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Seasonal human coronaviruses – the forgotten relatives of famous viruses?

In the last 20 years, three novel coronaviruses have emerged resulting in significant morbidity and mortality. While our recent experiences with SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 paint the picture of coronaviruses as an extreme threat to human health, the four other coronaviruses known to infect humans typically result in a milder respiratory illness often referred to as ‘the common cold’. These four human coronaviruses (OC43, NL63, 229E and HKU1) have a near global distribution with transmission occurring typically in winter months1. Large proportions of the population are exposed to these viruses on a regular basis, but immunity following infection is believed to be short-lived (possibly 6-12 months), and reinfections are likely contributing to the frequency of common cold-like illnesses people suffer2.

Although significant research surrounding the ongoing pandemic is focussed on SARS-CoV-2, access to isolates of seasonal coronaviruses can assist in multiple areas including understanding tissue tropism, replication dynamics, pathogenesis and assessing specificity of rapid diagnostics and point-of-care tests. Importantly, these seasonal coronaviruses are classified as ACDP HG2 viruses, whereas SARS-CoV-2 is a HG3 virus requiring specialist facilities in order to be work upon; access to similar lower-containment viruses that can be manipulated in standard laboratories may expediate the much needed development of diagnostics and therapeutics in addition to enhancing our understanding of this group of respiratory viruses.

NCPV are releasing three new accessions deposited by collaborators within PHE to assist the research community: OC43, NL63 and a second isolate of 229E (previously the only seasonal coronavirus in the NCPV collection). As these viruses are likely to be used in pandemic-response activities, NCPV are offering a 50% discount on the accession items listed below until the end of March 2022.


Virus Name

Catalogue Number

Human Coronavirus 229E


Human Coronavirus 229E


Human Coronavirus NL63


Human Coronavirus OC43



*Whole genome sequence analysis shows these viruses to be identical apart from seven bases for 2008101v called as ambiguous with one of the variants always matching 0310051v.

Seasonal coronavirus HKU1 is currently not within the collection – if anybody can help us with accessioning of this virus in order to support the scientific community, we would be delighted to hear from you! 



1. Su, S. et al. Epidemiology, Genetic Recombination, and Pathogenesis of Coronaviruses. Trends Microbiol.24, 490–502 (2016).   

2. Edridge, A. et al. Seasonal coronavirus protective immunity is short-lasting. Nature medicine (2020). doi:10.1038/s41591-020-1083-1


Written by Dr Barry Atkinson 

November 2020

October 2020