By Sergey Young
Global coronavirus cases reached over 1.2 million and more than 69,000 deaths by April 6th. This makes the COVID-19 death toll significantly larger than of its ‘cousin’ SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus in 2003 (774 total deaths) and ‘bird flu’ in 2013 (616 total deaths).
Despite this pandemic being more violent than others that we have experienced in recent history, we are also better prepared to fight it. Advancements in tech are making it quicker, easier, and cheaper than ever before to manage the outbreak – and maybe even prevent similar outbursts in the future.
On March 13, the US Food and Drug Administration granted its first approval for commercial COVID-19 diagnostic tests – just 24 hours after Roche and Thermo Fisher submitted their applications. Three days later, Roche began shipping its first 400,000 tests in the US, with plans to scale up the manufacture to 400,000 units per week. In the meantime, Thermo Fisher has built its stock to 1.5 million diagnostic tests and set the goal of producing 5 million tests per week by April 2020.
Both companies claim their tests can provide results in a several hours, marking a vast improvement from the standard US state-lab testing diagnostic time of 2-3 days. But Roche and Thermo Fisher won’t be the only ones on the market: FDA will soon allow private companies to market coronavirus test kits without receiving prior approval. This will help to speed up the distribution and improve availability of tests to the general public.
Certain treatments, which are especially effective at the early onset of the disease, are already in clinical trials. These treatments prevent the virus from further replicating inside the body, helping infected patients to recover much quicker. Having said that, these types of treatments are only suitable for those patients whose symptoms are still relatively mild and who do not require an ICU.
One of the treatments receiving a lot of attention is remdesivir – an experimental drug by Gilead that was initially developed to treat Ebola, MERS and other infectious diseases. Remdesivir has been shown to effectively inhibit coronavirus in vitro, with the outcome of clinical trials being expected at the end of April 2020. Another HIV medicine lopinavir/ritonavir may also be an effective COVID-19 treatment. It has already been adopted for experimental use in some patients in China and India, where it has shown promising results. AbbVie is currently testing this drug for public use approval.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA are exploring treatments that are even more experimental. “Convalescent serum” – a method, which involves harvesting virus-fighting antibodies from the blood of previously infected but successfully recovered patients, is said to hold a lot of promise to slowing and even completely eliminating coronavirus in new patients.
Despite the wide range of extremely promising treatments, another company – Insilico Medicine, a Longevity Vision Fund portfolio company – is making sure we never run out of options. Insilico Medicine repurposed its AI-powered drug discovery platform specifically to fight against COVID-19, taking just 4 days to identify thousands of new molecules that could serve as potential medications. The company has also started to openly publish continuously updated molecular structures targeting the key protein, so that researchers looking for a potential treatment for coronavirus could synthesize and test these molecules independently.
Coronavirus vaccines are expected to take a minimum of 12-18 months to be developed and certified for general human use. However, some companies are closer to the finish line than others.
For example, Moderna has already began vaccine trials in USA on March 18th. Unlike most therapies, which use samples of the actual virus (in deactivated or weakened form) to jump-start the body’s natural defenses, Moderna relies on the RNA (a molecule essential for various biological roles in coding, regulation and expression of genes) to kickstart the production of proteins similar enough to the virus that they trigger the body’s development of antibodies effective against the actual target.
Inovio is fast-tracking the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, with Phase 1 human trials on up to 50 healthy people set to begin in April 2020 in the US. Inovio is developing one of the most innovative DNA-based vaccines, delivered to the patient via a hand-held “gun” device that runs on “AA” batteries.
The Good News
In conclusion, some countries have begun working on their exit, or rather, re-entry plan. Germany will test thousands of Berliners for immunity and issue coronavirus antibody certificates to allow the quarantined to re-enter society. China has begun reopening shops, restaurants, offices, and factories. Most of China’s workforce is now back at work, with the final lockdown in Hubei province set to lift on April 8th. Moreover, China has not reported any new locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 reported as of March 18th. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel – and now we are finally beginning to see it.
About Sergey Young
Sergey Young is a longevity investor with a mission to extend healthy lifespans of at least one billion people. Building on his investment expertise, which spans over 20 years, Sergey founded the $100M Longevity Vision Fund to accelerate life extension breakthroughs and to make them affordable and accessible to all. The investment focus of Longevity Vision Fund includes technologies, products, and services that extend healthy human lifespans and mitigate the negative effects of aging. Sergey Young is one of Top-100 Longevity Leaders and a Forbes Tech Council Member