As well as sequencing the whole genome of coronavirus 2019-nCoV, the Institut Pasteur continued to work on the samples taken from the first confirmed cases. The quality of these initial samples enabled rapid cell-culture isolation of the new virus. The Institut Pasteur's scientists now have access to the virus responsible for the infection. The isolation of the virus paves the way for new diagnostic, therapeutic and prophylactic approaches.
With the whole viral genome of coronavirus 2019-nCoV having recently been sequenced at the Institut Pasteur, the isolation of strains of coronavirus 2019-nCoV detected in France has now been successfully finalized, in a very short space of time, using the samples taken from the first confirmed French cases.
Coronavirus 2019-nCoV, responsible for the cases of pneumonia that emerged in China (see the Institut Pasteur's fact sheet on the Wuhan coronavirus - page in French), differs from two other viruses that are well known for causing respiratory outbreaks in recent years: the SARS-CoV virus, responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003, and MERS-CoV, responsible for an outbreak that has been under way since 2012 in the Middle East.
The Institut Pasteur was actively involved in tackling these previous outbreaks, which yielded valuable lessons for the current situation. "For both SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cells known as Vero E6 were identified to culture the two coronaviruses," explains Sylvie van der Werf, Director of the National Reference Center (CNR) for Respiratory Viruses at the Institut Pasteur. "In January 2020, we brought them out of our collection, which is kept under strictly controlled conditions, so that we would be ready as soon as we detected a positive sample for coronavirus 2019-nCoV."