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Research related to COVID-19 (Updated June 25)

Today, humanity is facing a desperate crisis as we confront an invisible enemy-the novel coronavirus. Marshalling our collective wisdom, RIKEN has established a special project to provide humanity with the means to overcome this virus.

Founded around a century ago to become a cornerstone of Japan’s prosperity, RIKEN has steadily produced research outcomes across numerous fields in the natural sciences. Over the years, we have gained expertise in such areas as immunology, genetics, and structural biology through our massive life science projects. To this we add not only research in the rapidly developing fields of computational science and AI, but also a diverse array of techniques, including AI drug discovery, with which to apply our research outcomes. We are determined to mobilize these strengths and pour all our efforts into this project.

Throughout history, humanity has made excellent use of science and technology to overcome many challenges-to make the impossible, possible. Now, as we stand on the precipice of a crisis which threatens so much of what we have built, science and technology is once again being put to the test. In collaboration with research institutes, universities, and companies in Japan and abroad, RIKEN will rise to meet that test and contribute to overcoming the novel coronavirus crisis.

April 21, 2020
Hiroshi Matsumoto
President of RIKEN

Signature by Hiroshi Matsumoto

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, RIKEN is putting its research infrastructure and resources to work in a number of areas, including the development of more effective diagnostic kits, publication of data to contribute to the development of effective therapies, and other research to help people and communities get through the crisis. This work is being coordinated by RIKEN’s Executive Director in Charge of Research.

Publication of data and research using leading-edge large-scale joint-use facilities

  • Supercomputer Fugaku will be used to help fight against COVID-19

    The supercomputer Fugaku, which is currently being installed in Kobe, Japan under a RIKEN-led project, will be put to use to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic to the extent possible, by giving priority to research selected by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Currently, five projects are being conducted by scientists from RIKEN and other research institutions.

  • SPring-8/SACLA call for research proposals related to COVID-19

    SPring-8/SACLA has opened a call for research proposals related to COVID-19 to contribute to efforts to combat the disease.

  • Publication of data on the molecular dynamics of the new coronavirus

    RIKEN has carried out simulations of the structural dynamics of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, and has published the data on the Mendeley Data repository to help researchers working on therapies.

  • Publication of data on interactions between new coronavirus proteins and drug candidate compounds, with goal of contributing to the development of therapeutic agents against COVID-19

    Scientists have used the fragment molecular orbital method (FMO) to calculate molecular interactions between the proteins of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus and candidate drug compounds, and published this data on the FMO database (FMODB) on April 17 to allow researchers around the world to freely use the data for drug discovery.

  • Dissemination of bioresource data integrated with COVID-19 process

    We will collect COVID-19 related information from public databases. Then, we develop an integrated database of bioresources (e.g. human DNA clones of cell surface receptors, immune system, intra-cellular signaling pathway, genetic modified animals and cell lines) from four view points of COVID-19 associated biological processes of 1) viral infection and proliferation and biological defense against virus, 2) pathogenic mechanism, 3) aggravation and 4) medical treatment and prevention against COVID-19. From this study, we will try to indicate undeveloped bioresources to overcome this crisis and help future development of bioresources in research community.

  • Establishment of animal models for development of new drugs and vaccines against COVID-19

    For development of new drugs and vaccines, we are establishing animal models that will show severe symptoms of the coronavirus infection as infected humans.

Development of diagnostic methods

  • Development of diagnostic methods using SmartAmp technology

    SmartAmp, a method developed by RIKEN, can provide a major time-saving compared to PCR, reducing the time for test results from 1 or 2 hours to just 10 to 30 minutes. The effectiveness of the method has been validated through research conducted along with the Kanagawa Prefectural Institute of Public Health. Work is ongoing to further reduce the amount of time required.

  • Development of methods to rapidly diagnose COVID-19 at high sensitivity without amplification

    Based on a "digital detection method of nucleic acids" developed by RIKEN, work is being carried out to rapidly develop a system to detect novel coronavirus-derived RNA rapidly and at high sensitivity, without the need for amplification.

  • Development of diagnostic system to detect antibodies to the novel coronavirus

    RIKEN is working to develop technology that can detect antibodies to novel coronavirus proteins, with the goal to identify people who have recovered from the disease and to detect how antibodies increase during therapy.

  • Isolation of new coronavirus detection antibody and development of on-site rapid virus detection kit

    Rapid diagnosis followed by appropriate isolation of individuals is the only effective strategy for COVID-19 control until a vaccine becomes available. We aim to create an antibody-based rapid diagnosis kit using our newly-established antibody discovery technology.

Research for the development of therapies

  • Launch of COVID-19 Project

    A project has been launched by the RIKEN Program for Drug Discovery and Medical Technology Platforms (DMP) to have RIKEN's life science centers and other research institutes to help combat COVID-19. RIKEN will publish results of experiments and computational results when appropriate, provide support for global research and development, and actively carry out joint research and collaboration.

  • Development of COVID-19 antibody drug

    Toward the development of antibody treatment against COVID-19, we are aiming to isolate a human monoclonal neutralizing antibody against SARS-CoV-2.

  • Protein dynamics using rigidity-based analysis in the corona virus

    We are conducting rigidity-based analysis on the conformational dynamics of proteins in SARS-CoV-2 for understanding COVID-19 corona virus molecular mechanisms to aid in therapeutic design.

  • Development of chemical synthesis vaccine against SARS-CoV-2

    Our team has developed a new technology "mMAP" (mutation compatible multiple antigen peptides) which could help to overcome the problems of virus mutation and antibody dependent enhancement. A COVID-19 vaccine using this technology is currently under development.

  • Development of simple vaccine using vitamin D3 adjuvant

    Our goal is to establish a safe and simple vaccine for COVID-19. Herd immunity requires the global community to be immunized simultaneously. We will work to develop a needle-less vaccine system by taking an advantage of our new adjuvant discovered at RIKEN.

  • Screening of drug candidate compounds for COVID-19 in large databases using scalable similarity searches

    We are screening drug candidate compounds for COVID-19 from a large database using scalable similarity searches.

Research to help people and communities overcome the crisis

  • Development of remote communication and dialogue support system for healthcare during standby at home due to COVID-19 epidemic

    Staying at home due to the COVID-19 epidemic may raise the risk of frailty and cognitive decline in older adults. Once older adults with frailty and/or cognitive decline are infected, it is difficult for them to return from hospitals home or to elderly care facilities, leading to pressure on medical facilities. We are developing a remote communication and dialogue support system for maintaining the cognitive and physical health of older adults.

  • Analyze of hate speech and disinformation related to COVID-19

    We are collecting and analyzing instances of abusive languages such as hate speech and disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic using knowledge and techniques of language philosophy and natural language processing.

  • ELSI and further perspectives of on-line initial medical examination

    We are classifying and reevaluating the ELSI (Ethics, Legal and Social Issues) of on-line initial medical examinations.

  • Investigation of influences caused by teleworking on workers and possible improvements

    Teleworking conditions have caused various problems on the environment of workers, e.g., physical fatigue and work postures, mental stress from lack of conversations, hard situation with online meeting in a small room through small screen, ambiguity between "ON" and "OFF" work periods, and how to make "OFF" situations clear. We are investigating elements and components of these issues and will propose  possible ways to improve the situation.

  • Machine learning based prediction of severity of COVID-19 infection using health insurance claims data and information from medical checkups

    We are developing concise and rapid machine learning based methods for the prediction of disease severity especially among younger COVID-19 infected persons using nationwide large health insurance claims data and medical checkup data.

  • Countermeasures to COVID-19 by decentralized data sharing, analysis and utilization integrating AI/ICT/HPC

    To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections and address social and economic impacts, we are developing coordination among AI / ICT / HPC using a secure personal-data management technology (PLR: Personal Life Repository) for visualizing infection risk, recommending low-risk routes, simulating infection transmission and economic activities, planning countermeasures, and so forth.

  • Machine learning based individual treatment optimization of online notice delivery for behavioral change

    It is well known in preventive medicine and behavioral economics that traditional information delivery is not effective for behavioral change. To aid effective information delivery for infection prevention of COVID-19 such as keeping away from high-risk behaviors, we are developing methods for machine learning-based individual treatment optimization of online notice delivery based on various studies in preventive medicine and behavioral economics and carrying out experiments based on the methods developed.

  • Technical, social and legal measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections

    COVID-19 infectious diseases require comprehensive measures to prevent the spread of the disease, including, laws, social conditions and technical measures not to mention medical measures such as drugs and vaccines. Legal restrictions, self-restraint, social pressure, affordance, nudge, etc. can be considered as promising legal, social means and privacy protection, but these are not effective on their own, and how they can be combined is pursued in a form of Japanese-English joint research activities.

Basic and other research

  • Development of technology to visualize the life cycle of the virus

    RIKEN is developing technology to visualize the virions in infected cells and bio-specimens using fluorescent proteins and single-chain anti-virus antibodies.

  • Genome analysis of SARS-CoV-2

    Tracing of virus genome evolution is important for controlling COVID-19. We have initiated a comprehensive virus genome study of SARS-CoV-2 in Japan virus using RIKEN's genome research infrastructure.

  • Development of an academic search support system related to COVID-19

    In order to support biomedical research on COVID-19 with information science, we are developing an AI system that automatically analyzes biomedical big data from 30,000 academic papers related to COVID-19 along with 25 million abstracts of other biomedical works.

  • Analysis of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) based on epigenetics

    We are analyzing the effects of methyltransferases that cause RNA methylation such as N6-methyladenosine of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on virus replication and host response by machine learning, and exploring the possibilities to use it as a target for COVID-19 therapy.

  • Genome analysis to identify genes and genome loci associated with the individual difference in susceptibility of COVID-19 infection

    The individual difference in susceptibility of COVID-19 infection would be partially explained by individual difference in genome sequence. We will collect samples with the collaboration with various hospitals to analyze their genomic DNA. We will also join in international consortium.

  • Understanding host-gut microbiota interactions to develop a therapeutic/preventive strategy toward SARS-CoV-2 infection

    In collaboration with the University of Tokyo and Keio University, we will collect fecal samples from patients recovered from COVID-19 and search for bacterial strains that can enhance antibody response against the virus. Since we recently identified serine protease-degrading bacterial strains, we will evaluate the effect of these strains against intestinal coronavirus infection.