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 SARS-coronavirus in 2019 – 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 coronavirus. These tests are carried out exclusively in emergency situations 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 these animals and confirmed the infections. Further study is necessary to find out which other animals can be affected by the virus and to what degree.
In collaboration with several partners we have developed diagnostic tests to show coronavirus infection as well as antibodies in various animal species.
2. Vaccine development
Together with Utrecht University and Intravacc, WBVR is developing an intranasal vaccine against 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 coronavirus. WBVR is tasked with developing preclinical models for SARS-CoV-2, which will allow vaccines and antiviral therapeutics to be tested for efficacy and safety. Our experts have developed a COVID-19 model in hamsters. WBVR also offers virus neutralization tests (VNTs) against SARS-CoV-2 variants.
4. Testing disinfectants
WBVR designs methods to evaluate the efficacy of disinfectants to inactivate different coronaviruses.
5. (Inter)national collaboration and sharing expertise
- WBVR participates in the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 working group tasked with developing animal models that can be used to evaluate the efficacy and safety of new vaccines.
- 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 SOZ), 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).
- WBVR experts are member of the OMT-Z (Outbreak Management Team Zoonoses) to discuss developments for the control of outbreaks of zoonoses.