The FDA is Spending $250,000 Testing the Coronavirus on Ferrets

Ferrets will be used in U.S-funded research by U.K scientists on the novel coronavirus, documents reveal.

According the U.S. government's contract website, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) awarded a contract to Public Health England (PHE), a government agency in the U.K., to investigate COVID-19 on March 2, 2020.

The research piggybacks on an already existing project being carried out by PHE, which was funded by the FDA and is directed at the Ebola virus.

Since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency, the project has been modified to leverage capabilities outlined under the original contract, awarded in 2017, towards finding a solution to the current pandemic. These amendments are a "logical extension" of research already being undertaken to identify a ferret model for the Ebola virus.

New objectives include developing a ferret model for Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. It is hoped this will enable scientists to understand the growth and characterization of the virus. According to the document, this research is a "likely precursor" of clinical trials.

Various animal models have been developed to study SARS, from African green monkeys to mice, the Chinese masked palm civet and ferrets, Medscape reports. According to researchers writing in Virology, ferrets are a popular choice due to their relatively small size, but also because of their anatomical, physiological and metabolic similarities to humans.

According to the contract, PHE was chosen to carry out the project on the basis of its experience and expertise in developing animal models with SARS viruses similar to Sars-CoV-2; as well as facilities to work with a synthetic virus.

According to the document, it was the only institution able to complete the research in a "a timely, safe and effective manner."

The funding awarded by the U.S. government has been costed at $2,642,134. This includes an additional $250,250 for the coronavirus work.

The contract officially expires on 29 September, 2020, but the FDA is expected to seek a six-month extension to account for the research into the new coronavirus. This extension will take the research through to March 30, 2021.

Stock image of a ferret
Stock image of a ferret. The objective of the contract is to develop a ferret model to study the virus that causes COVID-19. FaST_9/iStock

As the number of reported cases continue to soar worldwide, several U.S. firms have begun work on drugs and vaccines to treat COVID-19, while scientists in Australia are testing existing medications, used for HIV and malaria.

Scientists in London are paying volunteers up to $4,000 to be infected with other strains of coronavirus in a bid to find treatments and a vaccine.

Newsweek has contacted the FDA and Public Health England for more information.

The below graph, from Statista, shows the U.S. has the highest number of confirmed cases of any one country.

Number of worldwide coronavirus cases March 31
The graph shows the number of coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide, as of March 31, 2020. Statista

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.