Experts, media and official agencies have repeated, both actively and passively, that we should not be alarmed by the health emergency of the new coronavirus. However, this does not mean that we should not give COVID-19 the importance it deserves.
So far, the only effective prevention measures available are respiratory hygiene and isolation; as far as treatment measures against the coronavirus are concerned, we only have those aimed at mitigating the symptoms, such as analgesics and mucolytics. In the worst case, we will have to learn to live with 2019-nCoV, and that is why scientists are already working on both a vaccine and effective drugs.
On February 15, Nature magazine published a study claiming that 80 clinical trials are already underway to test drugs against the new coronavirus. Two of them have already borne fruit, showing an effective response.
The most efficient approach to drug discovery against the new coronavirus is to test whether existing antivirals are effective in treating related viral infections.
Covid 19 is a new virus and it belongs to the Betacoronavirus group, which also includes the Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). Several drugs have been used against these, but their effectiveness is still unclear.
A study published in Nature magazine, on February 4 assessed the antiviral efficacy of several U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs and two broad-spectrum antiviral drugs, against an isolated 2019-nCoV sample in vitro.
The results showed that two of them were "highly effective in controlling 2019-nCoV infection in vitro.
Greenlight for human trials
The FDA gave the green light on February 27th to begin human clinical trials. The studies will consist of the intravenous application of one of the drugs to 1,000 patients, mainly from Asian countries.
However, Gaceta Médica published that one of the two drugs that showed positive results was already applied in January to the first patient, with the intention of applying a palliative measure, in the United States: he was hospitalized and 12 days had passed since the beginning of the symptoms. After the application, an improvement in his clinical condition was observed.
The studies should be completed by the end of April, and the first drug could be approved by the Chinese authorities in early May, according to Nature Shibo Jiang, a virologist at Shanghai's Fudan University.
A vaccine against the new coronavirus
The American pharmaceutical company Modern (MRNA) announced on February 24 that it already had a vaccine against 2019-nCoV in phase I and that it’s, ready to be tested on humans. But it is not the only one. Other companies, such as the giant Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are also looking at ways to develop the vaccine.
If, indeed, the worst-case scenario occurs (that we have to live with COVID-19 as just another respiratory disease), the efforts of the international scientific community are essential to mitigate the effects of this new coronavirus.