Ten good news about the coronavirus

By Ignacio López-Goñi, university of Navarra

Let us classify the new coronavirus as a pandemic or not, the issue is serious. Do not take away importance. In less than two months it has spread over several continents, but the virus doesn't care what we call it. A pandemic implies a sustained, effective and continuous transmission of the disease simultaneously in more than three different geographical regions. We may already be in that phase, but that is not synonymous with death, since the term does not refer to the lethality of the pathogen but to its transmissibility and geographical extension.

What there certainly is is a pandemic of fear. For the first time in history we are experiencing a real-time epidemic: all the media, several times a day, every day, all over the planet, talk about the coronavirus. We follow the drip of each case live. It has even been front page news that the virus in Brazil has mutated three times!

I insist: the issue is serious, but one of the first victims of the coronavirus in Spain has been the Ibex35. You have to report what is happening, but we also need good news. Here are ten of them.

1. We know who it is

The first cases of AIDS were described in June 1981 and it took more than two years to identify the virus causing the disease. The first cases of severe pneumonia were reported in China on December 31, 2019 and by January 7 the virus had already been identified.

The genome was available on day 10. We already know that it is a new coronavirus of group 2B, from the same family as SARS, which is why we have called it SARSCoV2. The disease is called COVID19.

It is related to coronavirus of bats. Genetic analysis confirms that it has a recent natural origin (between the end of November and the beginning of December) and that, although viruses live by mutating, their frequency of mutation is not very high.

2. We know how to detect it

An RT-PCR assay to detect the virus is available to everyone from January 13.

In recent months, these types of tests have been perfected and their sensitivity and specificity evaluated.

3. In China the situation is improving

The strong control and isolation measures imposed by China are paying off. For several weeks now, the number of cases diagnosed decreases every day.

In other countries a very detailed epidemiological follow-up is being done. The foci are very concrete, which can allow them to be controlled more easily. For example, in South Korea and Singapore.

4. 80% of cases are mild

The disease causes no symptoms or is mild in 81% of cases. In the remaining 14% it can cause severe pneumonia and in 5% it can become critical or even fatal.

5. People heal

The only data that are sometimes shown in the media are the increase in the number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths, but the majority of infected people are cured. There are 13 times more cured patients than deceased, and the proportion is increasing.

6. Does not affect (almost) minors

Only 3% of cases occur in children under 20, and mortality in children under 40 is only 0.2%. In children the symptoms are so mild that it can go unnoticed.

7. The virus is easily inactivated

The virus can be inactivated of the surfaces effectively with a solution of ethanol (62-71% alcohol), hydrogen peroxide (0.5% hydrogen peroxide) or hypochlorite sodium (0.1% bleach), in just one minute.

Frequent handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to avoid contagion.

8. There are already more than 150 scientific articles

It is the time of science and cooperation. In just over a month, 164 articles can be consulted in PubMed on COVID19 or SARSCov2, in addition to many others available in article repositories not yet peer reviewed (pre-prints). They are preliminary works on vaccines, treatments, epidemiology, genetics and phylogeny, diagnosis and clinical aspects.

These articles are prepared by about 700 authors scattered throughout the site. It is science in common, shared and open. In 2003, when the SARS, it took more than a year to get less than half of items.

In addition, most scientific journals have left their funds open on the coronavirus.

9. There are already prototypes of vaccines

Our ability to design new vaccines is spectacular. There are already more than eight projects against the new coronavirus. There are groups that work on vaccine projects against other similar viruses and now try to change viruses.

What can lengthen its development are all the necessary tests of toxicity, side effects, safety, immunogenicity and effectiveness in protection. Therefore, there are several months or years, but some prototypes are already underway.

For example, the vaccine mRNA-1273 Modern company consists of a fragment of messenger RNA that encodes a protein derived from glycoprotein S of the surface of coronavirus. This company has similar prototypes for other viruses.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals has announced a synthetic DNA vaccine for the new coronavirus, INO-4800, also based on the S gene of the virus surface. For its part, Sanofi, you will use your expression platform in baculovirus recombinant to produce large amounts of the new surface antigen coronavirus.

The vaccine group of the University of Queensland, in Australia, has announced that the technique called is already working on a prototype molecular clamp, a novel technology that consists of creating chimeric molecules capable of maintaining the original three-dimensional structure of the viral antigen. This allows to produce vaccines using the genome of the virus in record time.

Novavax it's another company biotechnology who has announced his work with the coronavirus. It has a technology to produce proteins recombinant that are assembled in nanoparticles and that, with their own adjuvant, they are powerful immunogens.

In Spain it is the group of Luis Enjuanes and Isabel Sola of the CNB-CSIC who are working on vaccines against coronavirus for years.

Some of these prototypes will soon be tested in humans.

10. There are more than 80 clinical trials with antivirals in progress

Vaccines are preventive. More important are the possible treatments of people who are already sick. There are already more than 80 clinical trials to analyze coronavirus treatments. Is about antivirals that have been used for other infections, that are already approved and that we know they are safe.

One of those that has already been tested in humans is remdesivir, a antiviral broad spectrum, still under study, which has been tested against ebola and the SARS/MERS. It is an analogue of the adenosine which is incorporated into the viral RNA chain and inhibits its replication.

Another candidate is the chloroquine, a antimalarial which also has a powerful activity antiviral. It is known to block the infection by increasing the pH of the endosome that is needed for the fusion of the virus with the cell, which inhibits its entry. It has been proven that this compound blocks the new coronavirus in vitro and it is already being used in patients to whom the virus has caused pneumonia.

Lopinavir Y Ritonavir are two inhibitors of the proteases employees as therapy antiretroviral that inhibit the final maturation of the AIDS virus. As it has been proven that the protease of the SARSCov2 It is similar to HIV, this combination has already been tested in patients with the coronavirus.

Other proposed trials are based on the use of oseltamivir (a inhibitor of the neuraminidase employee against the flu virus), interferon-1b (protein with function antiviral), antisera of people already recovered and monoclonal antibodies to neutralize the virus. New substance therapies have even been suggested inhibitors, as the baricitinibine, selected by artificial intelligence.

The 1918 flu pandemic caused more than 25 million deaths in less than 25 weeks. Could something similar happen again today? As we see, most likely not. We have never been better prepared to fight a pandemic.

Ignacio López-Goñi, Professor of Microbiology, University of Navarra

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.