CARE Partner perspectives – Cyril Dousson

The Covid-19 pandemic is over so what is the value of CARE? Principal investigators comment on CARE’s importance for future pandemic preparedness. Today, see the response from Cyril Dousson, CEO of Ai-biopharma

CARE – Infographic: What is CARE?

Do you need a quick overview of CARE? Check out this infographic for the key details of CARE at a glance.

The infographic is also available here

The faces behind the CARE work-packages – Panthéa Tzourio, WP8 Task Lead

CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe) is the largest European research initiative addressing the challenges of COVID-19. It is no surprise that it is designed in a comprehensive, yet agile, structure to fulfill the 38 partners’ shared key goals: (1) to identify therapeutics for the current pandemic, (2) to identify antiviral therapies for future outbreaks and (3) to increase the understanding of the pathophysiology of COVID-19. In a set-up of eight work-packages (WPs), the scientists and management at CARE carry out the project activities that have so far resulted in valuable learnings about the COVID-19 and how it might be defeated 

Work Package 8 comprises a number of discrete consortium coordination and management task areas, such as data management and ethics. Here, we go behind the scenes through brief interviews with WP8 task leaders to hear insights on what makes their work so special, as well as their challenges and hopes.

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WP8 – Data Management

The CARE work-package 8 (WP8) Data Management team focuses on the implementation, operation and administration of two databases, including a Labkey data management platform to host immunological test data from WP5 and clinical trials data from WP7 in order for the Inserm SISTM team to perform statistical analysis. WP8 Data Management Task Lead, Panthéa Tzourio (SISTM, Inserm) shares her views on this work of the CARE project.

What has your team delivered so far and what are you still working on during the remaining time in CARE? 

SISTM is a data sciences team based in Bordeaux directed by Pr. Rodolphe Thiébaut, specialising in developing appropriate statistical and modelling tools to describe the immune response to infections and vaccines using clinical and various complex biological datasets. SISTM is involved at several levels in CARE: statistical analysis of immune data for Work Package 5 (WP5), clinical trial methodology support for Work Package 7 (WP7) and data management in a dedicated data warehouse system in Work Package 8 (WP8).

Our main activity so far has been to manage the implementation, operation and administration of a Labkey Data management platform to host of Immunological test data from WP5 and Clinical trials conducted in WP7 in order for the SISTM team to perform statistical analysis. To reach this goal, we contributed to the preparation of the CARE Data Management Plan (DMP). This document, created during the preliminary phase of the project, is a living document outlining and describing the research data management pipeline and of course, requesting updates when either the data to be transferred or the repository system evolves.

In the case of Labkey, we expanded the data platform capacities by upgrading to a Primary edition of Labkey to better address specific research requirements. This included the direct connection between the data present in Labkey with the RStudio server analysis environment (in full GDPR compliancy) and the capacity to store and share the bio-statistical R analysis results and visualizations with the research team members within the study project secure environment in Labkey.

We also acquired and set-up integrated analyzing modules for lab experimental data file e.g. Nab, Elisa, Elispot, Luminex, Flow Cytometry. Those updates lead to modifications of the initial DMP submitted to IMI for approval.

We are glad to say that LabKey is ready to work with CARE data and we have already uploaded the French COVID 19 cohort data in our Labkey platform, analyzed the data and published the results (Levy et al., 2021). We have also created in-house statistical methods (differential gene expression analysis, intra-cellular staining analysis etc.) for which we developed a set of integrated visualization tools. At this stage, our work for CARE continues with the development of data visualization tools, refinement of statistical methods and obviously the maintenance of the data warehouse. We are fully ready to receive the data from the laboratories involved in WP5 investigations and the data from clinical trials.

 

What have you personally learned so far through the experience of working in CARE?

As the IT project manager in SISTM, CARE was my first experience in a research project of this magnitude. I really find it enriching to see the commitment of so many teams and industries to collaborate and advance the research in anticipation of future pandemics. Of course, competition is still present, but it was really nice to see how the IMI funding scheme really helped defining a common ground on which to build up new knowledge and paths for the future developments.

   

What has surprised you about working on the CARE project? 

As I said above, the magnitude of the project and the quality of the profiles involved are impressive. It is amazing that such a “big machine” like the CARE consortium, representing a variety of countries, public or private organizations works and even better: is delivering. I can say I am very glad to be part of this adventure.

 

What makes the work for CARE special for you and your team?

 For SISTM, which has been involved almost since the beginning of the pandemic in the analysis and modeling of COVID data, CARE is the opportunity to work with the best representatives of the scientific and industrial community and thus keep contributing to the global effort. On a more personal note, I like the idea to keep the research and innovation focused on future COVID outbreak risks: providing more tools to avoid the need to pay such a heavy toll ever again.

 

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered with respect to your task activities? (and how did you overcome them?)

 Without hesitation, I would say the biggest challenge we encountered in our activities was linked to the data management of some patients’ clinical and biological data collected during the COVID pandemic that we received from a variety of sources.

For most of these transferred data, we were not associated with the initial design of data or the initial protocol and as can be understood, during the pandemic crisis the hospitals collected in haste and did not have time or resources to harmonize their practices. This led to the creation of heterogeneous cohorts with missing data or discrepancies on files structures, common variable nominations, data column formats, etc…

This is why with this experience in mind, whenever possible we now try to take an upstream approach, and participate to the protocol designs so to understand or propose the proper structure for the different data to collect and define the proper information to put in the Data Transfer Agreement.

Although, this is a rather current practice in the industry, where the different services are integrated, there is still some room for improvement in academic structures, but this is definitely something on which we are making progress!

The faces behind the CARE work-packages – Craig Fenwick, WP4 academic Lead

CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe) is the largest European research initiative addressing the challenges of COVID-19. It is no surprise that it is designed in a comprehensive, yet agile, structure to fulfill the 38 partners’ shared key goals: (1) to identify therapeutics for the current pandemic, (2) to identify antiviral therapies for future outbreaks and (3) to increase the understanding of the pathophysiology of COVID-19. In a set-up of eight work-packages (WPs), the scientists and management at CARE carry out the project activities that have so far resulted in valuable learnings about the COVID-19 and how it might be defeated 

Over the course of the project, we have seen some changes in the leadership of the eight work packages, and will once again go behind the scenes through brief interviews with our newest work package leaders to hear insights on what makes their work so special, as well as their challenges and hopes.

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WP4 – Generation and characterization of monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and related coronaviruses 

The CARE work-package 4 (WP4) focuses on the generation and characterization of monoclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and related coronavirus. The EFPIA Lead of WP4, Craig Fenwick (Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois) shares his views on the work in WP4 of the CARE project.

What makes the work for CARE special for you and your WP team? 

 The interdisciplinary team of highly talented members makes it a pleasure to work with partners in industry and academia to combat this ever-evolving and important infectious disease that brought the world to a standstill. Although the most dangerous phase of the pandemic has passed for most, the WP4 team members are highly motivated and committed to developing new broadly active antibodies and therapeutic strategies that could benefit the elderly and those in our population with immunodeficiencies who are unable to mount a protective immune response following vaccination. These at-risk individuals may have primary hereditary immunodeficiencies or secondary immunodeficiencies resulting from external factors that compromise the immune response, including the use of immunosuppressive medications by individuals including organ transplant recipients, infections by certain viruses, or specific cancer therapies. These antibodies may also serve as a preparedness therapeutic against a future coronavirus outbreak with pandemic potential.

 

What are or were the biggest challenges within WP4? (and how did you overcome them?)

 The greatest challenge that we and others have faced in the discovery of anti-COVID therapeutic antibodies has been the rapid evolution of the virus toward more infectious and immune response evading variants. Potent antibodies active against all circulating viruses at the time have been discovered by our groups on several occasions, only to have their neutralizing effect abolished by the next emerging variant. We are overcoming these challenges by identifying highly rare antibodies that bind to conserved regions of the virus that can’t easily mutate to evade neutralization without compromising the fitness of the virus, making it poorly transmissible from person to person.

   

What have you personally learned so far through the experience of working in CARE? 

 The urgency of the pandemic really galvanized the team into a highly collaborative and supportive network where we considered all the necessary milestones between basic research, discovery and preclinical profiling to move promising candidates forward quickly and as efficiently as possible. Many of the different team members contributed to minimizing the various bottlenecks in the research to have the best possible chance of success.

The faces behind the CARE work-packages – Richard Zwaal, WP1 EFPIA Lead

CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe) is the largest European research initiative addressing the challenges of COVID-19. It is no surprise that it is designed in a comprehensive, yet agile, structure to fulfill the 38 partners’ shared key goals: (1) to identify therapeutics for the current pandemic, (2) to identify antiviral therapies for future outbreaks and (3) to increase the understanding of the pathophysiology of COVID-19. In a set-up of eight work-packages (WPs), the scientists and management at CARE carry out the project activities that have so far resulted in valuable learnings about the COVID-19 and how it might be defeated 

Over the course of the project, we have seen some changes in the leadership of the eight work packages, and will once again go behind the scenes through brief interviews with our newest work package leaders to hear insights on what makes their work so special, as well as their challenges and hopes.

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WP1 – Anti-coronavirus drug discovery in phenotypic virus-cell-based assays 

The CARE work-package 1 (WP1) dedicates its efforts to identify small molecule therapeutic candidates against the current SARS-CoV-2 and potentially other variants of concern using the infectious virus. For this, the CARE scientists take a close look at how the virus can be inhibited in cell culture using drugs that could potentially qualify for repurposing, small molecule libraries and biologicals. The EFPIA Lead of WP1, Richard Zwaal (Johnson & Johnson) shares his views on the work in WP1 of the CARE project. 

Taking over the WP1 leadership, what accomplishments are you building on?  

Over the course of the project, our top-notch scientists have done an amazing job working tirelessly to identify and develop new anti-coronaviral molecules. Excitingly, these are hitting new targets, expanding our armaments against the current and future strains of coronavirus. The excellent interaction between WP1 and the other work packages has also proven critical to progressing the different chemical series that we are advancing. 

 

What will change with your new role as part of the WP1 leadership?  

As we are moving into the final chapter of the CARE consortium, it will be important to prioritize our remaining efforts on advancing the internally developed chemical series as far as possible along the discovery pipeline.. 

 

What have you personally learned so far through the experience of working in CARE?  

It is hard to believe that it has already been four years since the CARE project began. COVID-19 came out of nowhere and its rapid spread across the globe instigated a challenging and intense battle with many unexpected twists and turns. Unfortunately, we, and others, quickly found out that repurposing of existing drugs did not give us the golden bullet we needed, and we had to set out for de novo drug discovery programs. Now the public health emergency has been declared over, interest is slowly waning. Yet, COVID-19 is still very much around us (with 10,000 coronavirus deaths reported to WHO in December alone), so it is important to keep pushing forward, broadening our antiviral weaponry and preparing for patient populations that are still vulnerable for current SARS-CoV-2 infections.

 

What aspects will you be focusing on in your new role as co-lead of WP1?

The last year of a project always seems to fly by. We will be preparing for reaching the final milestones and deliverables, and will need to be thinking about extending our collaborations and partnerships beyond the current project.

 

With a new academic lead also in place for WP1, Johan Neyts, how will the two of you work together sharing the WP1 leadership?

Johan is a world-renowned authority in virology and I am really looking forward to working with him to achieve our project goals. I will do my best to ensure that we continue to build on the great work that has been done. I believe that with all the combined expertise in WP1, we can still make significant progress in this field.

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CARE Partner perspectives – Cyril Dousson

22 February 2024
CARE Partner perspectives - Cyril Dousson The Covid-19 pandemic is over so what is the value of CARE? Principal investigators comment on CARE's importance for future pandemic preparedness. Today, see the response from Cyril Dousson, CEO of Ai-biopharma.