A large variety of coronaviruses exist naturally and can cause diseases in many animal species. Several coronaviruses are zoonoses: they are able to infect humans. SARS-CoV-2 transferred from animals to humans in Wuhan (China) late 2019, and is responsible for the COVID-19 disease.
Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) conducts research on infectious animal diseases in the Netherlands. When an unknown zoonosis – such as the coronavirus – emerges, WBVR has the capacity to research it rapidly. Samples of a suspect animal (species) are analysed using a diagnostics pipeline created by WVBR for rapid detection of new pathogens.
WVBR contributes to combatting and preventing the coronavirus and COVID-19 in several ways.
1. Diagnostics in animals
WBVR has diagnostic tests available to test animals for the coronavirus. These tests are carried out exclusively in an emergency and in consultation with the NVWA. Globally, a few cases of domesticated pets sensitive to the coronavirus have been reported. In the Netherlands COVID-19 infections on mink farms were found; WBVR tested the animals positive. Further study is necessary to find out which animals can be affected by the virus and to what degree.
2. Vaccine development
Together with Utrecht University and Intravacc, WBVR is developing an intranasal vaccine against the coronavirus. The vaccine will consist of a Newcastle disease virus (NDV) vector that expresses the immunogenic spike (S) protein of SARS-CoV-2. The viral vector technology and animal facilities of WBVR are used for this.
3. Testing vaccines and antivirals
WBVR and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) collaborate on mitigating and preventing the coronavirus. WBVR is tasked with developing preclinical models for SARS-CoV-2, which will allow vaccines and antiviral medication to be tested for efficacy and safety. We have developed a COVID-19 model in Syrian hamsters.
4. Research on disinfectants and diagnostics
WBVR designs methods to evaluate the efficacy of disinfectants to deactivate different coronaviruses. Research must show whether disinfectants that have proven to be effective against previously known coronaviruses (IBV, PEDV and TGEV) in farm animals, are also effective against SARS-CoV-2.
WBVR collaborates with several partners to develop diagnostic tests to show coronavirus infection in various animal species, as well as showing antibodies for the coronavirus in these species.
5. (Inter)national collaboration and sharing expertise
- WBVR participates in the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 working group tasked with developing animal models with which the efficacy and safety of new vaccines can be evaluated.
- Wageningen University & Research (and with it, WVBR) is a partner to the Netherlands Centre for One Health (NCOH). This open innovation network is running the study 'Fighting COVID-19 in animals and humans'.
- WBVR is part of the COVID-19 animal disease expert group of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV).
- In the Dutch Signalling Forum Zoonoses (Dutch acronym SO-Z), veterinary researchers, among which WBVR, regularly consult with public health researchers of the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and Environment) and the GGD (Municipal Health Services).