10 reassuring information about coronavirus
• We know what is causing the disease
After the description of the first AIDS cases in June 1981, it took more than two years to identify the virus that causes the disease, HIV. Regarding the new coronavirus, the first cases of severe pneumonia were reported in China on December 31, 2019. By January 7, the virus responsible had already been identified. On day 10, his genome sequence was available.
We already know that it is a coronavirus belonging to the 2B group, in other words from the same family as Sras, and we have given it a name: Sars-CoV-2. The disease it causes is also known as Covid-19. This new virus is related to a bat coronavirus. Genetic analyzes have confirmed that it is of natural origin, that it recently emerged (between late November and early December) and that, although viruses adapt by mutating, the frequency of mutation of Sars-CoV- 2 is not very high.
• We know how to detect coronavirus
As of January 13, an RT-PCR test to detect the virus was made available to everyone. In recent months, tests of this type have been perfected and their sensitivity and specificity evaluated.
• In China, the situation is improving
The important control and isolation measures imposed by China are bearing fruit: the number of cases diagnosed daily has been declining for several weeks.
In other countries, detailed epidemiological monitoring is underway. Outbreaks of the new coronavirus are very specific, which may make it easier to control them. This is, for example, the case in South Korea or Singapore.
• 81% of cases are mild
The disease causes no symptoms or is mild in 81% of cases. In 14% of cases, it can cause severe pneumonia and, in the remaining 5%, it can become critical or even fatal.
• People heal
The media sometimes tend to report only on the increase in the number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths. However, the majority of people who have been infected are cured. There are indeed 13 times more healings than deaths, and this proportion is increasing.
• Children are (almost) not affected
Only 3% of cases involve young people under the age of 20 and mortality among people under the age of 40 is only 0.2%. Symptoms in children are so mild that they can go unnoticed.
• Coronavirus is easily inactivated
The virus can be effectively inactivated by cleaning contaminated surfaces for one minute with a solution of ethanol (62-71% alcohol), hydrogen peroxide (“hydrogen peroxide” 0.5%) or hypochlorite. sodium (0.1% bleach). Frequent handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to prevent transmission.
• There are already more than 250 scientific articles on the new coronavirus
Now is the time for science and cooperation. In just over a month, 164 articles referencing the terms Covid-19 or Sars-CoV-2 were referenced in the PubMed bibliographic database, which references for the biomedical sciences.
Many other publications have also been referenced in repositories of articles that have not yet been reviewed. This preliminary work deals with vaccines, therapies, epidemiology, genetics and phylogeny, diagnosis, clinical aspects, etc. They were developed by around 700 authors, spread all over the planet. It is a cooperative, shared and open science.
In 2003, when SARS occurred, it took more than a year to obtain half the number of items. What is more, this time, most scientific journals have left their publications dealing with the coronavirus open access.
• There are already prototype vaccines
Our ability to design new vaccines is spectacular. More than eight projects targeting the new coronavirus have already been set up. Proposing a vaccine prototype goes very quickly. Some groups working on vaccination projects against viruses similar to Sars-CoV-2 have only had to redirect their research towards this new virus.
Development is however slowed down by the essential tests aimed at evaluating the toxicity or potential side effects of vaccine candidates, as well as their safety, their immunogenicity (ability to induce an immune response) and the effectiveness of the protection they confer. Several months or years may, therefore, be necessary to come up with a marketable vaccine, but prototypes are already being developed.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals has announced that it is working on a synthetic DNA vaccine targeting the new coronavirus. Called INO-4800, it is also based on the surface glycoprotein S gene of the virus.
For its part, Sanofi will use its expression platform for recombinant baculoviruses to produce large quantities of the surface antigen of the new coronavirus.
The “vaccine group” at the University of Queensland, Australia, announced that it is already working on a prototype using the technique called “molecular clamp”. This new technology consists of creating chimeric molecules capable of maintaining the original three-dimensional structure of the viral antigen. This allows vaccines to be produced in record time, using the virus genome.
Another biotechnology company, Novavax, has also announced that it is working on the coronavirus. It has a technology allowing the production of recombinant proteins assembled in nanoparticles which, with their own adjuvant, constitute powerful immunogens. In Spain, the group of Luis Enjuanes and Isabel Sola, of the CNB-CSIC, has been working for years on vaccines against coronaviruses.
Some of these prototypes will soon be tested in humans.
• Over 80 clinical trials of antivirals are underway
Vaccines are preventative. In the immediate term, it is important to develop treatments to treat people who are already sick. More than 80 clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of treatments for the coronavirus are underway. These are antivirals that have been used for other infections that are already approved and that we know are safe.
Remdesivir is one of those antivirals already tested in humans. This broad-spectrum antiviral, still under study, has been used against Ebola and the SARS and SEA coronaviruses. It is an adenosine analog. Incorporated into the viral RNA chain, it inhibits its replication.
Another candidate is chloroquine. This antimalarial drug has also been shown to have potent antiviral activity. We know that chloroquine blocks viral infection by increasing the pH of the endosome (a kind of small spherical structure bounded by a membrane), necessary for the fusion of the virus with the cell, thus inhibiting its entry. This compound has been shown to block the new coronavirus in vitro. Chloroquine is already used in patients with pneumonia caused by a coronavirus.
Lopinavir and ritonavir are two protease inhibitors used as antiretroviral therapy in the fight against HIV, which inhibit their final maturation. Since the protease of Sars-Cov-2 has been shown to be similar to that of HIV, this combination has already been tested in patients with coronavirus.
Among the other proposed trials, some are based on the use of oseltamivir (a neuraminidase inhibitor used against the influenza virus), interferon beta-1b (a protein with antiviral function), antisera people who have already recovered or monoclonal antibodies to neutralize the virus. New therapies using inhibitory substances have also been proposed, such as baricitinib, a drug already authorized in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis whose potential effectiveness against the coronavirus has been identified thanks to artificial intelligence.
In 1918, the flu pandemic killed more than 25 million in less than 25 weeks. Could such a situation happen again today? Probably not. Indeed, never in our history have we been better prepared to fight a pandemic.