Leading medical virologists from around the world today signed up to join a new Global Virus Response Network – a first-of-its-kind international scientific alliance that aims to be a leading global authority on viral disease. Two days of organizational meetings at the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, culminated in a signing ceremony 3 March during which the roughly 38 scientists in attendance signed a Declaration of Participation and Support.
“No one has a network that covers all classes of viruses, that covers the world and can speak with such authority and speak independently,” says co-founder Robert C. Gallo, a virologist at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, best known for his co-discovery of the HIV virus in the 1980s. “Everyone here is really excited.”
Network members are really just getting the project off the ground, he says. This week’s meetings were a get-to-know-you opportunity for international researchers to present their expertise and discuss possible contributions to the network.
“We’re trying to catalog what we have in terms of expertise and then we’ll formulate a plan,” says co-founder William Hall of University College Dublin.
Scientists discussed strategies for tackling known and endemic diseases such as measles, influenza and polio as well as the need for a fast, coordinated approach to new viral threats. In case of an outbreak, the network would appoint expert members to study it, distribute necessary funds and get first responders on the scene. Though the network would operate independently of other agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, it intends to contribute to existing efforts.
“We’re not a new organization that’s going to push existing organizations out of the way, says Hall. “We want to work with them.”
The Global Virus Response Network is Gallo’s brainchild. After decades of ruminating on the need for a non-political, global virus network, and recent prodding from colleagues to get it going, he co-founded the organization. The network, he says, will have wider influence than any individual country’s agencies.
“You can speak with a far more powerful voice if it’s global,” says Gallo.
Another of the network’s goals is to attract younger researchers into medical virology, a field that Gallo says has been losing ground as other areas of the life sciences, such as genomics, have exploded.
“We have to build attractive [training] programs that are exciting to collaborators,” says Gallo. He adds that the network could also support leading virologists whose grants may be cut during tough economic times.
But before the initiative can meet any of its objectives, it needs funding. Members will return to their respective countries after this week’s meetings and begin fund raising efforts. They’ll seek donations from institutions, foundations, governments, and agencies.
“We would like to raise as much as 25 million [US dollars] per year,” says Reinhard Kurth of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. He says there have been some preliminary discussions with funding agencies, but no agreements have been formalized at this early stage.
When the network meets again in the fall of 2011, members say they expect to have a more developed organizational structure and a clearer picture of funding opportunities.
“This networking is an important beginning,” says microbiologist Peter Palese of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City who attended the meeting. “By having many groups working in different disciplines and different locations, this will be a helpful enterprise.”
Image Caption: Global Virus Response Network co-founders Reinhard Kurth (l), Robert C. Gallo (c), and William Hall (r).
Photo Credit: www.sardari.com