Researchers Endeavour to Conquer Coronavirus

Coronavirus Vaccine Testing

US has begun phase 1 trials of testing the Coronavirus vaccine on humans. It is developed by scientists at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in collaboration with the drug company Moderna. This vaccine, called mRNA-1273, is only in a trial phase, and it could take another 12 to 18 months before it becomes available.
Complete Coverage: Coronavirus

Crux of the Matter

Here’s a timeline of research and findings on the Coronavirus:

2019 December
News of cases of a new SARS like disease started trickling out of Wuhan in Central China after a Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang circulated messages regarding a potential outbreak of a contagious respiratory disease to his doctor friends. Initial genetic data hinted at a SARS-like contagion. Dr. Li succumbed to the pathogen now known as Novel Coronavirus.

2020 January
In January 2020, Chinese authorities shared the full sequence of the Coronavirus genome. Genome sequencing is the process of figuring out the structure and order of the DNA nucleotides or bases that make the organism. Decoding the genome sequence is the first crucial step to develop diagnostic tests and a cure. Gradually, many countries across the world sequenced the genome and began working towards finding a cure. An evolutionary biologist also calculated that the virus had a 89% resemblance to the SARS-related member. It was beyond doubt then that the virus was SARS-CoV-2.

2020 February
Research based on the first autopsies of patients that died due to the Novel Coronavirus was carried out in the Jinyintan Hospital. National Health Commission of China developed a vaccine and began its animal testing before starting clinical trials in April.

Chinese scientists discovered that Chloroquine Phosphate, a drug used for treating Malaria, was effective and safe for treating pneumonia caused by COVID-19. US scientists, on the other hand, developed a 3D map of a part of the virus that attaches to the humans. This helped the scientists to figure out the molecular structure of the virus. The structure of the virus has spike proteins that bind to human cells and fuse into it to start the spread. National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientist identified the genes that formed the spike protein. This was landmark research that enabled scientists across the world to begin the development of a vaccine that creates antibodies that fight the protein.

If you can prevent attachment and fusion, you will prevent entry.

– Jason McLellan, National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientist

2020 March
Indian doctors reportedly cured an Italian patient using a combination of the restricted anti-HIV drugs Lopinavir, Ritonavir, Oseltamivir, as well as Chloroquine. Later, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) isolated the virus strain, making India the fifth nation to isolate the virus strain.

Coronaviruses are difficult to isolate. But our first efforts to isolate have been successful. Now we have close to about 11 isolates of coronavirus which are available. That’s a prime requisite for doing any kind of research related to coronaviruses. Now that you have the virus, it is safer to start from that base rather than the sequence of the gene to look at what should be the epitopes – those which can lead to development of anti-bodies more effectively – what are those regents which should be used in vaccines.

– Dr. Ketkar of ICMR

According to the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, scientists at Isreal’s Institute of Biological Research reported a significant breakthrough in understanding the biological mechanism of the virus. This can be useful for developing improved diagnostic tools and a potential vaccine. However, its Defense Ministry denied such claims. The daily said that even if a vaccine was made, it would have to go through clinical trials, which usually takes a long time.

China gave a green signal for testing an experimental vaccine on humans. China’s NHC also figured that Favipiravir, a medicine used by Japan for treating influenza, was effective in treating the virus.

A team of scientists in Australia’s Melbourne has discovered how the body develops antibodies to fight the Coronavirus. They say that a healthy person can fight mild to moderate infection in approximately 3 days. This discovery can be a major breakthrough as vaccines that can mimic the development of the exact antibodies can be developed.

2015 – Blast form the Past?
In 2015, a Bat Coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV (SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was engineered in a laboratory as per a study published in Science Journal Nature. While studying the source of the outbreak it was found that the Bat Coronavirus shares 96% of its genomes with the 2019-nCov. The SARS-CoV was reverse engineered and SCH014-CoV was made and tested. The study suggested that there lied a risk of re-emergence of a SARS-CoV-like virus from the virus that circulated in the bats then.


Why do Vaccines Take More Time to Develop?
Vaccines are essentially treatments that enhance body’s immune system to fight pathogens. Vaccines need to go through certain trials before they can be sold to the public. Generally, there are 6 phases of vaccine development:
1. Vaccine design – This is the development stage of the vaccine after studying the pathogen.
2. Animal studies – A new vaccine is tested on animals first.
3. Clinical trials (phase I) – It is first tested on a small group of humans to test safety and side effects of the vaccine.
4. Clinical trials (phase II) – A relatively large number of people participate in the trials and a deeper analysis of how the vaccine functions biologically is observed.
5. Clinical trials (phase III) – A greater amount of people are tested for a long period of time.
6. Regulatory approval – Regulatory bodies study the previous phases and decide whether the treatment is a viable one.
Vaccine development is a long process, generally taking 12 to 18 months. More Info