Scientists and drug companies are trying to develop and test treatments and vaccines for COVID 19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The work is said to be progressing at an unprecedented rate, but researchers are actually starting from the beginning to develop vaccines, so this process will take much longer. Therapies, on the other hand, have been evolving since the virus first appeared and could have been available much earlier.
"Right now we are in very different situations," he said Florian Krammer, a specialist in vaccine development at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai.
Both treatments and vaccines are important for a strong and effective response to the onset of the virus. Treatments help people who are already infected with the disease. In the case of COVID 19, researchers hope to treat about 15% of patients with COVID-19 who do not have mild symptoms. Vaccines, on the other hand, help prevent the virus from spreading.
Scientists have begun working on drugs to treat coronaviruses during the spread of SARS and MERS. However, because they then noticed a decrease in cases, they did not complete their investigations.
So now they have to dust off the old research and start building on it. The main candidate is a drug called remdesivir, developed by the pharmaceutical company Gilead. Research has shown that it could block SARS and MERS in mice. In addition, remdesivir was used in a clinical trial seeking treatment for Ebola. So he had already undergone safety tests to make sure the scientists would not cause any harm.
This is the main reason why research teams in China and the United States have been able to start clinical trials with remdesivir directly in patients with COVID 19. Data on whether the drug helps will be available in April. If effective, Gilead will most likely increase production and the drug will reach doctors' hands fairly quickly, according to Krammer.
The process of developing the vaccine, on the other hand, will take much longer. Experts say it will be ready in a year or 18 months, while others say it will need more before it is available to the public.
One of the strategies for creating a vaccine involves making copies of a part of the virus (in this case, the part used by the new coronavirus to penetrate the cells).
The immune system of the person receiving the vaccine then produces antibodies that neutralize that particular piece. Thus, if exposed to the virus, these antibodies will be able to stop the virus from working.
The pharmaceutical company Moderna seems to be closer to achieving its goal, as it already has one type of vaccine which is ready for testing.
A test on 45 healthy people to make sure the vaccine is safe will begin in March or April and take about three months to complete. After that, they will have to be tested in an even larger group so that they can test whether it really immunizes people against the new coronavirus.
This test will last from six to eight months. Soon after, it will have to be built in huge quantities, which is an additional challenge.
Making vaccines is always difficult. The development of this species is even more difficult because there has never been a vaccine for any type of coronavirus.
"We do not have a production platform, we have no experience in security, we do not know if there will be complications. We have to start from scratch, "said Krammer.
It was much easier to create a vaccine for H1N1 (also known as swine flu), which appeared as a virus we had never seen in 2009.
"There are large producers of influenza vaccines in the United States and worldwide," says Krammer. These manufacturers were able to stop making the seasonal flu vaccine and start making the vaccine for this new strain of flu.
"They did not need clinical trials, they just had to make the vaccine and distribute it," he said.
So unless there is a vaccine that will be released soon, treatments are very important: and together with careful public health practices, they can help to have lower mortality rates from the effects of the disease. Experts can hope that the vaccine could help prevent other similar cases in the future if the new coronavirus develops.