The Japanese government has decided to establish bases next year to oversee research on important viruses, according to sources.
Under the plan, viruses would be consolidated for research purposes at designated institutes. This would facilitate a quick response when necessary, such as developing a vaccine for an emerging infectious disease like the novel coronavirus.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has asked for about ¥300 million to equip the bases in its budgetary request for fiscal 2021. This would be the first time for a network of research bases to be created to collect, store and supply viruses in an integrated manner.
These “virus resource bases” would seek virus samples from research institutes that possess new coronaviruses, as well as influenza, measles, dengue and other typical viruses, and gather them at the bases for storage.
The goal is to prevent the loss of viral resources needed for purposes like vaccine development, and to establish a smooth system for supplying research institutes, universities, pharmaceutical companies and other relevant parties.
Viruses need to be stored differently depending on their species or strain, and individual researchers often develop their own unique knowledge. Viruses are also sometimes thrown out when a researcher retires, which creates a barrier to later study.
The four locations being considered for the bases are leading Japanese research institutes for infectious disease: the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science, the Osaka University Research Institute for Microbial Diseases, the Hokkaido University Research Center for Zoonosis Control, and the Nagasaki University Institute of Tropical Medicine.
One would be the core base that would serve as the point of contact for requests.
The plan also envisions that bases might close due to restrictions on movement due to the spread of a still unknown virus. The ministry plans to automate the equipment that stores viruses so it can be managed remotely.