Over the last five years, Baric, working closely with Vanderbilt University infectious-disease specialist Mark Denison, tested almost 200,000 drugs against SARS, MERS and other bat coronavirus strains. He found at least two dozen that appeared to hinder the virus.
Among the most promising was Gilead’s remdesivir, a drug that fared poorly when used against a recent Ebola outbreak in Africa. In the lab, it worked against numerous coronavirus strains, including SARS and other bat coronaviruses that are similar to the new strain. Every coronavirus it was tested on, “it had high potency and efficacy,” Denison says.
That work was fortuitous. In early January, Baric got an urgent call from an infectious-disease colleague to send his unpublished data on remdesivir to colleagues in China who were dealing with a then-mysterious outbreak. Baric says he “was shocked” to see how fast the coronavirus was spreading.
Since then, work at his lab has been virtually nonstop. Each scientist puts in from one to six hours inside two different clean rooms equipped to handle the virus. The lab’s workday begins at 6 a.m. and often goes until 11 p.m. Individual sessions are short for safety and practical reasons — researchers aren’t permitted to eat, drink or visit the bathroom once inside the lab. Everyone has to pass an FBI background check and undergo months of safety training.
The WHO has stated remdesivir is their best bet for a suitable treatment for coronaviruses. It’s another question whether Gilead will make money form that evolving market since it will be under extreme pressure to provide an affordable range of treatments ahead of a vaccine being developed over the next year.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top