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More corona research in Austria—the FWF funds four further research teams in Graz, Innsbruck, and Vienna

MedUni Vienna-project "Alternative viral receptors enabling SARS-CoV-2 infection".
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v.li.: FWF-Präsident Klement Tockner, Anna Ohradanova-Repic, Hannes Stockinger (beide MedUni Wien).

(Vienna, 27-10-2020) Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the FWF has been using a fast-track procedure to review and approve corona-related basic research in Austria. More than 100 researchers have submitted proposals so far, and twelve projects have been launched to the tune of €4.1 million in funding. Learn more about the recently approved research teams from Graz, Innsbruck, and the MedUni Vienna.

Effective therapeutic approaches for COVID-19, a better understanding of zoonotic transmission, a toolbox for the faster production of medications, and studies to examine the lifecycle of the virus: the Austrian Science Fund FWF is funding four additional research teams and their corona research projects, which the reviewers found to be excellent. The goal is to use the possibilities of basic research to fill knowledge gaps in the research on the coronavirus and its wider social impact.

“Top-quality basic research is the foundation for dealing with the pandemic and its consequences. The newly funded projects bring us one step closer and will provide us with answers that will contribute to overcoming the crisis and its consequences,“ explained Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann, in reference to the new funding approvals by the Austrian Science Fund FWF.

“More and more teams in Austria are conducting world-class research and providing valuable fundamental knowledge for overcoming the pandemic. It is especially important now to place a stronger focus on outstanding researchers so they can use their knowledge and expertise to make a sustainable contribution to surmounting the crisis,” said FWF President Klement Tockner, speaking about the new funding approvals of the corona research teams. And he added, “The four new research projects will fill other knowledge gaps and provide new insights into the COVID-19 research.”

An overview of the four new corona research projects

Stopping ACE inhibitor therapy for COVID-19
Axel Bauer, University Hospital for Internal Medicine III, Medical University of Innsbruck
€395,000 in funding

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to the world’s healthcare systems. A high percentage of patients with serious symptoms suffer from pre-existing conditions such as arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and heart failure. These are often treated with ACE inhibitors (ACEI) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). A potentially dangerous side effect of these medications is that they could make it easier for the virus to enter the body. As part of this international multicentre randomised study, tests are being conducted to determine if stopping or substituting the use of chronic ACEI/ARB therapy would improve the outcome of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Alternative viral receptors enabling SARS-CoV-2 infection
Anna Ohradanova-Repic, Centre for Pathophysiology, Infectiology and Immunology, Medical University of Vienna
€380,000 Euro in funding

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus, there are many aspects of its transmission and infection that are unknown. There is an urgent need for a better understanding of the factors that enable transmission from animals to humans (“zoonosis”). In their project, immunologists Anna Ohradanova-Repic and Hannes Stockinger examine the mechanisms of viral transmission. Their findings will contribute to making it easier in future to identify which animals, as the “host”, are causing zoonotic diseases. In addition, the project will provide an insight into the interaction between SARS-CoV-2 and the body’s immune cells and aims to develop potential instruments for direct therapeutic interventions.

Flexible flow synthesis of critical chiral medication
Sándor Balázs Ötvös, Institute of Chemistry, University of Graz
€400,000 in funding
The corona pandemic has shown how important it is for the healthcare industry to become more crisis-proof and start producing “critical” medications again in Europe. The objective of this urgent funding project is to create a toolbox of methods—based on continuous flow chemistry—which can speed up the production of COVID-19 medications and be flexible enough that they can be used for various future epidemics. The target substances will be made of easily available starting materials using continuous flow synthesis.

A SARS-CoV-2 human protein interaction map
Ulrich Stelzl, Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Graz
€130,000 in funding

Until a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is generally available, basic research that provides a detailed understanding of how interventions can be made in the lifecycle of SARS-CoV-2 is one of the best options for combating COVID-19 on the molecular biological level. A map of the interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and human proteins provides information for identifying human molecules which are crucial for the lifecycle of the virus. This map can, for instance, lead directly to the repurposing of a drug. This urgent funding project will enable Austria to contribute data towards building a comprehensive, high-quality binary human-virus interaction network. This interaction map will be created within an internationally coordinated collaboration using complementary approaches to interaction mapping. This cooperative approach in which the research work of several laboratories is coordinated, integrated, and overall analysed is essential to achieving competitive results quickly.

FWF urgent funding: accelerated procedure without compromising quality
Four projects were approved for urgent funding at the last FWF Board meeting at the end of September. A total of more than 100 proposals to the tune of around €30 million have been received since the beginning of this fast-track FWF programme, which provides an expedited decision-making process for research proposals dealing with the prevention, early detection, containment, and research of SARS-CoV-2. Decisions have already been taken on more than half of the proposals, with an average processing time of two months, and twelve projects totalling more than €4 million have already been approved. This urgent funding programme will continue to run until the end of March 2021.

Austrian Science Fund FWF
The FWF is Austria’s central funding organisation for basic research as well as arts-based research. Applying international quality benchmarks, the FWF provides funding for outstanding research projects and excellent researchers who work to generate, broaden, and deepen scientific knowledge.