Winners and Scholarship Holders of FNP Programs Fight Against COVID-19

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Scientists from all over the world are seeking ways to defeat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Polish researchers, many of whom are winners of FNP programs, have also undertaken the challenge.

Prof. Marcin Drąg, winner of the 2019 FNP prize, has studied the COVID-19 virus with his team since February 2020. As a result, they have identified an enzyme (protease) necessary for the coronavirus to multiply. Inhibiting the activity of this enzyme kills the virus. This discovery is highly significant for the development of a high-speed diagnostic test and, in the future, a coronavirus drug. Drąg?s team sought the protease inhibitor among drugs already approved for other diseases. The quick results of the search for viral protease were available thanks to the Hybrid Combinatorial Substrate Library technology platform. FNP awarded Drąg the Foundation for Polish Science Prize in the chemical and material sciences for the construction of this platform in 2019.

Scientists from the Jagiellonian University are also looking for effective methods to fight the coronavirus. Among them, there is Prof. Krzysztof Pyrć, head of the Laboratory of Virology at the Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology of the Jagiellonian University and winner of the START and POWROTY/HOMING programs financed by FNP. In the Krakow-based center, Pyrć is guiding research into how the infection occurs, what determines the pathogenicity of the coronavirus in the early stages of the infection, and how the virus replicates itself and enters organs. The Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education donated PLN 25 million to the Center of Biotechnology to support Pyrć?s virological research. The scientists want to use the results of their analyses to create a fast and effective coronavirus detection test for use outside of the laboratory.

To this end, the scientists have begun to cooperate with the company SensDx, founded by Dawid Nidzworski, Ph.D. Eng., winner of the START, IMPULS, and VENTURES programs by FNP. The company has already developed many effective, fast, and easy-to-use tests for detecting pathogens of specific diseases, including a test for influenza virus detection. Now, Nidzworski wants to use the knowledge and experience of his company to create an accurate, fast, and sensitive coronavirus test that would allow for a quick overview in places where full diagnostics are not possible, such as airports.

The winners of the TEAM program by FNP ? Prof. Jacek Jemielity from the University of Warsaw and Prof. Jakub Gołąb from the Medical University of Warsaw ? have already begun to work on a new type of RNA vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. Their research will be based on the unique technology of producing stable mRNA molecules, developed by Prof. Jemielity and his team.

Marcin Nowotny, Ph.D., from the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology and winner of the TEAM program by FNP, will also participate in the search for an effective COVID-19 drug. He was awarded a EUR 3 million Exscalate4CoV grant from the Horizon 2020 program and will conduct his research with 17 partners from top European institutions.

From Friday, March 20, the company Warsaw Genomics, founded by Prof. Krystian Jażdżewski (TEAM program winner) and Anna Wójcicka, Ph.D. (TEAM-TECH program winner), conducts molecular diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-19 in its laboratories. The Warsaw-based company has the technical capacity and expertise to analyze 1,000 samples per day with the RT_PCR METHOD, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Paweł Soluch, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist from the Medical University of Warsaw, scholarship holder of the FOCUS program by the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) and founder of the company Neuro Device, co-initiated the campaign #DawkaWsparcia (a dose of support). The project aims to provide psychological assistance to healthcare professionals, who are on the front line in the fight against the coronavirus. The campaign founders seek psychologists, therapists, and mental health coaches who can now offer their knowledge, experience, and time. They should be ready to create a support network for those in need and volunteer to talk to them in difficult moments.

Researchers from the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań are working on a test that will show whether an individual is immune to SARS-CoV-2 and can return to normal life. The high-speed immunological test will detect whether the subject was infected in the past, even if they showed no symptoms. The test will also determine whether they developed immunity against the coronavirus through contact with the pathogen. Dr. Krzysztof Sobczak (TEAM* POIG and POIR Program Winner) and his team from the AMU Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology play a crucial role in the development of this diagnostic tool.

A team of scientists and doctors from the Wroclaw Medical University, under the guidance of the Acting Rector Prof. Piotr Ponikowski, Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) Award Winner, launched nationwide clinical trials to investigate the effectiveness of chloroquine in preventing complications associated with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection, such as pneumonia. Chloroquine is an active ingredient in medication for malaria and rheumatic diseases. The team conducts the studies in several Polish research centers on a group of 400 patients, with funding from the Polish Medical Research Agency. Prof. Piotr Ponikowski is the winner of the COPERNICUS Polish-German Research Award, granted by the FNP and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Dr. Łukasz Rąbalski, from the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology of the University of Gdańsk and Medical University of Gdańsk, was the first to obtain the full genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus isolated directly from a Polish patient, which he published in the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Database (GISAID). This is the first Polish isolate, which is an important contribution to understanding the molecular evolution of the virus. Rąbalski is a laureate of the Impuls program and the Inter competition for the promotion of science. Both initiatives were part of the SKILLS project implemented by the FNP in 2010?2015, financed from the European Social Fund under the Human Capital Operational Program.

Winners of the first Polish-American Scientific Award granted by the FNP and the AAAS in 2014 ? Prof. Mariusz Jaskólski and Dr. Alexander Wlodawer ? with an international team of structural biologists checked all models of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus proteins and corrected those that contained errors. As a result, they created a publicly available database and Internet tool that can be helpful in developing drugs for COVID-19 as proteins are essential in the development process.

We keep our fingers crossed for the success of their research!