Harvard Researchers Partner with Chinese Scientists on Coronavirus Research

United States and China Handshake

Numerous companies and government agencies are working on developing therapies and vaccines to treat or prevent the coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19. As of today, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported 409 new confirmed case, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 77,150. However, the agency reported 150 new deaths, bringing the total deaths from COVID-19 on mainland China to 2,592.

Harvard University Medical School researchers, led by Dean George Q. Daley, announced plans to collaborate with colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health and pulmonologist and epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan. Zhong is also heading the Chinese 2019n-CoV Expert Taskforce.

Via a five-year collaborative research pact, Harvard and Guangzhou Institute will split $115 million in research funding provided by China Evergrande Group, a Fortune Global 500 company in China.

“We are confident that the collaboration of Harvard and Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health will contribute valuable discoveries to this worldwide effort,” said Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow. “We are grateful for Evergrande’s leadership and generosity in facilitating this collaboration and for all the scientists and clinicians rising to the call of action in combating this emerging threat to global well-being.”

Details of their focus haven’t been finalized, but more accurate rapid diagnostic testing, identification of biomarkers, development of vaccines and antiviral therapies are all on the table.

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

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Last week, it was reported that clinical trials of Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir had launched in Wuhan, China, but the company was having difficulties recruiting eligible patients. The trial’s goal is to test more than 700 patients infected with the coronavirus, but at this point, there have been fewer than 200 people recruited.

The clinical trial plan is to recruit 761 patients infected with the coronavirus, including 308 with mild and moderate symptoms and 452 with severe infections. The severely ill patients are required to be within 12 days of disease onset and can’t have taken other treatments in the last 30 days. Mild and moderate patients interested in the trial had to be within eight days of disease onset. All candidates are required to have positive lab results.

Meanwhile, state-owned pharmaceutical companies China Resources Pharmaceutical Group and China Medicine Health Industry Co. are speeding production of chloroquine. This drug appears to be effective in treating the coronavirus with no severe side effects. It has been in clinical use for more than 70 years.

Another study is ongoing of favipiravir compared to AbbVie’s Kaletra, an antiretroviral for HIV. China health officials have recommended broader clinical use of the drug based on 80 coronavirus patients. Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Co. manufactures favipiravir.

Moderna is working with the National institutes of Health on a coronavirus vaccine. Johnson & Johnson is also working with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services on a vaccine. In addition, Paris-based Sanofi’s Sanofi Pasteur, its global vaccines business, is collaborating on a vaccine with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Sanofi plans to continue investigating an advanced preclinical SARS vaccine candidate that it had worked on during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome and is caused by a coronavirus that has some similarities to the COVID-19 virus. The SARS virus mostly disappeared by 2004.

“Addressing a global health threat such as this newest coronavirus is going to take a collaborative effort, which is why we are working with BARDA to quickly advance a potential vaccine candidate,” said David Loew, Global Head of Vaccines at Sanofi. “While we are lending our expertise where possible, we believe the collaboration with BARDA may provide the most meaningful results in protecting the public from this latest outbreak.”

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