20 April 2020

Serology4COVID consortium develops serological trial for the Portuguese population

Joint action of scientific research institutions is key to counter SARS-CoV-2 virus impact in society

Serology4COVID is a consortium between 5 research centers from Lisbon and Oeiras (IGC, iMM, CEDOC-NMS, ITQB NOVA and iBET) created to implement a COVID-19 serological trial which will allow it to be used widely at a national level. This initiative is supported by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Emergency Fund for COVID-19, by Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation and Oeiras Municipality.

Around 80% of the confirmed COVID-19 cases have light to mild symptom’s (fever, cough and fatigue). It is estimated that a large percentage of cases, probably more than 25%, may not show any symptoms although being able to spread the infection. Serological tests that are being developed will allow to rebuild the past and identify who has been infected with SARS-CoV-2, providing a more detailed and realistic overview of what went on in the country, to better prepare for the future. “Designing serological trials specific for COVID-19, at an affordable price so they can be used at a national level in epidemiological studies, is crucial: that is our goal”, said Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência director, Mónica Bettencourt-Dias.  

Implementing an affordable and scalable serological trial  is critical in order to understand the level of immunity of the population and to support the implementation of new strategies to control the spread and/or reduce its impact in health, society and economy. The goal is to add to the existing capacity by increasing the scope of the serological tests. This consortium will benefit from the experience and response capacity of each partner, which will allow to give a greater scientific and economic response, over a short period of time. Therefore, iBET – Instituto de Biologia Experimental e Tecnológica is already producing the antigens necessary to develop this trial in record time.

IGC, iMM, CEDOC-NMS and ITQB NOVA are responsible for coordinating the implementation and validation of the tests of blood samples that come from people infected with SARS-CoV-2. The first trials are already in motion. In this specific case biochemists (ITQB-NOVA) , engineers (iBET), virologists and immunologists (CEDOC-NMS, IGC and iMM) are needed. The next challenge for all will be finding industry partners in Portugal in order to promote the mass use of the tests.

An advisory board has been established, which will support the consortium in the decision-making, in the assessment of issues and counseling during development and implementation of the trial. This board comprises national and international renowned personalities in the infectiology area, Filipe Froes (Director of Intensive Care Unit of Pulido Valente Hospital), immunology area, Thiago Carvalho (Director of Champalimaud Foundation PhD Programme) and Florian Krammer (Teacher at Icahn School of Medicine) who developed the serology protocol to be used which is already approved by FDA.

The consortium is also aiming at extending the involvement to private entities that have been showing interest in supporting this pioneer initiative, that also share an interest to contribute to the common good.