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Development of intervention strategies against sars in a European-Chinese taskforce

Final Report Summary - DISSECT (Development of intervention strategies against SARS in a European-Chinese taskforce)

When the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck mostly Asia in 2003, hospital-based health workers comprised a high fraction of reported cases. The exposure of those workers to infection severely undermined the ability of communities to contain the epidemic. No SARS vaccine has been approved, though several are at advanced stages of development. Another SARS outbreak could occur at any time. It is therefore crucial to develop vaccines, antiviral therapies and diagnostic kits so that health workers - and eventually the general population - will be protected against future outbreaks.

This research proposal was comprehensive, encompassing all the complementary aspects necessary for the development of intervention strategies, including vaccination, immunotherapy, and antivirals to protect against SARS. In addition, techniques and materials will be generated to develop diagnostic kits that will lead to the identification of infected individuals at very early steps of the disease, and to differentiate between vaccinated and naturally infected people. The first focus of the project was vaccine development. Accordingly, a set of complementary strategies was proposed to guarantee the success. These strategies included 'classical' vaccines (such as whole inactivated virus), subunit vaccines, and state of the art-recombinant technology derived vaccines. The second focus of the project was on the state of the art-therapeutic approaches, ranging from the use of monoclonal antibodies to specific antivirals. For achieving the primary objectives of this project, the availability of an adequate preclinical setting for SARS-CoV research, including animal models, as well as the access to relevant clinical samples were absolute preconditions.

These were all met in this project, as a result of the expertise of the individual groups involved. To develop this comprehensive project, laboratories from the European Union and China are collaborating. The laboratories from EU member states (Spain, United Kingdom and the Netherlands) have a long-term experience (more than twenty years) in coronavirus pathology, immunology and molecular biology. The groups from China have key knowledge on the onset and evolution of SARS, high technology, and have generated large collections of biological materials: viruses, sera, tissues, clinical and epidemiological data.

An attenuated live recombinant vaccine, inactivated vaccines, different antivirals, and immune strategies to prevent and protect against SARS have been developed. In addition, a microarray system to diagnose SARS patients has been designed. The efficacy of these tools has been tested in animal models developed by the consortium.