One Year of CARE Against COVID-19 / Interview Part 3 /

On March 11, 2020 the novel coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic. To combat the virus, multiple approaches are needed including therapeutic options that help those who are infected and those who are not able to be vaccinated or do not develop a strong immune response. In addition, there is a need for therapeutic approaches that help preparing for future outbreaks. Less than a month later, on April 1, 2020 the CARE consortium was formed to collaborate under as a public-private partnership to address these challenges as Europe’s largest research initiative in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). 

In this three-part interview series, the members of the CARE Executive Committee reflect on the first of five years of CARE, answering questions like:  

  • How was the team able to set up a consortium of 37 partners in a record time? 
  • How can a project of this size make notable progress albeit not working together face-to-face?  
  • How can CARE help to develop relevant therapeutic options?  

Professor Yves Lévy as the academic coordinator, Marnix Van Loock as the EFPIA project leader and Kumar Singh Saikatendu as the project co-leader provided answers and insights below. 

 

Part 3 – FINDING SOLUTIONS: A two-pronged strategy to develop relevant assets 

 

CARE is a five-year project with the aspiration to discover and develop several new and effective medicines and follows a two-fold strategy: a shorter-term emergency response track through drug repurposing as well as on a longer-term track for the discovery of new therapeutic candidates to prepare for the current and future outbreaks. 

What does it mean for you to be in a project progressing these two tracks simultaneously and where do they stand? 

Marnix van Loock: Right from the start of the CARE consortium, our ambitions have been clear: to identify opportunities that support the imminent relief for COVID-19 patients during the current pandemic which has recently been complicated with the identification of the variants of concern; and to prepare for the future. Within CARE, we screened the compound libraries of our partners with the aim to find candidates for repurposing. Unfortunately, these efforts did not yield any clinical candidates. However, the antibody development is already showing promising results with highly potent SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies.  

Yves Lévy: It’s important to highlight that we treat both tracks with the same commitment as there are strong links between the emergency response and the long-term strategy. The findings in the fight against the current pandemic benefit the track for the future pandemic preparedness. 

The CARE project is navigating a changing landscape and accordingly the strategy includes finding solutions for coronavirus variants. How do the new coronavirus variants impact the work and strategic orientation of CARE? 

Yves Lévy: The CARE consortium follows a very reactive approach and includes the variants of concern in its research, for example by testing the SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies against these variants. 

Marnix van Loock: The evolving SARS-CoV-2 landscape is indeed very high on the agenda of the CARE partners. We proactively incorporate this aspect into the project’s strategy to guarantee that the assets in development stay relevant. For this, we brought all leaders of the work packages together to discuss and outline the impact of the variants of concern and defined strategies accordingly. Actually, the emergence of the coronavirus variants increases the importance of CARE’s work! 

 

The CARE Executive Committee wishes to express its gratitude towards each member of the CARE consortium appreciating their enthusiasm, scientific passion, drive and willingness to collaborate that build the heart of CARE – a heart that is beating vividly due to everyone’s time and effort. 

 

– Sarah Soetbeer  

 

This is the last part of the three-part interview with the CARE Executive Committee. Please find the other parts here. 

One Year of CARE Against COVID-19 / Interview Part 2 /

On March 11, 2020 the novel coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic. To combat the virus, multiple approaches are needed including therapeutic options that help those who are infected and those who are not able to be vaccinated or do not develop a strong immune response. In addition, there is a need for therapeutic approaches that help preparing for future outbreaks. Less than a month later, on April 1, 2020 the CARE consortium was formed to collaborate under as a public-private partnership to address these challenges as Europe’s largest research initiative in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). 

In this three-part interview series, the members of the CARE Executive Committee reflect on the first of five years of CARE, answering questions like:  

  • How was the team able to set up a consortium of 37 partners in a record time? 
  • How can a project of this size make notable progress albeit not working together face-to-face?  
  • How can CARE help to develop relevant therapeutic options?  

Professor Yves Lévy as the academic coordinator, Marnix Van Loock as the EFPIA project leader and Kumar Singh Saikatendu as the project co-leader provided answers and insights below. 

 

Part 2 – WORKING TOGETHER: Professional collaborations becoming friendships 

CARE is an initiative uniting scientists from academia, research centers, SMEs, EFPIA members and IMI2 Associated Partners in the fight against the coronavirus. In other words, it brings together a multi-disciplinary team with deep scientific knowledge, technical expertise and a strong commitment to jointly develop solutions at a fast pace. Within this framework, the CARE Executive Committee ensures scientific co-ordination and collaboration across the consortium and overall coordination and management of the project. 

After one year of working together, how do you complement each other’s expertise in the Executive Committee? 

Marnix van LoockOur team combines different track records bringing relevant and complementary experience to the (virtual) table that cover the key aspects of our efforts. The respect and trust between us three, which was there from the start, enables us to have open, honest and thorough discussions on leading and coordinating CARE, combined with the opportunity to just pick up the phone and call each other whenever required. Also, we should not forget the critical role of the project management office colleagues supporting us in orchestrating and implementing all the efforts. 

Yves Lévy: Indeed, the trust and confidence between Marnix, Kumar and myself was there immediately and quickly led to a working environment with a very good spirit, and a smooth and flexible way of communicating. This professional collaboration is turning into a friendship! 

How do you enable and keep up the collaborative spirit across this large initiative of 37 partners while collaboration mostly takes place virtually? 

Kumar Singh Saikatendu: At an overarching level, I think there are two key enablers of any successful partnership. The first one is operational – where logistical issues such as questions around funding, compounds or material shipment are sorted out quickly. The second one is about the scientific part – where research hurdles such as assay throughput, library creation or compound progression are smoothened effectively. The IMI CARE consortium demonstrated that despite the large size and multi-party nature of our partnership, these two enablers were handled successfully in the first year and lay the foundation to deliver the much-needed medicines. 

Yves Lévy: And on a working level, there are from my point of view two main factors as well which enable this collaborative spirit. Firstly, we have created a meeting structure that enables a rapid exchange and alignment between the eight different CARE work packages. Secondly, Marnix, Kumar and myself as members of the Executive Committee are committed to offer a high degree of availability to our CARE partners and leaders of the work packages to provide advice and discuss any matters. 

Marnix van LoockAlthough everything is remote and done mostly from home, we recognize that we are in the same ‘lockdown’ situation and being there for each other is the cornerstone of this success. I agree with Yves, that alignment across the different work packages is key. Although we must admit, we look forward to the time when the circumstances will allow us to meet each other face to face and celebrate this story of trusting and close collaboration. 

What are your aspirations in collaborating with other IMI2 projects or third parties? 

Yves Lévy: The first year of CARE was all about the huge task of setting up and implementing this big project and enabling research progress to find solutions for COVID-19 patients as quickly as possible. At the same time 7 more IMI2 funded projects against different aspects of COVID-19 have been started. We are working to collaborate across these projects to foster the development of solutions to the pandemic even more. 

Marnix van Loock: We are keen on building synergies and ensuring the maximization of opportunities to accelerate the development of antiviral assets, like potentially implementing diagnostic tools that were developed by other projects into our clinical trials, which will enable optimized execution of our trials. 

Kumar Singh Saikatendu: And even beyond, CARE aspires to deliver effective medicines and to position them for clinical development. I hope as we deliver these clinical candidates, other global scientific organizations step up and participate as funders and by advancing these molecules into clinical development and beyond, for example through support in manufacturing, regulatory steps or clinical trial logistics.  

 

This is the second part of the three-part interview with the CARE Executive Committee. Please find the other parts here. 

One Year of CARE Against COVID-19 / Interview Part 1 /

On March 11, 2020 the novel coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic. To combat the virus, multiple approaches are needed including therapeutic options that help those who are infected and those who are not able to be vaccinated or do not develop a strong immune response. In addition, there is a need for therapeutic approaches that help preparing for future outbreaks. Less than a month later, on April 1, 2020 the CARE consortium was formed to collaborate under as a public-private partnership to address these challenges as Europe’s largest research initiative in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). 

In this three-part interview series, the members of the CARE Executive Committee reflect on the first of five years of CARE, answering questions like:  

  • How was the team able to set up a consortium of 37 partners in a record time? 
  • How can a project of this size make notable progress albeit not working together face-to-face?  
  • How can CARE help to develop relevant therapeutic options?  

Professor Yves Lévy as the academic coordinator, Marnix Van Loock as the EFPIA project leader and Kumar Singh Saikatendu as the project co-leader provided answers and insights below. 

 

Part 1 – REFLECTION & OUTLOOK: On track to make an impact 

In April 2021 it is one year since the CARE consortium was initiated and brought together 37 highly skilled partners from academia and industry to find solutions for the coronavirus pandemic. Looking back, there has been notable progress made including the development of mature anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and the complete screening of small molecule libraries of consortium partners. 

What are the keys for this progress in only one year? 

Yves Lévy: CARE indeed made significant progress in its first year. First and foremost, this has been made possible through the excellent work of the scientific teams, the effective collaboration between the partners and the complementary expertise of the public and private organizations. 

Marnix van Loock: We should also not forget that the speed at which the full consortium came together was truly incredible. It was important for us to ensure a rapid start of CARE in April 2020 integrating partners’ COVID-19 projects, some of which were already ongoing since February 2020. We agreed upon the consortium’s research focus in just three days and evaluated more than 400 external collaboration requests from academia, research centers, small medium enterprises, and EFPIA member companies, of which 37 became our beneficiaries. Clear objectives, strong expert engagement and commitment, a transparent mode of communication and collaboration were crucial to ensure a robust set-up and successful initiation of the CARE consortium.   

Kumar Singh Saikatendu: I agree with Marnix and Yves that the progress made by the team is truly commendable. I am confident that it is true when I say that combined with the knowledge created by scientists globally, we do know more about SARS-CoV-2 in one year than we did in 10 years of early HIV research. 

The one-year anniversary of CARE marks that it is more than a year ago now that COVID-19 was identified (in late 2019) and changed, among other things the norms in working together. Reflecting on this, what were the biggest surprises and learnings for you? 

Marnix van Loock: I’m very excited about the philanthropic attitude of all beneficiaries, resulting in openness, drive and dedication between the partners from industry and public sectors to create an impact on the current pandemic and towards future coronavirus outbreaks. 

Yves LévyAnd this attitude again entailed positive aspects. Here are two of the ones I noticed: the accelerated discovery process of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies and the smooth implementation of the partnership within CARE. 

Kumar Singh Saikatendu: The biggest and most pleasant surprise for me was the extra mile that everyone went to collaborate with an open mind and dedication towards the end goal, which is to quickly create a medicine. Especially the rapid emergence of partnerships between pharma, academia, clinicians and funders is a trendsetting paradigm that can and should be replicated long after this initiative is behind us. 

If we could fast-forward 12 months, what would you hope your reflections on this year will say? 

Marnix van Loock: That we are on track to make impact! The accelerated development of the antibodies combined with the identification of small molecule antiviral candidates are gearing up towards clinical development. In addition, CARE is currently setting up a Clinical Trial Platform to align and expedite clinical studies, taking into consideration quality assurance, fast-track processes, patient information and access as well as the establishment of connections and synergisms with other platforms.  

Survey on Data protection and eConsent during the COVID-19 pandemic

The team of task 8.3 Ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI) on broad spectrum anti-coronavirus therapeutics development is pleased to invite you to take part in an online survey to share your experience on key challenges related to compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and to obtaining informed consent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey targets: legal teams and data protection officers at research organisations, investigators/physicians, and ethics committees.

This academic study will be used to inform the CARE consortium in being compliant with the divergent applicable rules, and it is conducted in the context of research at KU Leuven (Belgium). In the survey, you will be asked if you want to participate in a follow-up interview that will explore in more depth the issues related to data protection.

Read more and participate to the survey

Mention of the CARE project in Le Monde newspaper

The CARE project and a few of its coordinator and principal investigators (Yves Lévy, Bruno Canard, Johan Neyts) have been mentioned in an article published on Nature.com on October 6th 2021. 

Read the article

One Year of CARE Against COVID-19

31 May 2021
One Year of CARE Against COVID-19 / Interview Part 3 / On March 11, 2020 the novel coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic. To combat the virus, multiple approaches are needed including therapeutic options that help those who are infected and those who are not able to be vaccinated or do not develop a strong immune response. In addition, [...]