WHO launches global research forum against novel coronavirus pneumonia

A global research and innovation forum was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva on Tuesday to mobilize international action in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Co-hosted by the WHO and the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness and funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the forum, which kicked off at 09:00 Geneva time (0800 GMT) on Tuesday, is expected to conclude at the end of Wednesday.

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The forum gathers roughly 400 participants, both live and online, including leading scientists from virus-related disciplines around the world, representatives of countries with confirmed novel coronavirus cases and those of public health agencies, ethics experts with related expertise, and representatives of major research donors.

According to the WHO, the forum is to identify the uncharted waters of the virus, prioritize research options and coordinate global efforts to avoid duplication of research, and speed up vaccine and medicine development.

A roadmap for the scientific research against the virus is expected to be released following the forum.

The WHO has said that the forum will focus on nine aspects: patterns of the novel coronavirus, the animal and environment from which the virus originated, an epidemiological investigation on the spread of the virus, clinical treatment, nosocomial infection control, medicine development, candidate vaccines, research ethics, and social science and public health measures in outbreak response.

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Chinese representatives from the National Health Commission and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention participated in the forum online, and discussed with other experts on the current situation of China’s epidemic situation and countermeasures.

“Not only on epidemiology of the disease, but also on some of their research that’s already been done in China. So that is very, very useful to have it right at the beginning to know about what’s happening. Even when you look at the WHO clinical trial platform, we can see already that 84 clinical studies are registered there, all led by Chinese scientists. But there’re many other researchers’ studies going on. There’re wonderful infrastructure and capacity in China to do these. So we need to learn from them,” said Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO chief scientist.

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Experts say that one of the hot topics is how to establish an effective data and sample sharing mechanism, which the WHO has kept calling for and pushing forward, as surveillance, research and development of effective vaccines and therapeutic drugs are only possible with a strain.

Meanwhile, the WHO said it may also need to coordinate how a strain sharer can participate and share the benefits of future research. So far, China, Japan and Italy have all successfully isolated virus strains from the outbreak and said they would like to share them.

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