Five Facts About Coronavirus Research

The worldwide spread of the coronavirus is spurring numerous types of research at government labs, health care industries, universities and elsewhere. Some research points to potentially life-saving vaccines, while others suggest things will get much worse before they get better.

  1. Experiments seeking a coronavirus vaccine are taking place, but any widely available vaccine is at least a year away.

A possible vaccine is being tested on several dozen human volunteers in Seattle, a virus hotspot. The experimental vaccine, made by Moderna Inc., is based on genetic material known as messenger RNA. Researchers are using lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS – also forms of coronavirus – to accelerate the testing. At best, however, the researchers say it will take at least a year to prove that a new vaccine is safe and effective enough to use on millions of people.

  1. While the world awaits a vaccine, a team of hundreds of scientists has identified 50 drugs that could help treat people infected by coronavirus.

Researchers at the Quantitative Biosciences Institute Coronavirus Research Group, at the University of California, San Francisco, are seeking drugs that will shield proteins in human cells that the coronavirus needs to thrive and reproduce. Team members in New York and Paris are testing some of the drugs’ impact on coronavirus they have cultivated in their labs. Currently, doctors can do little for coronavirus patients other than give them oxygen, manage fever, and use respirators if they can’t breathe on their own.

  1. Some drugs being researched were previously used to fight other diseases, with mixed success.

Because clinical trials and government approval for new drugs take time, researchers also are exploring existing drugs for potential effectiveness against Covid-19, the disease caused by the current virus. These drugs include:

  • Remdesivir, an anti-viral medication developed by Gilead Sciences as a treatment for Ebola. It proved ineffective there, but shows some promise against Covid-19.
  • Tocilizumab, known as Actemra, made by the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche. It’s generally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug.
  1. Another type of research tries to predict how coronavirus spreads under various scenarios.

One of the more alarming projections comes from the London-based Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. It concludes that if governments and individuals did nothing and the pandemic went uncontrolled, 510,000 people eventually would die in Britain, and 2.2  million in the United States. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, recently cited the analysis, especially its conclusion that an entire household should self-quarantine for two weeks if one member contracts the virus. Some projections are less dire. Meanwhile, a Harvard University analysis finds that many U.S. regions will have far too few hospital beds if the new coronavirus continues to spread widely and if nothing is done to expand capacity.

  1.  Another line of research finds that coronavirus can exist several days on surfaces under certain circumstances.

The Journal of Hospital Infection, summarizing 22 studies, reports that human coronaviruses “can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days, but can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62–71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute.” The Centers for Disease Control emphasizes that washing one's hands and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily are key in preventing the spread of Covid-19.


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