COVID-19: The Mérieux Foundation deploys diagnostic and research expertise on the ground


Last update on June 1st, 2020

The Mérieux Foundation is working to strengthen novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) detection and infection control capability among its networks. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread at varying rates and at different forces, the Foundation has mobilized its networks and partners to support low-income countries in responding to this global health crisis.

 The Foundation’s support focuses on strengthening diagnostic capacity by deploying kits to detect SARS-CoV-2, and assessing the risk of nosocomial transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in hospitals with the NOSO-COR study. The teams are also mobilized to redirect or develop the activities planned in existing projects in order to respond to the current health emergency.

Strengthening local SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic capacity

Identifying infected patients is vital to establishing security and quarantine measures and helping to limit the spread of the virus.

Strengthening local SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic capability

To support the laboratories, members of its networks, the Mérieux Foundation sends detection kits to requesting sites, together with SOPs and WHO recommendations on biosafety. Visioconference meetings are organized in order to provide remote support to the teams and answer their questions.

In order to ensure the capacity to provide a quantity of tests to meet the demand, two viral detection kits are made available. The first kit was developed by the German team of the Charité Laboratory (Team of Prof. C. Drosten, Charity Berlin) and validated by WHO.

Sars-Cov-2 detection kit – Charité laboratory, Germany

This test, validated by WHO, based on the sequences of SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses and SARS-related viruses, consists of two RT-PCR (Real Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) per sample: the first-line screening test detects betacoronavirus SARS-related Cov (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the confirmatory test specifically detects SARS-CoV-2.

The EVAg consortium (European Virus Archive, a European consortium funded by the H2020 programme) supports and provides the positive controls, proving that detection of the virus by this test is effective.

The kit developed Christophe Mérieux Laboratory in Beijing, founded jointly by the Mérieux Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS), and validated by the Chinese CDC is also shipped. The lab team developed a RT-PCR molecular test being used for all SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics in China.

The Mérieux Foundation will ship the tests to all requesting facilities in order to overcome equipment and technology shortcomings and support quick and effective diagnosis of novel coronavirus cases.

To date, the reagents developed by the German team have been sent to Mali, Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Togo, Myanmar, and two sites in Bangladesh. Shipment of kits developed by China is underway for Mali, Togo, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Burkina Faso and soon for Paraguay.

  • Bangladesh: BITID & ideSHi
  • Burkina Faso: National Center for Scientific Research
  • Cambodia: Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory
  • Haïti: GHESKIO Centers
  • Lebanon: Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory
  • Madagascar: Charles Mérieux Center for Infectious Disease
  • Mali: Charles Mérieux Center for Infectious Disease
  • Myanmar: National Health Laboratory
  • Paraguay: Instituto de invesigaciones en Ciencias de la Salud
  • Republic of the Congo: Research Center on Infectious Diseases- Christophe Mérieux
  • Senegal: National Health Laboratory
  • Tajikistan: National Public Health Reference Laboratory
  • Togo: Molecular Biology Laboratory, National Institute of Hygiene

Focus on the role the Mérieux Foundation network laboratories in the diagnosis of SARS-Cov-2:

  • Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory in Beirut, Lebanon

    At the request of the Lebanese Ministry of Health, the Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory within Saint Joseph University in Beirut is involved in the diagnosis of COVID-19 since early March, alongside the laboratory at Rafik Hariri University Hospital.

    In synergy with the Hotel Dieu de France and other Lebanese hospitals, it is actively involved in the response and fight against this pandemic, uniting the efforts of all health professionals: doctors, pharmacists, medical biologists, laboratory technicians, nurses, epidemiologists and researchers.

  • Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory in Rio Branco, Brazil

    This laboratory is the only one in the state of Acre to perform diagnostic tests for COVID-19. It began this activity on March 17, testing suspected cases from 3 municipalities. Today, it is performing tests for 20 municipalities in the state. After receiving kits from the Charité laboratory in Berlin, the Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory has had its stocks replenished by the Ministry of Health to ensure the continuity of the diagnostic activity.

    As of May 27, 2020, the Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory in Brazil had performed 11,844 tests, 5,251 of which were positive.

  • National Health Laboratory, Yangon, Myanmar

    The National Health Laboratory is the only laboratory in the country with the capacity to perform COVID-19 diagnosis to date. The first suspect samples were tested as early as February 20, and the first confirmed cases on March 23.

Launching a research protocol to limit nosocomial transmission

While diagnosing COVID-19 is an urgent priority, it is equally important to identify and reduce transmission risk in hospitals. Evidence has shown that SARS-CoV-2, like SARS-CoV-1 in 2003, is characterized by a particularly high rate of nosocomial infections. In response, the Mérieux Foundation in collaboration with Prof. Philippe Vanhems, epidemiologist at the Hospices Civils de Lyon, has developed a research protocol to assess nosocomial transmission risk for SARS-CoV-2: the NOSO-COR project.  This study is cofinanced by the Bill & Melinda gates Foundation.

This is a prospective, non-interventional – observational, hospital-based study to describe and document cases of COVID-19 nosocomial transmission in hospitals, and to describe infection prevention and control practices and policies in hospitals.

The NOSO-COR project has two features:

  • mapping available expertise in hospitals in order to identify what interventions are needed to limit nosocomial transmission;
  • carrying out an epidemiological study to gain a better understanding of transmission chains, risk factors and impact of hospital-based prevention and infection control measures, in order to identify key infection risk factors.

This study will be implemented in the following countries:

  • Africa: Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, in collaboration with Africa CDC and with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ;
  • Asia: Bangladesh ;
  • Americas: Brazil ;
  • Middle-East : Lebanon

The study as been registered on website under the identifier NCT04290780. The project has been approved by the ethics committee in France and is currently being submitted to the national ethics committees of the partner countries. It has already been approved by the ethics committees of Côte d’Ivoire, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Lebanon, Guinea and Mali, and the project started in May in Bangladesh, Liban, Mali and Madagascar.

The protocol has also been made available to eight teaching hospitals in France for subsequent results- and experience-sharing.

The Mérieux Foundation manages the implementation of the research protocol in the countries, particularly in the research laboratories that are members of the GABRIEL network, and the Hospices Civils de Lyon are responsible for the implementation in teaching hospitals. Professor Jianwey Wang, from the Christophe Mérieux Laboratory in Beijing, acts as scientific advisor.