Coronavirus research

SARS-CoV-2

Vaccine

There is no available vaccine, but coronavirus research into developing a vaccine has been undertaken by various agencies. There are three vaccination strategies being investigated:

  • First, researchers aim to build a whole virus vaccine. The use of such a virus (inactive or dead) aims to elicit a prompt immune response of the human body to a new infection with COVID-19.
  • A second strategy, subunit vaccines, aims to create a vaccine that sensitises the immune system to certain subunits of the virus. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, such research focuses on the S-spike protein that helps the virus intrude the ACE2 enzyme receptor.
  • A third strategy is that of the nucleic acid vaccines (DNA or RNA vaccines, a novel technique for creating a vaccination).

Experimental vaccines from any of these strategies would have to be tested for safety and efficacy.

Antivirals

Several existing antiviral medications are being evaluated for treatment of COVID-19 and some have moved into clinical trials. In March 2020, in response to COVID-19 pandemic, WHO launched a multi-country trial involving 10 countries called "Solidarity". Remdesivir, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and lopinavir/ritonavir combined with interferon beta are the experimental treatments being researched under Solidarity Trial.

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, previously used to treat malaria, improves the success rate of treatment and shortens the length of person's hospital stay and it is recommended for people diagnosed with mild, moderate and severe cases of novel coronavirus pneumonia.

Cytokine storm, a life-threatening medical condition, can be a complication in the later stages of severe COVID-19. There is clear evidence that hydroxychloroquine has anti-cytokine storm properties.

Passive antibody therapy

Transferring donated blood containing antibodies produced by the immune systems of those who have recovered from COVID-19 to people who need them is being investigated as a non-vaccine method of immunisation. This strategy was tried for SARS. Viral neutralization is the anticipated mechanism of action by which passive antibody therapy can mediate defence against SARS-CoV-2. Other mechanisms, such as antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity and/or phagocytosis, may however be possible. Other forms of passive antibody therapy, for example, using manufactured monoclonal antibodies, are in development.

Production of "convalescent serum", which consists of the liquid portion of the blood from recovered patients and contains antibodies specific to this virus, could be increased for quicker deployment.