Rising to the challenge

A timeline of Covid-19 in Austria and the Vienna BioCenter

With the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in Europe in early 2020, scientists at the Vienna BioCenter quickly recognised the potential of basic research equipment and expertise for the development of innovative testing approaches. Within weeks, initiatives sprung up that soon led to important discoveries and tangible approaches for improving the monitoring of the virus.


3 June: Valneva announces that it has completed recruitment for the pivotal Phase 3 trial of its inactivated, adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate, VLA2001. 

25 May: Ulrich Elling, Luisa Cochella, and others publish the method "SARSeq" the journal Nature Communications; it could be adapted to many more pathogens, according to the scientists.

19 May: Valneva announces it will participate in a UK government-funded clinical trial looking at different COVID-19 ‘booster’ vaccines.

4 May: CEBINA reports potency of azelastine against emerging dominant variants of SARS-CoV-2 in laboratory testing

21 April: Valneva initiates phase 3 clinical trial for its inactivated, adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate, VLA2001

6 April: Valneva announces positive data for Part A of the Phase 1/2 clinical trial of its inactivated, adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate "VLA2001"

22 February: ÖQUASTA renewed for SARSeq (variant information also reported)

19 February: SARSeq Team surpasses 11,000 samples sequenced for detection of mutations in the spike gene

February: Contract with AGES is signed for SARSeq-team to sequence a minimum of 1,000 positive SARS-CoV-2 samples per week in order to monitor variant spread and to identify new mutations

12 February: Based on the detection of B.1.351 in Tyrol, the federal government of Austria declares quarantine for the state of Tyrol

1 February: Valneva reports that the UK Government has exercised its option to order 40 million doses of its inactivated, adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate for supply in 2022

28 January: Valneva announces production start of its inactivated, adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate in parallel to the ongoing clinical studies

21 January: First Next Generation Sequencing run with SARSeq-S-tiling detects a cluster of B.1.351 variant (originally from South Africa) in Tyrol

20 January: Comparison of direct input RT-PCR and RT-LAMP against diagnostic RT-qPCR published as preprint on medRxiv

12 January: Valneva announces it is in advanced discussions with the European Commission (EC) for the supply of up to 60 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate "VLA2001"

January: Non-profit reagent kits for performing RT-LAMP and bead-LAMP are provided by the VDRC team at the Vienna BioCenter Core Facilities via see https://www.rtlamp.org/kits/


30 December: First variants of concern containing N501Y identified by the SARSeq team using Sanger sequencing and reported to AGES

22 December: SARSeq team orders primers to sequence the S-gene and detect variants of concern

16 December: Valneva announces the initiation of a Phase 1/2 clinical study for its inactivated, adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidate "VLA2001"

11 December: Collaborative grant by Volkswagen Stiftung to support African labs in the implementation of RT-LAMP tests

7 December: Research project on monitoring in care homes leads to first publication

12 November: Launch of Lexogen’s QuantSeq-Pool Targeted SARS-CoV-2 Panel, the first commercial Covid-19 ultra-high-throughput test for public health mass screening

3 November: SARSeq allowing high throughput testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses is published as preprint on medRxiv

21 October: Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) endorses RT-LAMP as fast, cheap and reliable testing method and viable complement to PCR tests

19 October: RT-LAMP website with complete protocols goes online: www.rtlamp.org steered by Pauli/Brennecke; European patent filed for Elling/Cochella SARSeq

16 October: ÖQUASTA approval for SARSeq and RT-LAMP

mid-October: Caritas of Archdiocese Vienna, Johannes Zuber, Novid20, and others start pilot project to monitor staff in retirment and care homes

28 September: Implementation of sample-pooling, theoretical capacity: 6000 samples/day

21 September: Press Conference: Heinz Faßmann and Peter Hacker present mobile testing initiative for schools in Vienna: gargling method, analysis at Vienna BioCenter

14 September: Valneva announces a vaccine partnership with the UK government for its inactivated COVID-19 vaccine candidate "VLA2001"

8 September: Over 600 samples processed at Vienna BioCenter per day

4 September: Corona “traffic light” introduced by Austrian government

3 September: COVID-19 testing: sample processing and analysis moved to VCDI screening lab run by Vienna Biocenter Core Facilties. New test-kits and sampling logistics are rolled out under the responsibility of Johanna Trupke; testing at Vienna BioCenter is expanded to include Max Perutz Labs and DOME

18 August: First person tests positive for COVID-19 on site. Contact tracing, close monitoring and isolation allow for swift identification and containment

17 August: VCDI initiates large-scale monitoring project at Austrian schools using gargling in combination with pooling and RT-qPCR

13 July: VCDI releases complete SOP for routine SARC-CoV-2 monitoring

15-19 June and 29 June-3 July: 5,100 gargling samples taken and analysed in "school-study" coordinated by Michael Wagner and Manuela Födinger; IMP provides testing-strategy (gargling-protocol) and analyses the samples as part of VCDI

24 June: Preprint on RT-LAMP testing protocol on bioRxiv (Kellner et al.)

10 June: Internal corona-blog relaunched as "news blog" by IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF

4 June: CEBINA announces that it has received seed funding for its extended spectrum Coronavirus vaccine project, which is part of the company's broad-scale efforts offering short-, mid- and longer-term solutions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic

29 May: Start of antibody-testing for IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF employees

15 May: 1.1 million Euro granted to IMBA by the European Commission as part of the MAD-CoV 2 project, funding further COVID19 research; restaurants reopen in Austria, border to Germany and Switzerland reopens

13 May: 2000 tests performed at the institutes

6 May: 1000 test kits are collected at the institutes

4 May: Gradual reopening of Austrian schools; second Austria-wide prevalence study; shift plans at the institutes are still in place

30 April: 2,000 confirmed active cases in Austria

29 April: First run of Next Generation Sequencing for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 by Luisa Cochella, Uli Elling, Alex Stark and Ramesh Yelagandula; second Kingfisher machine delivered to IMP, speeding up the testing procedure; Lexogen receives funding from the Austria Research Promotion Agency (FFG) for the development of a novel SARS-CoV-2 test method for mass screening

28 April: Vienna BioCenter Summer School 2020 is cancelled

22 April: Valneva and Dynavax Technologies Corporation announce a collaboration to initiate a vaccine program for the current coronavirus, COVID-19

21 April: Start of in-house COVID-19 testing at IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF (regular RT-qPCR tests on pharyngeal lavage samples) - voluntary and anonymous

20 April: Second test using patient samples analysed at IMP: pooling proves successful

17 April: Johannes Zuber communicates first results of tests with patient samples at Klinik Favoriten; gargling works well and sensitivity is often superior

15 April: Gradual reopening of the institutes with shift plans and safety measures in place

14 April: Detailed protocol for sample preparation (swab and gargling) is shared with Klinik Favoriten; partial lockdown in Austria eased gradually

9 April: Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) shared with employees to allow regular RT-qPCR testing for IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF staff; extensive hardware orders for Molecular Biology Service; Meinrad Busslinger initiates IgM/IgG antibody testing for employees

3 April: Several research institutions join forces to form the “Vienna COVID-19 Diagnostics Initiative (VCDI)”, later renamed into “Vienna COVID-19 Detection Initiative”; IMBA receives WWTF funding for its involvement in three different COVID19 projects, as part of the WWTF’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding

2 April: Johannes Zuber and Alwin Köhler (Max Perutz Labs) initiate a collaboration with Wiener Gesundheitsverbund (Manuela Födinger, Robert Fritsche-Polanz) on the gargling-protocol

1 April: WWTF COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding 2020 of 50,000 EUR is awarded to Johannes Zuber and team

30 March: Up-to-date employee-information via “Corona-Blog” on Sharepoint, serviced by IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF Comms

16 March: Partial lockdown in Austria, schools and universities close; IMP/IMBA/GMI/VBCF issue strict limitations and safety rules, operations are reduced to a minimum, all but essential staff is working from home

mid-March: Andrea Pauli (IMP) and Julius Brennecke (IMBA) & team start a project on fast and easy SARS-CoV-2 detection using RT-LAMP; Johannes Zuber (IMP) and team start testing alternative sampling-methods (gargling); Luisa Cochella (IMP), Ulrich Elling (IMBA), Alexander Stark (IMP) and Ramesh Yelagandula (IMBA) start a project on NGS-based COVID-19 testing

11 March: WHO declares pandemic

10 March: Safety regulations at the institutes are tightened, events with more than 100 participants cancelled

27 February: International business travel-ban effective for IMP-employees

25 February: First COVID-19 infections detected in Austria