PRiME announces a COVID-19 Task Force on Advanced Diagnostics and New Therapeutics

Digital illustration of a virus

Published on Mar 30, 2020

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Article from https://www.prime.utoronto.ca/news

As the global community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, PRiME is convening its leading researchers to form a COVID-19 Task Force on Advanced Diagnostics and New Therapeutics to develop an arsenal of breakthroughs to fight COVID-19 and future pandemics.

UofT researchers who are leading experts in disease biology, medicinal chemistry, device engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, and biomolecular analysis are included on the team to provide all of the needed skill sets for the development of new advances that will enable us to combat SARS-CoV-2.  The Task Force members, together with collaborators and partners, aim to carry out critical projects with the potential to quickly impact the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 and will be working over the coming weeks to resource and scale this effort.

In addition, a set of shared resources is under development that includes antibodies, recombinant samples of viral proteins, viral RNA and viral particles, patient samples, assays, and sample preparation workflow protocols.  These centralized resources will accelerate the timeline of the projects undertaken by the COVID-19 Task Force and the broader community.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating rapidly and the lack of reagents and throughput in clinical laboratories is limiting testing volumes and crippling our ability to contain local outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2.  The first objective of this effort is to develop and validate a suite of new technologies that circumvent issues with sample preparation and reagent availability.  Common sample preparation workflows will be developed that eliminate bottlenecks.  The main deliverable of each effort will be prototype test kits and devices that can be tested and utilized by clinical laboratories.

It remains unknown at this time whether an effective vaccine can be made for SARS-CoV-2, requiring an intensive effort to identify therapeutic agents that could be effective against the virus.  The PRiME Task Force will spearhead a number of projects that will focus on screening libraries of existing therapeutics that exhibit activity against a number of novel targets.  These agents could be repurposed quickly to combat COVID-19.   The Task Force will also advance several antibody-based agents that are ready to be scaled and advanced towards clinical trials.

While the short-term focus to combat COVID-19 is focused on improving diagnostic testing capabilities and the development of therapeutic agents, in order to eradicate this viral pathogen a more in-depth understanding of the mechanism of pathogenesis will be required.  Several long term projects to be undertaken by the Task Force will collect critical information that will enable us to mount a sustained and effective response to COVID-19.

PRiME Director Shana Kelley commented, “Our researchers recognize the COVID-19 pandemic as a tremendous challenge that needs new tools, technologies and therapeutics.  The Task Force will bring a number of cutting-edge approaches to the fight against COVID-19 that we hope will make an impact now and as future pandemics emerge.  Accelerated scientific research and the breakthroughs that will ensue are our most powerful defences against viral outbreaks of this magnitude.”  

This newly formed group will work closely with Toronto clinicians and local clinic labs to ensure maximal translational outcomes.