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Going viral: the European biobank at the centre of a global anti-pandemic network

The European Virus Archive has been built up over the last decade to become an indispensable collection of virus research materials, supporting the fight against COVID-19. Now, the EU-funded EVA-GLOBAL project has expanded this research infrastructure to a global network, supporting the scientific response to future outbreaks.

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With the human population expanding further around the world, ecosystem changes and increased contact between humans and novel pathogens, future outbreaks – particularly viral diseases – are more likely. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a European Partnership on Pandemic Preparedness is being readied under Horizon Europe. The EVA-GLOBAL project is building the first global collection of viral biological material to support scientific research, education and the control of old and emerging diseases. As well as building an international research infrastructure, the project is establishing ethical, safety and security standards relating to viral material. Launched in 2020, EVA-GLOBAL is already the world’s largest archive of viral pathogens and ensures that scientists around the world can collaborate effectively on future outbreaks. The project is a collaborative effort between 46 laboratories around the world, including 27 EU research centres, which offer a broad range of expertise in animal and plant virology. The project is fostering an exchange of knowledge between partner organisations and creating new tools to access, study and respond to viral diseases. These tools incorporate advances in the sequencing of viral genomes, molecular diagnostics, virus classification and discovery, and methods for long-term conservation of viral material, as well as agreed safety and quality standards between the participating institutions.

Responding to SARS-CoV-2

As a responsive global network confronting emerging viral disease outbreaks, EVA-GLOBAL worked during the COVID-19 pandemic in cooperation with international entities such as the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, to ensure that rapidly developed diagnostic materials and protocols were distributed across Europe and around the world. EVA-GLOBAL has already been at the forefront of pandemic response. Project partners were among the first institutions to receive information about the new SARS-CoV-2 virus from authorities in China, where the outbreak began. Partner institutions quickly developed reagents needed to detect the virus and made these immediately and widely available. EVA-GLOBAL partners added SARS-CoV-2 research materials such as reference strains and diagnostic materials into their online materials and services catalogue within one month of the discovery of the virus. In record time, more than 3 000 SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic reference and PCR assay materials were distributed to academic organisations and biomedical industries in over 100 countries, enabling a rapid research response to COVID-19.

Establishing viral standards and a research portal

A longer-term goal of the EVA-GLOBAL project is to establish guidelines for viral storage and distribution to meet international standards. This includes proficiency testing in individual laboratories and engagement with science policymakers to discuss the importance of biobanked material such as viruses. The project is the continuation of predecessors the European Virus Archive and EVA goes global (EVAg). During this third project phase, EVA-GLOBAL delivers more systematic geographic coverage around the world, including more institutions in South America, Asia and Africa. Funding was specifically increased during the COVID-19 crisis to support SARS-CoV-2 research in Europe and beyond.

Keywords

EVA-GLOBAL, European Virus Archive, global, virus, archive, storage, distribution, COVID-19, pandemic, biobank