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There Has Already Been One 'Amazing Breakthrough' in Covid-19 Research

By Dustin Rowles | | April 9, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | | April 9, 2020 |


We’re getting a lot of mixed messages from the world’s news today. The deaths are still going up in NYC, but the hospitalizations are going down. The models that once predicted 100,000 deaths are now predicting 60,000 deaths, which Fox News is ghoulishly celebrating.

Wuhan is no longer under lockdown. Some smaller countries — like Denmark — are looking to slowly re-open next week. The White House is looking toward May 1st, which is way too early, because we still don’t have the testing capabilities and, in fact, the federal government is inexplicably going to stop paying for some testing centers. With the exception of Massachusetts, I also haven’t seen any evidence in other states that people are being hired to do what is necessary to get this under control: Contact trace. There’s a lot of technology available to help contact tracing, but it will require giving up a lot of privacy, privacy that we’re not likely to get back after the pandemic.

Meanwhile, while efforts to flatten the curve seem to be working, many are suggesting that these efforts will need to be maintained for another year or year and a half. Another 6.6 million people were added to the unemployment rolls this past week, Bloomberg News is predicting that the economy will not return until late 2021, everyone is warning of a second wave, and if we re-open and there is a second wave, our federal government is just going to let it obliterate us.

It’s hard to find a lot of room for hope that isn’t immediately snuffed out. And yet … it is there if we look hard enough. Yesterday, Professor Wilson pointed me toward a Reddit AMA with a few experts in virology, microbiology, drug discovery, and biosciences. It’s a very technical AMA, and often the questions seemed to be asked by other experts, so much of it went over my head.

But there was enough I could understand to have reason for hope. For instance, they suggested that a lot of pharmaceutical companies are developing “novel monoclonal antibodies” (I think this means synthetic antibodies), and one company may even be ready to roll theirs out by the summer. None of the experts, however, seem to be all that high on hydroxychloroquine, but they do seem to be upbeat on Remdesivir, which are now in Phase 3 trials (actually, it looks like they’ve been in Phase 3 trials for over a month and data is expected soon). Gilead, meanwhile, is ramping up production of the medicine and giving it away for free).

There is one huge breakthrough, however, that really is cause for celebration, because of one breakthrough to come out of this research. It comes from these experts in the AMA, who reiterated something I heard a few weeks back on The Daily podcast. This is from Nevan Krogan, PhD, a professor and the director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at UCSF and a Senior Investigator at the Gladstone Institutes.

Nevan: For me personally, one of the most amazing breakthroughs that I have seen through this COVID-19 research is the silos that have been broken down where collaborative research is happening at an unprecedented speed. This is work between labs at the same institute, across different institutions, across the world, and between academia and pharmaceutical companies. This is how science should be done and I hope we are setting up a new paradigm of how drug discovery should be done for COVID-22, -24 or what other diseases we want to solve.

Another expert — virologist John Young — agrees:

John: I completely agree with Nevan. One of the most remarkable advances has been the way that industry, academia, private foundations and government agencies have come together with a sense of collaboration and urgency to tackle this crisis. Examples include:

World Health Organization (WHO) Coordinated Global Research Roadmap.

EU Innovative Medicines Initiative therapeutics and diagnostics funding call.

Caliber/Scripps/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation/Industry partners-screening of industry preclinical compound libraries.

Biopharmaceutical company alliance, chaired by Novartis and the Gates Foundation.

CEPI (Center for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations). CEPI was founded in Davos by the governments of Norway and India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the World Economic Forum.

COVID Therapeutics Accelerator Funded by the Gates Foundation, Wellcome, Mastercard, Chan-Zuckerberg.

It’s not a cure, nor it is a treatment. But if we are ever going to get a cure or a treatment, it will be because of this amazing breakthrough in the way experts across a number of professions are working together to solve the biggest public health crisis in our lifetimes. For today, that’s reason enough to hope.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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