Test Kits, Antiviral Drugs And Vaccines: The Science You Need To Know About Coronavirus

Mar 12, 2020

For resources on the coronavirus, visit the CDC’s page here. NPR’s coverage of the coronavirus outbreak is available here


What does it take to make an effective vaccine quickly? Why are testing kits so hard to find? What makes this coronavirus so virulent? We’ll dig deep into the science you need to know.

Guests

Tina Hesman Saey, senior writer on molecular biology for Science News. (@thsaey)

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, An expert on infectious diseases. Professor of pediatrics and health research and policy at Stanford University Medical School. (@StanfordMed)

Dr. Mark Denison, professor of pathology, microbiology, immunology and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University. (@DenisonLab)

From The Reading List

Science News:”Repurposed drugs may help scientists fight the new coronavirus” — “As the new coronavirus makes its way around the world, doctors and researchers are searching for drugs to treat the ill and stop the spread of the disease, which has already killed more than 3,800 people since its introduction in Wuhan, China, in December.

“The culprit virus is in the same family as the coronaviruses that caused two other outbreaks, severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome. But the new coronavirus may be more infectious. In early March, the number of confirmed cases of the new disease, called COVID-19, had exceeded 100,000, far surpassing the more than 10,600 combined total cases of SARS and MERS.

“Health officials are mainly relying on quarantines to try to contain the virus’ spread. Such low-tech public health measures were effective at stopping SARS in 2004, Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said January 29 in Arlington, Va., at the annual American Society for Microbiology’s Biothreats meeting.”

Science News: “What you need to know about coronavirus testing in the U.S.” — “U.S. government officials say a million promised tests for diagnosing coronavirus infections will soon be in the mail. But that still leaves many state and local laboratories without the ability to test for the virus, crucial for curbing its spread around the country.

“Some states have developed their own tests. Clinical testing companies are now joining the ranks. LabCorp announced March 5 that physicians or other authorized health care providers could already order its test. Quest Diagnostics announced the same day that the company will also offer commercial tests as soon as March 9, pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews.

“Participation of those two commercial laboratories could greatly expand testing capacity in the United States. But for now, ‘we still find ourselves as a country with pretty limited capacity to test,’ says Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.”

STAT News: “To develop a coronavirus vaccine, synthetic biologists try to outdo nature” — “Even as companies rush to develop and test vaccines against the new coronavirus, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are betting that scientists can do even better than what’s now in the pipeline.

“If, as seems quite possible, the Covid-19 virus becomes a permanent part of the world’s microbial menagerie rather than being eradicated like the earlier SARS coronavirus, next-gen approaches will be needed to address shortcomings of even the most cutting-edge vaccines: They take years to develop and manufacture, they become obsolete if the virus evolves, and the immune response they produce is often weak.

“With Gates and NIH funding, the emerging field of synthetic biology is answering the SOS over Covid-19, aiming to engineer vaccines that overcome these obstacles. ‘It’s all of us against the bug,’ said Neil King of the University of Washington, who has been part of the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine since 2017.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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