The social and economic response to the coronavirus threat is changing by the hour in Southwestern Ontario and across Canada. Here is a rundown of our latest coverage on the London-area fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic
Why don’t we have drugs to treat COVID-19 and how long will it take to develop them? SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 – is completely new and attacks cells in a novel way. Every virus is different and so are the drugs used to treat them.
That’s why there wasn’t a drug ready to tackle the new coronavirus that only emerged a few months ago.
As a systems biologist who studies how cells are affected by viruses during infections, I’m especially interested in the second question. Finding points of vulnerability and developing a drug to treat a disease typically takes years.
But the new coronavirus isn’t giving the world that kind of time. With most of the world on lockdown and the looming threat of millions of deaths, researchers need to find an effective drug much faster.
This situation has presented my colleagues and me with the challenge and opportunity of a lifetime: to help solve this huge public health and economic crisis posed by the global pandemic of SARS-CoV-2.
Facing this crisis, we assembled a team here at the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at the University of California, San Francisco, to discover how the virus attacks cells.
But instead of trying to create a new drug based on this information, we are first looking to see if there are any drugs available today that can disrupt these pathways and fight the coronavirus.
The team of 22 labs, that we named the QCRG, is working at breakneck speed – literally around the clock and in shifts – seven days a week. I imagine this is what it felt like to be in wartime efforts like the Enigma code-breaking group during World War II, and our team is similarly hoping to disarm our enemy by understanding its inner workings.
A stealthy opponent
To get around this limited set of tools, the virus cleverly turns the human body against itself. The pathways into a human cell are normally locked to outside invaders, but the coronavirus uses its own proteins like keys to open these “locks” and enter a person’s cells.
Once inside, the virus binds to proteins the cell normally uses for its own functions, essentially hijacking the cell and turning it into a coronavirus factory. As the resources and mechanics of infected cells get retooled to produce thousands and thousands of viruses, the cells start dying.
Lung cells are particularly vulnerable to this because they express high amounts of the “lock” protein SARS-CoV-2 uses for entry. A large number of a person’s lung cells dying causes the respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.
There are two ways to fight back. First, drugs could attack the virus’s own proteins, preventing them from doing jobs like entering the cell or copying their genetic material once they are inside. This is how remdesivir – a drug currently in clinical trials for COVID-19 – works.
A problem with this approach is that viruses mutate and change over time. In the future, the coronavirus could evolve in ways that render a drug like remdesivir useless. This arms race between drugs and viruses is why you need a new flu shot every year.
Alternatively, a drug can work by blocking a viral protein from interacting with a human protein it needs. This approach – essentially protecting the host machinery – has a big advantage over disabling the virus itself, because the human cell doesn’t change as fast.
Once you find a good drug, it should keep working. This is the approach that our team is taking. And it may also work against other emergent viruses.
Learning the enemy’s plans
The first thing our group needed to do was identify every part of the cellular factory that the coronavirus relies on to reproduce. We needed to find out what proteins the virus was hijacking.
To do this, a team in my lab went on a molecular fishing expedition inside human cells. Instead of a worm on a hook, they used viral proteins with tiny chemical tags attached to them – termed a “bait.”
We put these baits into lab-grown human cells and then pulled them out to see what we caught. Anything that stuck was a human protein that the virus hijacks during infection.
By March 2, we had a partial list of the human proteins that the coronavirus needs to thrive. These were the first clues we could use. A team member sent a message to our group, “First iteration, just 3 baits … next 5 baits coming.” The fight was on.
Once we had this list of molecular targets the virus needs to survive, members of the team raced to identify known compounds that might bind to these targets and prevent the virus from using them to replicate.
If a compound can prevent the virus from copying itself in a person’s body, the infection stops. But you can’t simply interfere with cellular processes at will without potentially causing harm to the body.
Our team needed to be sure the compounds we identified would be safe and nontoxic for people.
The traditional way to do this would involve years of pre-clinical studies and clinical trials costing millions of dollars. But there is a fast and basically free way around this: looking to the 20,000 FDA-approved drugs that have already been safety-tested. Maybe there is a drug in this large list that can fight the coronavirus.
For example, one of the hits was a cancer drug called JQ1. While we cannot predict how this drug might affect the virus, it has a good chance of doing something. Through testing, we will know if that something helps patients.
Facing the threat of global border shutdowns, we immediately shipped boxes of these 10 drugs to three of the few labs in the world working with live coronavirus samples: two at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Mount Sinai in New York.
By March 13, the drugs were being tested in cells to see if they prevent the virus from reproducing.
Dispatches from the battlefield
Our team will soon learn from our collaborators at Mt. Sinai and the Pasteur Institute whether any of these first 10 drugs work against SARS-CoV-2 infections.
Meanwhile, the team has continued fishing with viral baits, finding hundreds of additional human proteins that the coronavirus co-opts. We will be publishing the results in the online repository BioRxiv soon.
The good news is that so far, our team has found 50 existing drugs that bind the human proteins we’ve identified. This large number makes me hopeful that we’ll be able to find a drug to treat COVID-19.
If we find an approved drug that even slows down the virus’s progression, doctors should be able to start getting it to patients quickly and save lives.
Got COVID-19 symptoms? Avoid snuggling with Fluffy and Fido, experts advise – CTV News
Canadians who are sick with COVID-19 or suspect they have the virus are being warned to be careful around their pets and other animals.
“COVID-19 virus infections have become widely distributed in the human population. In some rare circumstances, some animals have become infected through close contact with infected humans,” says a statement on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association website.
The association points out that there is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the spread of COVID-19 and that human outbreaks are driven by person-to-person contact.
But as a precautionary measure, it refers to recent recommendations from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency which say anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or those who are self-isolating due to contact with a COVID-19 case should follow similar recommendations around pets and livestock as they would around people.
That includes avoiding close contact with animals, good handwashing and avoiding coughing and sneezing on animals. It also means limiting your animal’s contact with other people and animals outside the household, and if possible, have someone else in your home care for your animals.
“Scientists are still trying to understand if and how (COVID-19) affects animals. This is an area that continues to be studied,” the CFIA website says, citing the World Organisation for Animal Health.
The organisation says on its website that evidence suggests COVID-19 emerged from an animal source, and that genetic sequence data shows it is a close relative of other coronaviruses in horseshoe bat populations.
But it says to date, there is not enough scientific evidence to identify the source or to explain the original route of transmission from an animal source to humans.
“Currently, there is no evidence that companion animals are playing a significant epidemiological role in this human disease,” the organization’s website states.
“However, because animals and people can sometimes share diseases (known as zoonotic diseases), it is still recommended that people who are sick with COVID-19 limit contact with companion and other animals until more information is known about the virus.”
The Saskatchewan government said Sunday that anyone with COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals.
“If there is already an animal in the household, that animal should remain in isolation along with the patient,” a provincial news release said.
The Bronx Zoo announced Sunday that one of its tigers tested positive for the new coronavirus. The four-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia – and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill – are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn’t yet showing symptoms, the zoo said.
Despite warnings to avoid animals, the CFIA notes that if you’re not showing COVID-19 symptoms or self-isolating, taking walks with pets and spending time with them is still beneficial for both of you.
“Pets contribute to our overall happiness and well-being, especially in times of stress,” the agency’s website says.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2020.
Coronavirus: Woman explains day-by-day symptoms of COVID-19 – 'literal fire in my lungs' – Express
“Now, I can really understand and support the seriousness of just staying home, and not spreading this.
“It truly affects every person differently, and I consider myself to be very lucky to have it only last a couple of weeks, and some people it’s very mild, and some people die. You just don’t know, it’s literally a roll of the dice.
“So, if anything I can just say please stay home.
“I’ve done it. It’s like 22 days now, and I’m actually cool. It’s all good.”
LFP's providing unlimited access to our COVID-19 coverage. Here's the latest: April 6 – The London Free Press
The social and economic response to the coronavirus threat is changing by the hour in Southwestern Ontario and across Canada. Here is a rundown of our latest coverage on the London-area fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic:
ICYMI: News from the weekend:
CORONAVIRUS CASES: THE NUMBERS
(*Figures for Southwestern Ontario as of Sunday, April 5, 2020 at 5 p.m.)
- Ontario: 4,038 cases; 119 deaths
- London and Middlesex County: 134 cases; five deaths
- Oxford and Elgin counties (combined): 21 cases; two deaths
- Brant County: 46 cases; one death
- Chatham-Kent: 12 cases; one death
- Sarnia-Lambton: 79 cases; eight deaths
- Huron-Perth: 17 cases; one death
- Grey-Bruce: 21 cases; no deaths
- Windsor-Essex: 184 cases; three deaths
- Regional case total: 514
- Regional deaths: 21
Each day we will have a rundown of our latest coverage on the London-area fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic
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Here’s our LFP COVID-19 day-by-day coverage:
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