Collaboration among three Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies enabled rapid sharing of viral materials to accelerate the scientific and medical responses to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In early 2020, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was identified as a novel virus and tracked around the world. As this happened, it became apparent that scientists knew little about the basic biology of SARS-CoV-2 or how to treat the resulting infectious disease now known as COVID-19.
Rapid sharing of SARS-CoV-2 materials, especially virus strains, thus became essential to improving scientists’ general understanding of the virus and supporting the development of effective diagnostic techniques, treatments and vaccines. Academic centers, U.S. government agencies, private companies and the public health community requested specimens from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to support SARS-CoV-2 research and development of medical countermeasures.
Fortunately, the HHS agencies had developed a strategy for sharing viral and biological samples during the Zika virus epidemic in 2016. Since then, the NIAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the HHS Office of Global Affairs have worked out an even more efficient and collaborative approach for sharing critical viral materials.
Central to this effort, two mechanisms developed during the Zika outbreak were adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, the interagency partners developed a streamlined Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) for use in emergency situations.
Fortunately, the HHS agencies had developed a strategy for sharing viral and biological samples during the Zika virus epidemic in 2016.
This Emergency Use Simple Letter Agreement (EUSLA) allows the materials to be used for any legitimate purpose required to rapidly prevent, detect, prepare for and respond to the spread or transmission of SARS-CoV-2, including commercial development. Second, the team used a NIAID-supported biorepository to receive, grow, validate and distribute viral materials.
The CDC reached out to its extensive global network of partner laboratories and sentinel surveillance sites to access SARS-CoV-2 samples in early February 2020. Similarly, NIAID scientists were able to access samples from around the world by communicating through the agency’s grantee and contractor network.
The volume of transfers documented, and the diverse nature of the recipients, attests to the success of this strategy:
Click on any images below to view larger versions and photo captions.