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Leuven-based VirusBank Platform enhances society's preparedness against future viral epidemics and pandemics

25 October 2023

Today, the VirusBank Platform at KU Leuven was opened. The main objective of this platform is to enhance society's preparedness against viruses with epidemic or pandemic potential. The VirusBank Platform will also strengthen Belgium's role in these efforts at both the European and international levels.

The federal coalition agreement of 30 September 2020 outlined the establishment of a virus bank to prevent future pandemics by "preserving previously identified virus strains, which can be subjected to further research and used to accelerate the development of biopharmaceutical solutions".

Johan Neyts, Professor of Virology at the Rega Institute, and Dr Patrick Chaltin, Managing Director of the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) and CISTIM Leuven, have put forward a proposal to establish a virus bank platform built on KU Leuven's existing expertise and state-of-the-art infrastructure. On 9 December 2022, the Council of Ministers granted a subsidy of €20 million to develop the VirusBank Platform, as proposed by Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. The purpose of this platform is to enhance society's preparedness against viruses with epidemic or pandemic potential. Additionally, it seeks to strengthen Belgium's role in these efforts at both the European and international levels.

"The COVID crisis has taught us that we need to be better prepared for possible future epidemics and pandemics. In Belgium, we already have a head start in research into - and strategies against - the spread of viruses. We are now strengthening that role by investing in this unique state-of-the-art infrastructure. The VirusBank will develop a wide range of models and methods to accelerate research into (bio)pharmaceutical interventions (vaccines, antibodies and small molecule antivirals) against existing and even currently unknown viruses." - Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.

"The VirusBank Platform aims to support the Belgian government's mission while also responding to the WHO's call," says Professor Johan Neyts. "For each of the virus families that have the potential to cause epidemics, panels will be established with known viruses that are representative of the entire family. A wide range of test and model systems will be developed for each of these viruses. This includes establishing relevant cell and tissue cultures in which the respective viruses grow most efficiently, developing so-called reporter viruses and setting up efficient assays to evaluate the inhibitory activity of antibodies and molecules against these viruses", says Professor Johan Neyts

The day-to-day management of the VirusBank Platform is in the hands of Dr Dirk Roymans, an R&D expert in infectious diseases. The platform will bring a diverse array of expertise and models together under one umbrella to accelerate the research and development of vaccines, antibodies and antiviral agents against both known and unknown viruses. The expertise developed at the VirusBank Platform will also be available to other parties; the platform welcomes different types of partnerships in the fight against viral infections.

The VirusBank Platform has established strong connections and partnerships with various national and international organisations and universities. These include leading international research groups and most Belgian universities, Sciensano, BCCM (Belgian Coordinated Collections of Microorganisms), Vaccinopolis of the University of Antwerp, the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, EVAg (European Virus Archive), ERINHA (European Research Infrastructure on Highly Pathogenic Agents) and GVN (Global Virus Network).

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