The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has today released its strategic plan to speed research aimed at diagnosing, preventing and treating COVID-19 which is responsible for the worst pandemic in more than 100 years.
The plan include four priorities:
- Improve fundamental knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19
- Develop rapid, accurate diagnostics to identify and isolate COVID-19 cases to track its spread
- Testing potential treatments
- Develop safe and effective vaccines
For the first priority NIAID will conduct research that will include natural history, transmission and surveillance studies as it seeks to better understand why some people with COVID-19 only experience mild symptoms, while others become critically ill. Included in this research will be developing a better understanding of the role of asymptomatic individuals in viral spread, as well as the potential for seasonality of viral circulation. To aid in this research, the plan calls for the creation of small and large animal models that can recapitulate COVID-19 disease seen in humans.
NIAID’s second research priority address development of molecular testing that can detect low levels of SARS-CoV-2 and differentiate it from other related viruses. A key focus in this area will be on improving the speed and accuracy of diagnostic assays as a tool that can help mitigate the spread of the disease. It will also focus on creating improved serologic assays to detect antibodies to the virus must to identify people who may have resolved a previous COVID-19 infection.
The third research priority will be identifying and evaluating drugs that have already received FDA approval for other conditions that could be repurposed to treat COVID-19 including testing novel broad-spectrum antivirals, such as remdesivir. Other areas for potential treatments include virus-targeted antibody-based therapies, monoclonal antibodies, and host-directed strategies to target an individual’s immune response to the virus. This effort foresees conducting multiple clinical trials in parallel among various patient populations—of hospitalized patients and outpatients alike.
The final research priority will see NIAID researchers and collaborators work to adapt vaccine candidates and approaches used in the past for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronaviruses. NIAID has already embarked on a Phase 1 clinical trial using a vaccine platform initially developed to target MERS. It will use its clinical trial infrastructure to advance experimental vaccines through Phase 1 safety and dosing testing, while simultaneously planning for advanced clinical testing of the most promising candidates. NIAID will also work with government partners to ensure that any approved vaccine can be manufactured in sufficient quantities to allow expedient distribution to those at highest risk for infection.