Across The Pond – COVID-19 Impacts

The United Kingdom (UK) has just entered week nine of social distancing stay at home regulations unless, that is, you are a key worker, carrying out an essential shopping or medical journey, or leaving your home for exercise. The public is, in the main, under-standing, and compliant to ensure the slowdown of COVID-19’s spread.

While UK and European industry events such as AFSTAL, AST2020, and ScandLAS have been postponed or canceled, and the order is to work from home as possible, laboratory animal technologists continue to carry out essential care, welfare, and research tasks within animal facilities.

Impacts on Technicians

An academic facility manager, who wished to remain anonymous, shared thoughts on the pandemic’s impact.

“Many facilities are completing current studies and not starting any new ones for the time being, with many colonies and research activities just ticking over at a minimal level,” she said.

She noted that many technicians are struggling. Euthanasia
is hard and mental health awareness is important for technicians even in a normal environment. When something like this happens, the emotional stress is at a maximum and the technicians question everything they do on a daily basis.

“Campus can seem like a very lonely place. As a manager, I worry about my staff during this time and the lasting effect this will have on emotional wellbeing across the industry. While animal research is always essential, we need to support our staff now more than ever,” she added.

UK and EU Research Efforts

In late March, the UK government announced that six coronavi- rus research projects would benefit from a share of a £20 million government investment. Two of the six research trials will receive funding for pre-clinical and clinical vaccine trials as well as fund- ing to manufacture successful vaccines on a million-dose scale. Mice once again may be heroes with a number of animal trials set to go ahead. Professor Jonathan Heeney in the Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics at the University of Cambridge has already spoken of

a vaccine candidate that has the possibility to be ready for human trials as early as June thanks to the current DIOSynVax approach; a spin-out company of which he is CEO.

Imperial College London have also secured funding to move towards human trials after animal studies showed that their vaccine is able to produce antibodies that are effective against the virus. Researchers at Oxford University have also had promising results in their COVID-19 vaccine animal research.

A sense of collaboration has also proven effective as Cam- bridge University, GSK, and AstraZeneca have joined forces as part of the UK Government’s plan to boost testing. There will be a new testing laboratory set up specifically for this at the state-of- the-art Anne McLaren Building based on Cambridge University’s campus. Together they will provide high throughput screening for COVID-19 testing and to explore the use of alternative chemical reagents for test as well as providing process optimization support to the UK national testing centers.

Elsewhere in Europe, a collaboration between Utrecht Univer- sity, Erasmus MC, and Harbor BioMed has developed a human antibody that can inhibit the new SARS-CoV-2 – a promising step with plenty of potential.

Unprecedented Times

But it’s not just the researchers on the front line to whom we owe our gratitude at this unprecedented time, but also all the facility staff that come in for “business as usual” to continue their vital work and care for the animals that are so important.

Datesand CEO, Jonathon Wood, discussed the situation, some of the challenges faced and some positives that have come out of it. He believes that planning has been essential.

“We introduced policies for staff to keep two meters apart on site, to wash hands at least every hour and provided anti-bacterial gels and wipes to keep the surrounding as clean as possible. We sent questionnaires to identify staff, or family members of staff, who may be at risk and to ensure that all risks are minimized where possible,” Wood said.

Essential staff were identified, and all other staff could work from home with the provision of additional hardware such as lap- tops and phones to keep communication as fluid as possible. All of this was in place 2 days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the UK lockdown.

Support for Frontline Workers

In the UK, there is now a minute’s applause for our NHS and care workers every Thursday, where everyone stands on their doorsteps, balconies, at windows, or in gardens at 8 p.m. and claps. The na- tional response is incredible and the sound of people clapping can be heard across towns and cities nationwide. While standing with my family in our porch, I have been moved by the response but I’ve also reflected on our other COVID heroes – the grocery store workers, the prison officers, the delivery men and women, the sanitation workers, and of course research animal staff.

With a strong global response, we can hopefully slow and eventually stop the spread of this killer disease and with the con- tinued dedicated work of our animal research staff, find a vaccine in record time.

As we prepare for a long period of social distancing and undoubtedly a new normal on the other side, we thank all the laboratory animal workers globally for their service. Stay home, stay safe, and this too shall pass.

Nicky Windows is the Global Commercial Manager at Datesand in Manchester, United Kingdom

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