Harvard, Guangzhou Institute to Collaborate on $115M Coronavirus Research Project

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[WikiMedia Commons]

Researchers at Harvard University and the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health in China will partner to develop therapies designed to prevent new Coronavirus infections and treat existing ones, through a $115 million research collaboration funded by Chinese real estate giant China Evergrande Group.

Investigators from Harvard Medical School led by Dean George Q. Daley, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health will spearhead the university’s portion of the collaboration. Harvard Medical School will bring together Harvard basic scientists, translational investigators and clinical researchers working throughout the school and its affiliated hospitals and institutes, along with other regional institutions and biotech companies, the university said.

Zhong Nanshan, MD—the pulmonologist and epidemiologist at Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health credited with discovering the SARS coronavirus in 2003, and describing the clinical course of the infection—will lead the collaboration’s Chinese researchers. He is head of the Chinese 2019n-CoV Expert Taskforce and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Formal details have yet to be finalized, though participating institutions have agreed to the  collaboration’s goal of elucidating the basic biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and its behavior, as well as informing disease detection and therapeutic design efforts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported yesterday 78,811 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 10 a.m. CET (4 a.m. ET), with nearly all cases (98% or 77,042) having occurred in China. WHO has also reported 2,462 deaths, all but 17 of which have occurred in China.

As of midnight Sunday (11 a.m. EST), China’s National Health Commission reported 77,150 confirmed cases and 2,592 deaths, with 24,734 patients designated as cured and discharged from hospital.

The main areas of investigation for Harvard and the Guangzhou Institute will include:

  • Developing rapid, more accurate diagnostic tests, including point-of-care testing
  • Understanding the body’s immune response and host-pathogen interaction, including identification of biomarkers that can help monitor the infection course and disease progression and forecast the onset of critical illness and life-threatening complications among infected patients
  • Developing vaccines to prevent infection
  • Developing antiviral therapies that shorten the duration of the illness and mitigate symptoms among those infected—as well as treatments for those with severe disease.

“Harnessing Our Science”

“With the extraordinary scale and depth of relevant clinical and scientific capabilities in our community, Harvard Medical School is uniquely positioned to convene experts in virology, infectious disease, structural biology, pathology, vaccine development, epidemiology, and public health to confront this rapidly evolving crisis,” Daley said. “Harnessing our science to tackle global health challenges is at the very heart of our mission as an institution dedicated to improving human health and well-being worldwide.”

Zhong stated: “We look forward to leveraging each of our respective strengths to address the immediate and longer-term challenges and a fruitful collaboration to advance the global well-being of all people.”

“We are extremely encouraged by the generous gesture from Evergrande to coordinate and support the collaboration and by the overwhelmingly positive response from our Harvard colleagues,” added Zhong.

Evergrande—which has additional operations in new energy vehicles, cultural tourism and healthcare—agreed to fund the five-year collaboration. Last year, Evergrande leaped from No. 231 to No. 138 on the Fortune Global 500 list of the world’s 500 largest companies, ranked by revenue.

However, Evergrande has not been unscathed by the deadly outbreak caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. On February 18, Evergrande cut prices 25% for all of its residential properties, a discount set to last through the end of the month, to be followed by a 22% discount in March. The firm cut its required refundable down payment for new apartments to RMB 5,000 (about $715), as a result generating 47,500 commitments over three days, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, Evergrande has developed over 810 projects in more than 280 cities in China. The firm has 140,000 employees, and annual sales of over RMB 600 billion ($85 billion).

“We thank all the scientists who responded so swiftly and enthusiastically from the Harvard community and are deeply moved by Harvard and Zhong’s team’s dedication and commitment to this humanitarian cause,” said Hui Ka Yan, chair of the China Evergrande Group. “We have the utmost confidence in this global collaborative team to reach impactful discoveries against the outbreak soon.”

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