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20 years serving the virology community

The National Collection of Pathogenic Viruses (NCPV), established in 1999 with Wellcome Trust funding, is now one of the four internationally renowned culture collections operated by Public Health England. The authenticity of research material is recognised as a hugely important issue and the remit for NCPV from the outset was to identify and preserve collections of relevant human pathogenic viruses that might otherwise be lost, as well as making relevant strains of viruses available to the research community.

The collection was established to be of benefit in the development and testing of vaccines and antiviral compounds, in both the development and validation of diagnostic test systems, and in the conservation of biodiversity. This year, which marks our 20th anniversary seems an appropriate time to assess the impact of NCPV. 

We reviewed publications available online that cite the use of viruses obtained from NCPV over the past 20 years, starting from 2003; the earliest date when an NCPV virus was referenced. This helps us to identify trends in the use of the viruses and determine whether the collection is meeting the expectations of its founders. We have selected some highlights to illustrate the value of the collection.

The earliest publication from 2003 examines the potential for the reintroduction of polioviruses from cultured laboratory stocks or stored patient samples, an issue for the NCPV curators as well as the wider community. The authors express concerns that after eradication of circulating polioviruses, reintroduction might arise from cultured laboratory stocks, or from collections of patients' or environmental samples1.

Some of the next set of publications that we reviewed relate to method development, a specific example in 2004 using NCPV viruses in the development of a rapid real-time multiplex PCR assay for the detection of influenza A and B viruseshuman respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza virus 1 (PIV1), PIV2PIV3, and PIV4.  The purpose was to use the assay to improve patient management and infection control2.

A later example in a 2007 publication used Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) strains to develop a real-time RT-PCR test designed to detect circulating strains of virus as well as other genotypes. This was part of the response to an outbreak of Chikungunya fever that began on several islands in the Indian Ocean in 20053.

Viruses in the environment pose a risk to human health and in 2006 there was an interesting publication using NCPV viruses to determine the efficacy of solar disinfection (SODIS) in disinfecting water contaminated with poliovirus and Acanthamoeba polyphaga cysts. Another SODIS study in 2011 used an NCPV polio strain as part of a study assessing its efficiency in inactivating enteric viruses (coxsackievirus B3coxsackievirus B5 and poliovirus). Both used NCPV viruses to demonstrate the potential value of low technology methods in providing safe drinking water4, 5.

Moving forward to an example from 2014, an NCPV virus was used in a study describing the development of the first neutralizing antibodies against Western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV), an infection transmitted by mosquitoes that can spread to the human central nervous system, causing symptoms ranging from mild febrile reactions to life-threatening encephalitis6.

If we are to focus on mosquito-borne viruses, the story of NCPV would be incomplete without mentioning Zika virus (ZIKV). The outbreak of Zika virus (ZIKV) that began in 2014 affected 68 countries across South America, the Caribbean, and the Western Pacific Region. For a time during that outbreak, NCPV was the only globally recognised collection able to provide reference strains of Zika virus to help scientists understand the pathogenesis of that emerging epidemic and to develop vaccines. Scientists noted that ZIKV could be sexually transmitted and a fully sequenced strain of ZIKV isolated from semen was deposited with NCPV in 20177.

As sequencing becomes more commonplace we expect to see more publications announcing the genome sequences of NCPV strains, either before or after depositing them with the collection. The first complete genome assembly of buffalopox virus isolate Karachi 2005, published in 2018 when it was also deposited with NCPV9, provides yet another example of our adherence to the mission of identifying and preserving collections of relevant human pathogenic viruses that might otherwise be lost. 

And with these examples, and all the other publications we reviewed, we conclude that NCPV is indeed meeting the expectations of those who established the collection in 1999.



1.   Davies, M., Bruce, C., Bewley, K., Outlaw, M., Mioulet, V., Lloyd, G. and Clegg, C. (2003). Poliovirus type 1 in working stocks of typed human rhinoviruses. The Lancet, 361(9364), 1187-1188. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12919-4 

2.    Templeton, K., Scheltinga, S., Beersma, M., Kroes, A. and Claas, E. (2004). Rapid and Sensitive Method Using Multiplex Real-Time PCR for Diagnosis of Infections by Influenza A and Influenza B Viruses, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, and Parainfluenza Viruses 1, 2, 3, and 4. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 42(4), 1564-1569. DOI: 10.1128/JCM.42.4.1564-1569.2004

3.    Edwards, C., Welch, S., Chamberlain, J., Hewson, R., Tolley, H., Cane, P. and Lloyd, G. (2007). Molecular diagnosis and analysis of Chikungunya virus. Journal of Clinical Virology, 39(4), 271-275. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcv.2007.05.008 

4.    Heaselgrave, W., Patel, N., Kilvington, S., Kehoe, S. and McGuigan, K. (2006). Solar disinfection of poliovirus and Acanthamoeba polyphaga cysts in water – a laboratory study using simulated sunlight. Letters in Applied Microbiology, 43(2), 125-130. DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-765X.2006.01940.x 

5.    Alotaibi, M. and Heaselgrave, W. (2011). Solar Disinfection of Water for Inactivation of Enteric Viruses and its Enhancement by Riboflavin. Food and Environmental Virology, 3(2), 70-73. DOI: 10.1007/s12560-011-9058-5

6.    Hülseweh, B., Rülker, T., Pelat, T., Langermann, C., Frenzel, A., Schirrmann, T., Dübel, S., Thullier, P. and Hust, M. (2014). Human-like antibodies neutralizing Western equine encephalitis virus. mAbs, 6(3), 717-726. DOI: 10.4161/mabs.28170

7.    Atkinson, B., Graham, V., Miles, R., Lewandowski, K., Dowall, S., Pullan, S. and Hewson, R. (2016). Complete Genome Sequence of Zika Virus Isolated from Semen. Genome Announcements, 4(5), e01116-16. DOI: 10.1128/genomeA.01116-16

8.  Afrough, B., Zafar, A., Hasan, R. and Hewson, R. (2018). Complete Genome Sequence of Buffalopox Virus. Genome Announcements, 6(21), e00444-18. DOI: 10.1128/genomea.00444-18


Prepared by Julie E. Russell

January 2020