History: From SARS-CoV-1 to SARS-CoV-2. From PENCE to ICAV.

The SARS epidemic of 2003 shocked the world and demonstrated the potential threat that emerging viruses pose to the social and economic fabric of our planet. It also alerted scientists and policy makers alike that we are woefully unprepared for a major viral pandemic. The arrival 17 years later of SARS-CoV-2 has revealed that the global public health system is still not able to cope. The weapons in our public health armory remain similar to those available during the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918.

In an effort to address this “anti-viral gap”, a group of Canadian scientists involved in the Protein Engineering Network Centre of Excellence (PENCE), came together in June 2004 to see how they could help address this potentially devastating hole in global public health preparedness ICAV arose out of the desire for scientists to address the lack of effective, accessible, therapies against viral diseases.

The underlying strategy was to create an international network based on the same principles that made Canada’s Network Centres of Excellence (NCEs) such a resounding success. The NCEs are long-distance networks that leverage expertise from across the country in an effort to produce socially and economically relevant innovation. ICAV’s first meeting, in Toronto in 2004, attracted over 100 scientists. ICAV has now held a total of twelve international Symposia (Canada 2004, France and Canada, 2005; Germany and Australia, 2006; Nigeria, 2007; Canada and China, 2008; France, 2009; Germany, 2010, India 2012, Canada, 2014).

Over the years ICAV’s scientific network has grown to over 500 scientists from 36 countries on 5 continents. These scientists, united by a desire to bridge the anti-viral gap through innovation and research, are all leaders in their respective fields.

In 2006, a not-for-profit drug development organization was incorporated to develop promising candidates arising from the ongoing scientific symposia. ICAV has put together a management team of pharmaceutical and drug development professionals to manage ICAV’s growing pipeline. A Technical Review Committee of independent industry experts was established to evaluate and design development pathways for promising ICAV drug candidates.

Developing drugs demands considerable resources and, so far, ICAV has been unable to assemble the funds necessary to advance all the opportunities that have been identified. ICAV is continually seeking funds from governments and foundations to rectify this situation. Meanwhile, ICAV is harnessing the power of its global network to advance a select group of opportunities to clinical trials

In response to COVID-19, the largest challenge to global health since 1918, ICAV is behind two experimental treatments that will be going into clinical trials in Canada (See “COVID-19”)

Viral diseases disproportionately affect poorer countries. It is thus essential that novel therapies be designed with the developing world in mind and be made accessible to those who are the most in need. ICAV’s mission is to ensure the availability of ICAV-developed therapies in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and is in dialogue with its partners to ensure that they will agree to supply LMICs at cost.