Support from like-minded organisations will be helping a team from ViREMiCS hasten the search for a vaccine for COVID-19.
With much of the healthcare resources devoted to the fight against COVID-19, a group of individuals have been working very hard behind the scenes, searching for a way to combat the virus. At the Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre (ViREMiCS), clinician scientists and researchers are looking for ways to accelerate clinical developments for new drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.
Led by Prof Ooi Eng Eong, Deputy Director, Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, Duke-NUS Medical School and Assoc Prof Jenny Low, Senior Consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital, ViREMiCS aims to hasten the search for a vaccine by studying the molecular processes that lead to disease outcome. This could spark findings to determine whether new drugs or vaccines that are being developed would elicit the desired therapeutic or protective effect.
“ViREMiCS was established to look into ways in which drug and vaccine development can be shortened, especially in response to a pandemic situation like the current COVID-19. Since 2017, we have been focused on mosquito-transmitted diseases such as dengue and the Zika virus to establish our reputation in accelerating drug and vaccine development before expanding to other viral diseases. With the COVID-19 situation, we expedited our expansion from mosquito-transmitted to human-to-human transmitted infectious diseases to meet the urgent public health demand,” said Prof Ooi.
Currently, the translation of new vaccines and drugs from discovery to clinical application typically takes more than 10 years. However, with the extent of how fast and far COVID-19 has spread, this current practice is not a rapid-enough response to curb the virus. To speed up this process, Prof Low and Prof Ooi are leading a team to look into developing a comprehensive set of genes that could be used to predict disease outcome among COVID-19 patients.
“By closely examining the gene expression changes in the blood of our patients, we discovered key molecules in blood that best correlate with disease severity prior to the appearance of the worst symptoms,” Prof Low explained. “Such signatures could be used as potential biomarkers to triage patients for disease management, and help to alleviate the stress on our limited healthcare resources by ensuring that only COVID-19 patients in need of support are hospitalised. Such biomarkers could also be useful as potential therapeutic targets to prevent severe disease.”
To deepen research into COVID-19, The Hour Glass has donated $2 million to the proposed The Hour Glass Virology Research Fund to enable ViREMiCS to accelerate the development of a comprehensive set of genes that could be used as molecular biomarkers. This will expedite the clinical trials of new drugs and vaccines against COVID-19 and guide case management to maximise healthcare resource allocation. In addition, two other organisations - Prestige Ocean Pte Ltd and Primus Shipping Agencies (Asia) Pte Ltd – have also contributed a total of $100,000 towards COVID-19 research.
“With the number of cases still expanding in numbers and in geographical distribution, it is highly unlikely that COVID-19 will be eliminated by lockdowns and circuit breakers. We will need vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat COVID-19 cases,” said Prof Ooi. “We hope that these gifts will help bring us one step closer to finding a cure, and bring about an end to this pandemic.”
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