Mexico and the Tulane National Primate Research Center.
“Lab researchers see the [nanolipoprotein particles] NLPs platform as a flexible tool that can broadly be applied to developing vaccines for different pathogens,” the press release said.
The article said:
“‘These interim phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection starting with a dose as low as 25 µg,’ Dr. Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer at Moderna, said in the statement. When combined with data from the mouse study, these results ‘substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials.’”
“The neutralizing antibody and safety results from the Phase 1 clinical study are promising for the Moderna mRNA vaccine candidate and supportive to proceed forward with the planned Phase 2 studies,” RenovaCare Chief Scientific Officer Robin Robinson told STAT.
The health-oriented news website reported: “Vaccination with the candidate vaccine, provisionally labeled mRNA-1273, also prevented viral replication in the lungs of mice in preclinical testing, the [Moderna’s] statement said.”
“Chinese researchers have successfully identified multiple highly potent neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from convalescent plasma by high-throughput single-cell sequencing, according to a new study published in Cell on Sunday. … New results from animal studies showed that neutralizing antibodies provide a potential cure for COVID-19 as well as a means for short-term prevention, which marks a major milestone in the fight against the pandemic,” the report said.
“It costs quite a bit of money to run phase one and two studies, and you might be halfway through that when you show your animal has no protection,” Director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity Sharon Lewin said.
“Before you move [the vaccine] into the human, […] you need to work in multiple animal models, which takes time, to show that not only were you able to show that it’s safe, but that in the event that that individual got infected, it stopped the infection from causing a clinical disease or at least reduced the clinical symptoms,” said Kristin Grimsrud, the associate director of vivaria and veterinary care at UC Davis’ Mouse Biology Program.
Research has shown that diseases such as malaria have a distinctive odor and also that respiratory disease can change the body’s odor. Scientists are working to determine if medical detection dogs can detect COVID-19 in humans.
“The ‘spike’ proteins of both SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 are related and they attach to the same molecule called ACE 2 on human cells to infect people. We now also know through animal experiments with SARS-CoV-2 that neutralising antibodies protect from reinfection,” University of Melbourne professor Kanta Subbarao wrote in an article.
This Washington State University press release announced the development of an antibody that successfully neutralizes protein A9, a protein that triggers inflammation, including severe pneumonia in COVID-19 patients. University researchers discovered the specific role of this A9 protein by doing research with mice and studying the A9 protein in mice. Then they were able to develop an antibody.
A Korean placenta injection showed positive results in a ferret model.
The White House will soon announce its “Operation Warp Speed” to speed up the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. “The project, vaguely described to date but likely to be formally announced by the White House in the coming days, will pick a diverse set of vaccine candidates and pour essentially limitless resources into unprecedented comparative studies in animals, fast-tracked human trials, and manufacturing,” the article said.
“A Korean research team has developed a new vaccine platform using RNA-based adjuvants for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which showed promise in nonhuman primates,” the publication reported.
“Researchers from the Emory Consortium for Innovative AIDS Research in Nonhuman Primates and their colleagues across North America have shown a new HIV vaccine is better at preventing infection and lasts longer, continuing to protect one year after vaccination. The findings, which are published online today in Nature Medicine, provide important insights for preventing HIV, and the timeliness of the results could also help shape the scientific community’s approach to developing vaccines for COVID-19,” a press release said.
Also, check out FBR’s white paper “The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research” (linked here).
“Recent research shows that ferrets, cats and golden Syrian hamsters can be experimentally infected with the virus and can spread the infection to other animals of the same species in laboratory settings,” the Q&A article said.
“Mairi Noverr of Tulane University School of Medicine along with Monica Vaccari and Tracy Fischer of Tulane National Primate Research Center all received Fast Grants for COVID-19 research,” according to the university.
On May 7, Extra TV’s Billy Bush sat down with Dr. Armand Dorian to discuss the latest headlines surrounding COVID-19. They discussed the University of Oxford’s successful COVID-19 vaccine trials with rhesus macaques. This allowed Oxford University to move into human trials in late April. Watch the Extra TV segment to learn more! Video credit: Extra TV
“In animal studies, Q-griffithsin worked against Ebola, hepatitis, MERS, SARS and other viruses,” the report said.
Studying feline viruses might offer clues to COVID-19.
“Fauci has said that he thinks a final vaccine could be available for general use as early as January, which would break records for the speed at which previous vaccines were developed,” National Geographic reported. “One reason for his confidence is the ‘impressive’ results being seen now in animals tested with a vaccine candidate made by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Therapeutics, which brought it into human trials in a record 42 days.”
Researchers at two Harvard-affiliated hospitals have studied their vaccine candidates in mice. The team expects to test for safety in monkeys in about a month.
“In tests conducted at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, researchers found that when dextromethorphan was introduced into the cells of African green monkeys growing in petri dishes, the subsequent addition of SARS-CoV-2 resulted in more prolific viral growth,” the report said.
“Verndari, Inc. is also in discussions with the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis to conduct further testing in nonhuman primates,” the article said.
“Vaccine development takes a long time. There has to be rigorous testing in different animal models, and then small-scale studies in humans,” said microbiologist Karl Klose, director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and professor of microbiology at UTSA. “The process is designed to ensure the safety of the people who take the vaccine. We will learn a lot from this process, including how to use a live vaccine platform to protect against an emerging disease. Hopefully in the future, we can respond quicker with a vaccine against the next pandemic.”
“Verndari, Inc., a biopharmaceutical company based in Napa, will begin preclinical testing of a possible coronavirus vaccine on mice this week in partnership with UC Davis’ mouse biology program,” the report said.
“This is gonna be a critical piece. It’s like you can’t fight a war without tanks,” said Dr. Ed Liu, president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory. “You can’t fight a war, this war, the pandemic, without a model system to test whether the drugs or the vaccines work.”
“Our article published today shows that a single injection of our Ebola vaccine provided 100% protection for mice exposed to Ebola virus” said Flow Pharma Chief Science Officer Charles Herst, the first author on the article. “By relying on killer T-cells rather than antibodies, FlowVax Ebola is able to attack the nucleocapsid protein located at the center of the virus where antibodies cannot reach. We are taking the same approach with FlowVax COVID-19.”
“Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana last month inoculated six rhesus macaque monkeys with single doses of the Oxford vaccine. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the virus that is causing the pandemic — exposure that had consistently sickened other monkeys in the lab,” the report said. “But more than 28 days later all six were healthy, said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.
‘The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,’ Dr. Munster said, noting that scientists were still analyzing the result.”
“We know from animal experiments that vaping itself — not even giving any drugs with it — can produce inflammatory changes in the lung,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow told Kaiser Health News.
Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine-in-development showed promise in rhesus macaques, scientists reported.
This joint statement is the result of a collaboration between several research advocacy organizations along with individual biomedical researchers, animal care experts and university communicators.
“Investigators at Rocky Mountain Labs tested [remdesivir] in a non-human primate model, a SARS-Coronavirus Type 2 or Covid-19,” said RML’s associate director for scientific management, Dr. Marshall Bloom. “They found that this drug had significant affect in ameliorating the course and severity of COVID-19 infections in non-human primates, if given early enough during the course of the disease.”
“We have seven scientists and a staff of over 30 people working overtime on establishing [nonhuman primate] animal models,” Texas Biomed President and CEO Larry Schlesinger said.
“Remdesivir is one of the unique compounds that actually gets stuck and makes the replication complex stop in its tracks,” Dr. Robert Gottlieb told KERA. “It has been used against SARS in vitro, and actually that’s why it became such a good lead compound with the current epidemic. … We’ve studied [SARS-CoV-1] and some similar viruses like [MERS] … both in small animals as well as in larger animals, and this remdesivir seems to work just fine in those cases.”
“Veterinary diagnostic labs across the country are developing their own tests for Covid-19, and many use the same basic processes that human tests do,” the article said.
“In order to assess vaccine efficacy, COVID-19 specific animal models are being developed, including ACE2-transgenic mice, hamsters, ferrets and non-human primates. Biosafety-level 3 containment measures are needed for animal studies involving live-virus challenges, and the demand for these capabilities is likely to require international coordination to ensure that sufficient laboratory capacity is available,” the article said.
“Flow Pharma, Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area biotechnology company developing the FlowVax(TM) peptide vaccine platform technology, today announced that researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) will begin testing Flow Pharma’s FlowVax COVID-19 vaccine candidate by challenging nonhuman primates with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, after the animals are vaccinated this month with FlowVax COVID-19,” a press release said.
“When you talk about developing a vaccine for millions of people, safety is an enormous priority,” said Dr. Mark Poznansky, director of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Scientists from Emory University in Atlanta; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, reported promising results after testing the drug EIDD-2801 on mice infected with coronaviruses similar to the one that causes COVID-19.
“In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness,” the AP reported.
The Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana will study COVID-19 in three species of nonhuman primates and evaluate potential COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in the nonhuman primate species that most closely mimics the progression of the disease in a human.
The World Health Organization cleared potential coronavirus vaccines for animal testing. Researchers in Australia have inserted vaccine samples into ferrets. “Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) says its tests will be the first comprehensive pre-clinical trials of the vaccines to use an animal model,” the article said.
A team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is working on a potential COVID-19 vaccine. It’s shown promise during initial tests in mice, scientists said.
“We already have a lot of data on the safety of the vaccine candidate, because the necessary preclinical studies in nonhuman primates and animals have already been carried out,” J&J research chief Paul Stoffels said in an interview with the German newspaper Tagesspiegel.
“Researchers will use the funds to amplify efforts to investigate how SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus – affects animals. Previously, research was limited to studying the effects on baboons, but now will include macaques, marmosets, mice, and guinea pigs,” the article said.
GeoVax is preparing to test three candidate vaccines for the novel coronavirus in animals, CEO David Dodd says. With funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, GeoVax will use animal testing to zero in on the vaccine that is most likely to protect people from COVID-19, then scientists will test the most promising of them in clinical trials later this year.
Veterinarians don’t have evidence that pets can spread SARS-CoV-2, but they want more information, and several labs have developed veterinary tests. Shelley Rankin, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, says if pets were readily susceptible to the virus, a spike would have been noticed by now, and the USDA and many experts warn against widespread testing of pets for COVID-19.
Scientists at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana are working hard to fight COVID-19. ABC News gave an inside look at the challenges these researchers are up against.
About 82% of the 174.5 million doses of influenza vaccine distributed across the U.S. this season were produced in chicken eggs, according to the CDC, but the many chickens kept in secure facilities in the U.S. won’t be useful in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Coronaviruses and influenza viruses have different receptors and other characteristics, and the novel coronavirus can’t replicate inside eggs the way influenza can, says pathology professor John Nicholls.
Researchers are studying antibodies to find out how to beat COVID-19. “If the antibodies work to protect cells from infection, then researchers will test them in animals exposed to the virus — to see if the proteins prevent the animals from getting sick, or, alternatively, if they can improve the health of animals that are sick with a version of COVID-19,” the report said.
“We know that gorillas are very sensitive to human diseases,” Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of the Kenya-based conservation group WildlifeDirect, told the AP. “If anyone has a cold or a flu they are not allowed to go and see the gorillas. With coronavirus having such a long time of no symptoms in some cases, it means that we could actually put those gorillas at risk.”
“The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) is the first Canadian lab to develop an animal model for COVID-19 vaccine testing,” the article said.
Chloroquine phosphate, an 85-year-old antiviral drug that has previously been used for the treatment of malaria, and its derivative hydroxychloroquine have recently shown promising in-vitro results in primate cells infected with SARS-CoV-2. Chloroquine phosphate became the first-choice antiviral drug for malaria after researchers discovered it drastically reduced mortality in African penguins with avian malaria.
Monkeys are vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2. Primate center scientists are working to prevent colonies from infection.
Extensive studies in a variety of nonhuman primates, including macaques, led to the development of lopinavir and ritonavir as HIV/AIDS combination anti-retroviral drugs. In 2015, researchers discovered that lopinavir and ritonavir improved outcomes in marmoset monkeys infected with the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Since SARS-COV-2 and MERS-CoV are both coronaviruses and share many similarities, researchers launched a clinical trial of lopinavir and ritonavir in patients with COVID-19 in China.
The heads of two animal facilities spoke with the academic journal about how they are dealing with COVID-19.
Regeneron has developed hundreds of monoclonal antibody drugs that show potential for treating SARS-COV-2. Regeneron’s antibodies are produced in mice that have been genetically modified to have human-like immune systems.
Moderna and NIAID are currently investigating a potential messenger RNA vaccine for the new coronavirus. A clinical trial in humans has begun in Seattle for the mRNA-1273 vaccine. Despite reports to the contrary, the clinical trial began after mRNA-1273 was tested in mice.
Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir is currently being tested in five human clinical trials for its effectiveness against the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Pre-clinical research in laboratory mice and other animals demonstrated that remdesivir was effective against the MERS and SARS coronaviruses.
Researchers, such as those at The Jackson Laboratory in Maine, are breeding transgenic mice. Experts will test different strains of transgenic mice as well as a variety of other laboratory animals including nonhuman primates to determine which ones are susceptible to infection with the virus.
Doctors tested remdesivir on a critically ill patient with COVID-19 in California. An infectious disease specialist on the team treating the patient answered questions about the case. In February, Gilead and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) published a paper demonstrating that remdesivir inhibited the replication of the coronavirus MERS in infected monkeys.
“It’s a basic rule of medical research: Before you inject anything into humans, conduct experiments on animals—frequently mice—to determine whether treatments are safe and effective. In the race to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, however, your everyday mouse won’t do,” Bloomberg correspondent Bruce Einhorn wrote.
“Given the urgency to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, some drugmakers are moving straight into small-scale human tests, without waiting for the completion of such animal tests.
‘I understand the importance of accelerating timelines for vaccines in general, but from everything I know, this is not the vaccine to be doing it with,’ Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Reuters.”
Researchers will test potential vaccines in mice.
Preclinical tests involve research in animals to make sure a vaccine is safe. “If the vaccine protects in animal models, it can be made pure enough to be tested on humans,” Dr. Bart Haynes told USA TODAY.
“Animal research has played a critical role in virtually every medical advance over the last century,” said Matthew R. Bailey, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research.
“Every day, it seems another company announces an attempt to make its own virus-fighting vials. But to test an experimental formulation, scientists can’t just jump from Petri dishes into people,” STAT News reporter Eric Boodman wrote. “They need to try it in critters first, to check that the stuff is safe and effective.”
APN01 is a recombinant human Angiotensin Converting Enzyme produced by APEIRON Biologics that successfully blocked viral spread of SARS-CoV-2 and minimized lung injury when tested in laboratory mice. APN01 is now entering the clinical trial phase with COVID-19 patients in China.
The Detroit News published an opinion editorial written by FBR’s president on the importance of animal research in the search for a vaccine to control the coronavirus outbreak.
The Tulane National Primate Research Center launched a research project to understand COVID-19 with animal models. The researchers are trying to understand how the disease spreads and progresses in nonhuman primates.
“We are working together to develop a plan to build out nonhuman primate models to test medical countermeasures such as vaccines and therapeutics,” said David O’Connor, professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “We want to make sure we are recapitulating the kind of clinical signs (of virus infection) that happen in people.”
We would like to say a word about the role of research animals in basic research to understand how COVID-19 infects humans and animals. A basic research study in macaque monkeys revealed that monkeys who recovered from COVID-19 developed some immunity to the SARS-COV-2 virus and did not get reinfected with the virus. Further basic research studies will be conducted to confirm these results. Several other teams of researchers are studying how the SARS-COV-2 virus jumped from animals to humans by using data from studies of other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS in bats, civets, pangolins, and camels. Here are a few good articles on basic research to understand the zoonotic transmission of COVID-19 from animals to humans: