As a researcher who develops vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, UConn pathobiologist and associate professor Paulo Verardi pays close attention to the news. He was doing just that in mid-January when he noticed that a new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, causing a disease now known as coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19, was starting to make headlines.
Verardi says it was the speed at which new cases were being reported that caught his attention and he suspected this virus would continue to make headlines.
Just as he did with Zika, Verardi and his research team wasted no time and began brainstorming vaccine designs and connecting with collaborators.
Verardi says since the virus causing COVID-19 requires higher biological safety containment than is available at UConn, this collaboration means that vaccines designed by Verardi’s team at UConn can be tested by Griffiths’ team at Boston University and the National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories, since work with the virus can take place only at a few places in the United States.
Verardi’s team has begun working with non-infectious genetic material from the virus to create virus-like particles that they are hopeful make an effective vaccine. Time is truly of the essence when working to produce a vaccine in the midst of an outbreak says Verardi. Notably, this project has been made possible by funding that was quickly made available from the College of Agriculture Health and Natural Resources to start the research process.
Verardi says he feels a sense of responsibility to respond and it became apparent that the virus was causing significant problems and that it is unique. Collaboration is key and it is clear that we need a lot of people studying the virus and countermeasure responses, “We learn a lot collectively, there is big value in everyone coming together and working on different strategies to produce an effective vaccine.”
To read more about the Boston University collaborative efforts, find the news release here.