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
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 60 potential COVID-19 treatments in development.
Animal Research on the Front Lines
“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.
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: