Hello Friends! Today’s post will cover some of the potential treatments and preventatives for Coronavirus but first…
A news bit from reader JdM:
Want to help scientists find possible coronavirus medications? Read below:
Vincent Voelz, an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Temple University, and his graduate students are working to virtually screen potential medications to treat coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19). They are using a program called folding@home to run computer simulations in which possible molecules (compounds) are tested for their fit into a computer model of coronavirus’s main protease. The molecules that fit best could possibly inhibit (stop) virus replication (spread). “When the virus gets inside a cell, it co-opts the machinery of the cell to assemble more copies of itself and replicate,” explains Voelz in the article. “If you can inhibit the protease, you can inhibit a necessary step in the virus’s lifecycle.”
To do this, they are using a distributed computing program (folding@home) – where users at home (like you) can download the software and lend their device’s computing power towards the COVID-19 computer simulation effort. By sharing the workload across many computers, many more simulations can be run than on traditional mainframes. As of early April, there were more than 1 million people participating. “Combined, we are now the largest supercomputer in the world,” says Voelz,
Want to help? Go to https://foldingathome.org/covid19/ and download the software.
Progress towards Coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) treatments:
A vaccine, as you may know, is a substance used to provide immunity against one or several diseases – and many of us have received many in our lifetime – for diseases ranging from the seasonal flu, to measles, to tetanus. Vaccines for viruses are traditionally made from either inactivated viruses or individual proteins of the virus. These substances can’t make you sick, but when injected, they stimulate the production of antibodies, which are large, Y-shaped proteins produced mainly by plasma cells that is used by your body’s immune system to fight off infections.
Because this is a novel (new) coronavirus, there are no current vaccines against COVID-19. Many researchers across the world have been racing to develop vaccines – including major companies like Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
In an article published on April 17th, Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News reports that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has committed almost half a billion dollars to Moderna toward advancing the development of the company’s mRNA vaccine candidate mRNA-1273, which targets COVID-19. Moderna’s vaccine is a newer type of vaccine that consists of tiny lipid (fat) particles that contain the genetic material that codes for a single COVID-19 protein. The genetic material (mRNA) is only for a small part of the virus and can’t cause disease. When the mRNA vaccine candidate is injected, it is supposed to cause the production of the COVID-19 Spike protein, which is the part of the coronavirus that attaches to cells, thus allowing it to infect a person’s cells. If successful, the vaccine will train the body to recognize this important part of the COVID-19 virus and to produce antibodies to fight off the virus.
This vaccine is one of the front-runners and is being studied in a Phase I clinical designed to test safety that is conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The trial began March 16 as a study of 45 healthy adult volunteers aged 18-55 years to test three different doses of the vaccine. The NIH recently expanded the trial to include an additional six groups for which enrollment is ongoing: three of older adults (ages 51–70) and three of elderly adults (ages 71 and up).
Status: In development
Medications for treating COVID-19:
I’m sure by now, many of you have heard about a new medication called Remdesivir – which is being developed by Gilead Sciences, Inc. There is a nice summary of its current status here. It is not yet approved and licensed for medical use, but is currently undergoing clinical trials in the USA, China, and the United Kingdom as a potential treatment for COVID-19. It is a nucleoside analog (meaning that it looks like the building blocks of genetic material) When the virus replicates (makes copies of itself), Remdesivir can be incorporated into the viral RNA, but it will interrupt the replication and thus stop the virus. Anecdotally, two-thirds of persons given Remdesivir improve, but the studies are not complete.
Status: Under investigation, but hopefully will be approved for use in coming months.
Convalescent Plasma Program:
This program is ongoing now in over a thousand hospitals nationwide. It’s funded by our friends at BARDA and more information can be found here. Basically, people who have had a laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19 but have been symptom free for 28 days can donate their blood at a local blood bank (take your diagnosis slip). The liquid portion of their blood (called plasma) is separated out and because these people have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, their plasma is thought to have antibodies against the coronavirus. The plasma is tested for safety and prepared for patients’ use like any other blood product and is approved by FDA to be given to seriously ill patients with COVID-19.
Status: Can be given now as blood supplies allow, but effectiveness is not completely known.
Stay safe and stay curious, my friends.
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