Finding the Cure: Coronavirus
Online editor Elinor Jones takes a look at where we are with curing coronavirus
Clouded in confusion, uncertainty, and being told to ‘stay alert’, the Government COVID-19 restrictions are slowly being eased in England provided the infection rate (R) stays below 1.0. Whilst slowing the rate of infection is paramount to ensuring a safe return to ‘normality’, rapid research is also being carried out to find a cure for coronavirus, or to develop a vaccine which would offer widespread immunity to the population.
In the search for a cure there are more than 460 unique compounds being scrutinised for their therapeutic properties against coronavirus, including 144 antivirals and 117 vaccines. Scientists are hoping that anti-viral drugs are the answer to defeating COVID-19 in a similar way to how antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Antiviral EIDD-2801 has been tentatively suggested as being potentially beneficial for coronavirus patients as it is more effective than remdesivir, a drug designed to treat Ebola, which was also offering promise. Whilst effectiveness studies have shown inhibition of the virus in the lab, normally the first small step along the road to clinical drug use, pharmaceutical companies are developing such drugs at an advanced rate in the hope they can reach the market during its peak.
In the search for a cure there are more than 460 unique compounds being scrutinised for their therapeutic properties
In another mode of attack, targeting the immune system with immunosuppressants could prevent patients from getting seriously ill as the damage caused from the immune response would be dampened down. Differences in immune system response can explain some of the variations in symptoms experienced by people with coronavirus; for some people their immune systems wreak havoc, with signalling molecules proliferating, causing what is known as a cytokine storm. The extreme tissue damage from this severely weakens patients, particularly those who are already frail. By prescribing immunosuppressants to those who may be at highest risk of dying from the disease, the effects of the immune system could be mitigated. In another method to manipulate the properties of the immune system, clinical trials have started investigating blood plasma transplant treatment as a therapeutic hope against COVID-19. Plasma treatment would provide passive immunity to patients in a similar way to how a mother’s immunity protects a foetus, meaning these patients will have the adequate antibodies to neutralise the virus.
Treatments are important in order to save lives at the peak of the pandemic. However, for the resumption of safe travel, reduced social distancing, and alleviating strain on healthcare, a suitable vaccine candidate must be found. Normally taking years to produce, there is some hope currently, but Government and the media must be cautious in making claims that are unfounded where the data is so new.