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Government funds 20 coronavirus projects

Image: Anton Balazh, via Shutterstock

France picks best from group of 33, but vaccines fail to make the cut

With the coronavirus crisis deepening across the world, the French government has announced funding for 20 research projects intended to better understand and treat the illness.

The plan includes using information gathered from French cases to understand the “natural history” of the disease, as well as immune system responses to it. Among the funded projects, three are in epidemiology, six in diagnostics, clinical and therapeutic measures, four in human and social sciences and seven in fundamental research.

“We have released €8 million for new research into the coronavirus,” said Frédérique Vidal, minister for higher education and research. Vidal also said that a further €4.6 million was being provided by the EU.

The 20 projects were chosen from 33 applications, under the aegis of Aviesan, the National Alliance for Life Sciences and Health, and REACTing, the Research and Action project of national health research institute Inserm.

Therapeutic projects include the testing of existing drugs to discover if they have any effect on coronavirus. A total of 3,200 individuals will take part in this clinical trial, to be overseen by Inserm.

One diagnostic project hopes to develop tests using body fluids that will make it possible to know more quickly who has been infected, including those who display no symptoms.

Three fundamental research projects will seek to develop understanding of the virus’s replication. One of these groups will focus on the issue of animal reservoirs, with another study will assess the risks of virus transmission in the Mekong Delta region of south east Asia. The third will look into using artificial intelligence in the battle against viruses.

Humanity projects funded from the pot will look at the usefulness of actions by the public and governments, including behaviour under confinement in Wuhan, China, and communication strategies.

Notably absent are any projects to develop a vaccine. Jean-François Delfraissy, an immunologist and member of the decision-making committee that selected the projects, said that vaccines “did not yet seem realistic to us”.

France’s Pasteur Institute, a private non-profit foundation, is known to be working on a vaccine, but results are not expected this year.

French researchers are also collaborating across borders through the Recover (Rapid European Covid-19 Emergency Response) project. This research project, funded by the European Commission, involves ten international partners and includes several components such epidemiological studies, clinical studies and social science.

France has joined other international projects, including Fight-nCoV, a broad spectrum antiviral trial, and I-MOVE-COVID-19, a multidisciplinary European project.

“By implementing these ambitious, quality research projects that meet the priorities identified to deal with the epidemic, the community is doing everything to meet the challenges posed by the spread of coronavirus,” said Inserm in a statement.