United to Fight the Coronavirus Epidemic
An exceptionally serious global health crisis
The COVID-19 epidemic caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which recently appeared in China, is spreading rapidly around the world (as reported by the National Health Authorities and the World Health Organization), with currently expanding epicenters in Europe and the USA. It threatens first of all the lives of the most vulnerable people because of their degraded state of health, their advanced age or their disadvantaged social status. It is overwhelming health systems in countries with the best infrastructures and is spreading to more exposed countries because they are less equipped. It is the cause of a rapidly growing number of deaths and very serious disruptions of the world economy.
Obstacles to be overcome for an effective mobilization
A speed race is underway to limit the spread of the virus through hygiene, prevention, containment and social distancing measures implemented by the public authorities, and to accelerate the development of reliable diagnoses, treatments and vaccines accessible to all the populations concerned through cooperation between doctors, researchers and industries. The battle against the COVID-19 epidemic will be won only through an immediate mobilization of all the research resources, analysis tools and knowledge of the coronaviruses responsible for previous epidemics, in order to understand SARS-CoV-2 as quickly as possible, and thwart its expansion. Responsiveness and flexibility are essential to resolve the current health crisis in full compliance with good scientific and ethical practices.
Systems Medicine and Advanced Intelligence to win the battle
EISBM has developed over the past decade an international collaborative network of “Systems Medicine” centers that made significant advances in the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of the main chronic and infectious diseases. These advances are based on the adoption of a transdisciplinary systemic approach combining the concepts, tools and methods of biology, physiology, medicine with those of physics, computer science, mathematics and engineering, informed by the humanities and social sciences (Auffray et al. 2009; Cesario et al. 2014; Auffray et al. 2016; Auffray et al. 2019).
EISBM is at the origin, in collaboration since 2011 with the Luxembourg Center for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), joined in 2017 by the Institut Curie in Paris, of the “Disease Map Community” (DMC) which is actively developing advanced computational tools for the representation and the modeling of the massive knowledge acquired in an exponential way on the complex biological systems at all the levels of organization which are relevant to understand their normal or pathological functioning, and to facilitate the development of diagnoses and treatments.
These “Disease Maps” are representations of big data of biological, clinical, genomic, environmental or lifestyle-related knowledge, expressed in a computer language that is intelligible for biologists and clinicians but also for engineers and computer scientists. It can thus be used for analysis or modeling by the most powerful computing tools such as those created by CERN. The potential of this “Advanced Intelligence” approach combining human intelligence with the performance of computers has been demonstrated by the LCSB work on Parkinson’s disease (Fujita et al. 2013 –DOI:10.1007/s12035-013-8489-4), by the Institut Curie on cancer (Kuperstein and al. 2015 – DOI : 10.1038/oncsis.2015.19), and the EISBM on asthma (Mazein et al. 2018a). Maps are being built for many diseases by partners of the DMC, which is developing a common strategy and a shared set of open tools (Mazein et al. 2018b; Ostaszewski et al. 2019). It is therefore in an ideal position to contribute to the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic by bringing its expertise to public and private actors in order to take the best advantage of the biological and clinical data that will be acquired during the current health crisis.
Development of a “COVID-19 Disease Map Community”
EISBM is engaged with the LCSB in the development of a “COVID-19 Disease Map Community” (https://disease-maps.org), relying on the international network of DMC partners associating hospitals and clinical research centers, which are at the forefront in the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 epidemic or which contribute to understanding the mechanism of interaction of SARS-CoV-2 with human cells and its detection. For example, the team of Giuseppe Ippolito at the Spallanzani Institute in Rome, which coordinates the Italian network of infectious diseases in the country that is currently most affected by the epidemic, and the team of Sylvie van der Werf and Yves Jacob at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, which contributed to the knowledge of SARS-CoV-1 responsible for the 2003 epidemic, indicated their willingness to participate in this effort. The activities of this COVID-19 Disease Map Community, which is growing every day (currently more than 120 researchers and clinicians from 30 countries around the world will be coordinated in compliance with good scientific and ethical practices, with the goal to provide reliable data validated by independent specialists for understanding of the virus-host interactions and support the development of drugs and vaccines to prevent and treat COVID-19.