PHILADELPHIA — The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has established a new center to help expand and accelerate research related to the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the respiratory illness known as COVID-19. The Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens aims to advance research to better understand the pathology of the coronavirus and, ultimately, support the development of potential vaccines, diagnostic tools, and effective therapies.
Susan Weiss, PhD, a professor of Microbiology at Penn and a world-renowned leader in coronavirus research, and Frederic Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology, will serve as co-directors of the Center.
“There’s an urgent need to gain a greater understanding of the basic biology of SARS-CoV-2 and to advance research efforts that can help inform our diagnostic and therapeutic approaches,” said Weiss, whose lab has researched coronaviruses for the last four decades. “Our goal in establishing this Center is to coordinate the efforts among our large, multidisciplinary group—comprised of investigators and clinicians—to help expedite the discovery of safe and effective therapies and potential vaccines.”
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, is part of a family of viruses known as coronaviruses. Seven strains of coronaviruses—including this novel virus—are known to infect humans. Two of the strains cause common colds, two others cause more serious disease, including pneumonia and bronchiolitis, while the others are known to cause potentially life-threatening respiratory illnesses: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Cases of COVID-19, which was first reported in China in early December 2019 and has since spread worldwide, can cause mild to severe illness, and even death.
Under Weiss’s direction, Penn has long been a leader in research on coronaviruses. Currently, there are a number of ongoing research efforts, including:
- Screening of a variety of potential therapies for activity against SARS-CoV-2.
- Developing Rapid Diagnostic Tests: Research is underway to develop cutting-edge, rapid diagnostic tests that are designed to be used at home, in the clinic, and at points of entry to healthcare facilities.
- Investigation of host innate immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 and how it differs from other human coronaviruses
- Developing advanced vaccines: multiple strategies are under development across the Penn campus and Wistar Institute.
- Investigating SARS-CoV-2 and the Lung Microbiome: Teams are collecting samples to analyze the effects of the novel coronavirus infection on the lung microbiome. The findings will help guide physicians in their efforts to treat patients.
“We’ve seen a rapid mobilization of research efforts—both here at Penn and in the scientific community nationwide—to address the novel coronavirus outbreak,” Bushman said. “Through this Center, we hope to scale up existing research efforts and launch targeted new projects to help develop safe and effective ways to diagnose, treat and even prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections.”
Researchers from Penn Medicine, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and The Wistar Institute will serve on the Center’s Internal Advisory Board. For more information, visit the Center’s website.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.
The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.