Building Early Warning Systems Against Pandemic Threats

NEW YORK – August 27, 2020 – Perhaps one of the greatest lessons from COVID is that we’re not nearly prepared enough to fight emerging infectious diseases. Pandemics leave in their wake loss of life, major economic devastation, mental health crises, and many other unprecedented societal disruptions. By targeting the critical inflection points where novel pathogens make the jump from animals to humans, we can avoid the catastrophe altogether.

EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, is proud to announce its latest program: The Emerging Infectious Diseases Southeast Asia Research Collaboration Hub (EID-SEARCH). This is one of a new group of Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID) supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the National Institutes of Health, with a grant of $7.5 million over 5 years.

"NIAID’s investment in centers to tackle emerging diseases internationally is a great step in the right direction to preventing the next COVID. As we’ve seen, an outbreak anywhere can easily become a pandemic everywhere. Focusing research on emerging disease hotspots around the world protects every one of us," EcoHealth Alliance president and EID-SEARCH Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Daszak said.

The high biodiversity and rapid rate of land-use change in Southeast Asia makes it a prime location for new and emerging diseases, but it also presents an opportunity to design solutions for stamping out viral threats at their source.

Collaborators on this project include Conservation Medicine and government partners in Malaysia, Chulalongkorn Hospital in Thailand, Duke - National University of Singapore, Uniformed Services University in the USA, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the USA.

"Duke-NUS brings the highest standards of research and laboratory capacity into a region that has seen a number of emerging disease outbreaks. Our work on EID-SEARCH will allow us to bring the latest molecular and serological techniques to identify and stop diseases before they have a chance to emerge," Lin-Fa Wang, Duke-NUS, Singapore, said.

"Thailand’s partnership in this Center will continue to build international collaboration with the USA on research capacity for emerging disease threats in Thailand and throughout southeast Asia," Dr. Supaporn Wacharapluesadee, King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital and Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, said.

"This research will advance our understanding of the ability of zoonotic viruses to spill over into high-risk human populations and cause illnesses that may have been previously unreported, or undiagnosed. The results will be scientifically important, and have great public health value in the region, and globally, by identifying key pandemic threats in an EID hotspot," Tom Hughes, Director Conservation Medicine, Malaysia, said.

"With this Center, we will gain a better understanding of what viruses are out there in reservoir species and whether or not they have the potential to spill over into humans. The goal is to be better prepared for the next emerging viral pandemic," Dr. Timothy Sheahan, University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health said.

EID-SEARCH will work in regions of SE Asia on the frontline of emerging diseases to identify risk of novel viruses spilling over from animals to people. Teams will conduct harm-free sampling of local wildlife species to determine what pathogens are circulating. They will work with communities to identify high risk behaviors, test people for evidence of viral infection and help identify ‘cryptic outbreaks’ caused by viruses that could become the next Disease X. It’s believed that often early warning signs of an outbreak are missed because the condition isn’t well understood and is either misdiagnosed or never identified.

EID-SEARCH is funded under NIAID grant #U01AI151797. The award is one of 11 grants made by NIAID to establish a network of Centers, including a Coordination Center around the globe where emerging and re-emerging infectious disease outbreaks are likely to occur. Multidisciplinary teams of investigators in the program will conduct pathogen/host surveillance, study pathogen transmission, pathogenesis, and immunologic responses in the host, and will develop reagents and diagnostic assays for improved detection for important emerging pathogens and their vectors. For more information, visit creid-network.org.

About EcoHealth Alliance:
Building on 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is the premier nonprofit organization committed to a One Health approach to track the migration of deadly viruses from animals into humans. EcoHealth Alliance research has led to major breakthroughs on the origins and spread of new and emerging diseases like Ebola, SARS, MERS, Nipah virus, and, now, SARS-CoV-2. EcoHealth Alliance works globally in hotspot regions where the threat of outbreaks is highest. Through innovations in research, training, capacity building, and policy initiatives, we develop tools and interventions to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.
Press contact: Robert Kessler, (212) 380-4469 or kessler@ecohealthalliance.org.

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