Scientists join forces to combat coronavirus outbreak

Amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, scientists from around the globe race to fight the deadly virus. Now, a team of Harvard scientists has joined forces with Chinese experts to develop new therapies and prevent the further spread of the virus.

Since the novel coronavirus, now officially called COVID-19, emerged in late December, it has evolved into a global threat, negatively impacting nations and killing thousands of people. There are currently over 80,000 infected people worldwide, with 2,699 deaths, and has spread to more than 30 countries.

Currently, health systems in affected areas, especially in mainland China have been exhausted, with many health workers now also infected. Economies worldwide have been affected, with Hubei province still in lockdown.

Collaborative work

To address these challenges, a team of Harvard University scientists will team up with Chinese colleagues to develop new therapies that would prevent new infections. Further, they plan to design treatments that would reduce the effects of the deadly virus in the body.

The team will be composed of health experts, scientists, clinical researchers, and translational investigators from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They will collaborate with scientists from the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health, and with Zhong Nanshan, a reputed epidemiologist, and pulmonologist who headed the Chinese 2019n-CoV Expert Taskforce.

Closeup on automatic multipipette tips over 96 well plate. Image Credit: Anyaivanova / Shutterstock
Closeup on automatic multipipette tips over 96 well plate. Image Credit: Anyaivanova / Shutterstock

The work's goal

Though the formal details are still being finalized, the major goal of the project is to better understand the basic biology of the pathogen and its mechanism of infection.

The scientists plan to develop fast and accurate diagnostic tests, which are easily accessible for affected countries. Further, they want to help develop new vaccines to prevent infection, especially for vulnerable and high-risk populations, understand the immune system's role and response, identify biomarkers that aid in monitoring the infection course and disease progression, and predict the onset of life-threatening complications.

The project also aims to develop antiviral therapies to help shorten the duration of the infection and alleviate the symptoms in affected patients. Lastly, the team wants to formulate new therapies for those with severe disease, specifically high-risk people, including seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

The project has $115 million in research funding provided by the China Evergrande Group, a Fortune Global 500 company in China.

"We are confident that the collaboration of Harvard and Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health will contribute valuable discoveries to this worldwide effort. We are grateful for Evergrande's leadership and generosity in facilitating this collaboration and for all the scientists and clinicians rising to the call of action in combating this emerging threat to global well-being," Lawrence Bacow, Harvard University President, said.

Meanwhile, Zhong expressed his gratitude for the research funding.

"We are extremely encouraged by the generous gesture from Evergrande to coordinate and support the collaboration and by the overwhelmingly positive response from our Harvard colleagues," Zhong said. He was the one who identified the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus, a pathogen that has caused nearly 1,000 deaths.  

"We look forward to leveraging each of our respective strengths to address the immediate and longer-term challenges and fruitful collaboration to advance the global well-being of all people," Zhong added.

Coronavirus by the numbers

More than 30 countries have already reported cases of the coronavirus disease outbreak, with South Korea reporting the highest number of cases outside mainland China, with 893 cases, followed by Italy with 229 cases and Japan with 160 cases. The United States has seen a sharp increase in confirmed cases from 35 to 53 in 24 hours.

As of writing, there are 80,147 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 2,699 deaths, most of which occurred in mainland China.​

Sources:

Harvard Medical School (2020). Tackling Coronavirus. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/tackling-coronavirus

Dong, E., Du, H., Gardner, L. (2020). An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30120-1/fulltext

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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