Today we launch VERDI, a project that prioritizes women and children in the research on new coronavirus variants

The University of Padua and Penta Foundation are leaders of VERDI, a new European research consortium on coronavirus in children and pregnant women. The University of Antwerp will establish a network of the laboratories for diagnosis and variant characterisation.

Padova, Italy – 15 November 2021

Children and pregnant women have taken a back seat during the COVID-19 pandemic. With children most likely to be the last to be vaccinated and pregnant women often advised against the vaccine, they risk becoming a population at high risk of developing new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In fact, children have generally been developing the disease in a mild and asymptomatic form, and pregnant women rarely transmit the virus to the fetus. With the emergence of coronavirus variants, however, the potential impact of the infection on this population and its role in the transmission of the virus (e.g. in the family, at school and/or other life contexts) is unknown.

"The research on COVID-19 in children started very late, due to the false belief that children were not affected and not important for understanding the dynamics of the pandemic”, stated Carlo Giaquinto, Professor at the University of Padua and President of the Penta Foundation. "It is extremely important that we eventually recognize the key role that children and adolescents play in the epidemic and the natural history of childhood infection, with particular reference to the long-term consequences of the infection."

VERDI (SARS-CoV-2 variants Evaluation in pRegnancy and paeDIatrics cohorts), funded by the European Commission with a contribution of 10 million euros, devotes an international and collaborative effort to analyse the impact of new variants in these vulnerable populations.

The research group, made up of 22 centers of excellence in Europe, USA, South Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia, coordinated by the University of Padua and Penta Foundation (Italy), will study the mechanisms of development and diffusion of coronavirus variants as well as their impact on health. It will thus provide useful information for the control of this infection in the various geographical contexts and the improvement of vaccination strategies.

The consortium will share data on coronavirus variants from patient medical records, cohort studies, home transmission studies and screening programs, which will be analyzed in a harmonized manner across the research centers. The monitoring of this population remains a fundamental action to tackle the coronavirus and control the spread of variants, especially in a rapidly evolving epidemiological context due to the increase in vaccination activity as well as the variants.

“The University of Padua and its partners bring to the VERDI project an extraordinary ability to collect and analyse epidemiological data. VERDI Consortium will collaborate with other European research infrastructures (ORCHESTRA, RECOVER, RECODID and ECRAID) to ensure full circulation of research results and their immediate application to treatment and prevention strategies at global level” announced Prof. Carlo Giaquinto.

The laboratory of medical microbiology of the University of Antwerp will establish a network of the laboratories supporting each of the VERDI cohorts for diagnosis and variant characterisation. We will  support local capacity for variant detection wherever possible. The ability/capacity of cohort laboratories to enhance genetic testing for SARS CoV2 will be assessed early in the project to decide enhanced testing where appropriate. Protocols for sequencing and study designs, including novel sampling methods, will be shared with participant cohorts and their linked laboratories. Collaboration and synergy with other global initiatives will aim to avoid any duplications and strive towards harmonization and global standardization. Additionally, harmonization of sequencing protocols and methodologies for detection of novel SARS-CoV-2 variants will be sought via collaborations with RECOVER, ORCHESTRA, and VACCELERATE. Links will also be sought with similar initiatives by NIH and WHO.

“We are proud to participate in another EU funded project, VERDI, studying VoC in paediatric and pregnant populations. We are grateful to the EU for their continous support of COVID-19 research. We need more Europe than ever before.” stated Prof. Herman Goossens, chair of the Laboratory of Medical Microbiology at the University of Antwerp.

The results of this collaborative research will serve to find ourselves less unprepared for future health emergencies.