News Release 

Penn establishes center to accelerate coronavirus research

The Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens aims to advance research efforts and support development of new therapies, vaccines

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

PHILADELPHIA -- The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has established a new center to help expand and accelerate research related the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the respiratory illness known as COVID-19. The Center of Research for 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.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $7.8 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $425 million awarded in the 2018 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center--which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report--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 Home Care and Hospice Services, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 40,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2018, Penn Medicine provided more than $525 million to benefit our community.

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