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Ignacio Lopez Goni, Full Professor of Microbiology, University of Navarra, Spain.

From science: there is reason for hope

Sun, 29 Mar 2020 10:31:00 +0000 Published in Diario Vasco, Ideal, La Verdad, Las Provincias

Ignacio López GoñiProbably none of us have ever experienced a status like the current one. It is as close to a war as many of us have ever been. Wars we don't know when or how they end. But epidemics start, peak and end. In an epidemic at the beginning the issue of people susceptible to infection is high and the issue of infected people increases rapidly. As time goes by, the issue of susceptible people decreases (because they have been cured, immunized, vaccinated, ... or have died). There are less and less people to get infected and we reach the peak of the epidemic. In order to delay and reduce this peak, there is no choice but to cut the chain of transmission of the virus and that, at this moment, we can only do it with the measures of confinement and isolation that we are all suffering. Now, staying at home is the vaccine, the vaccine is you! Epidemics pass, and we know that we are going to win, even if the issue of casualties and the blow is considerable.

But even in these hard times there is reason for hope. In 1918, the greatest pandemic of the 20th century occurred: the flu of that year caused more deaths in 25 weeks than HIV did in 25 years, more deaths than the Great War, World War I. But today, a century later, we can say that we have never been so well prepared to fight a pandemic. But today, a century later, we can say that we have never been so well prepared to fight a pandemic. Since China reported the first cases of severe pneumonia of unknown origin to the WHO at the end of December, a multitude of scientists around the world have been investigating the cause, searching for a solution and dusting off earlier experiments against other pathogens. When the first cases of AIDS were described in 1981, it took more than two years to discover the causative agent, the HIV virus. Can you imagine if we were now two years without knowing who caused it all? Now, in a matter of a few days, the virus was identified, it was discovered to be a coronavirus, SARSCoV2, its genome was sequenced and the first diagnostic kit was developed. In less than two months, new, faster diagnostic systems have also been developed.

We still have many unanswered questions, but never before has science known so much about a virus that was discovered only three months ago. If you visit enquiry instructions at data, there are already more than 1,400 scientific articles published on the SARSCoV2 virus or the COVID19 disease. These are works on the biology of the virus, vaccines, treatments, epidemiology, Genetics and phylogeny, diagnosis, clinical aspects, ... These articles are written by hundreds of authors from all over the world. It is science in common, shared and open. In 2003, when the SARS coronavirus occurred, it took more than a year to obtain less than a third of articles. In these months, there are already several therapeutic proposals (antivirals) and vaccines against the new coronavirus. Many of these proposals come from groups at research that have been working for years against other viruses, especially against SARS and MERS. All this accumulated knowledge has now allowed us to move at a speed never seen before.

WHO already has a list of at least 41 prototype vaccines, some of which have already begun early clinical trials. And there are already more than 27 experimental trials with different combinations of antivirals and anti-inflammatory drugs to block the virus.WHO has launched a global clinical essay to test the efficacy of some of these vaccines and to evaluate some of the treatments to cure the disease. A clinical essay involving several countries and shared knowledge. For the time being these are experimental treatments, but they offer hope for the most severe and severe cases.There is still no antiviral or specific vaccine against SARSCoV2. All of these proposed antivirals and vaccines are experimental. Some of them will not work, but the chances of getting it right are immense, and now is the time for science and cooperation.

We ask science for absolute certainties, but science does not have all the answers. There are moments of uncertainty, but we have to be sure that science will get us out of this. That is why it is so important to bet on knowledge. Now more than ever we realize that research is not a expense is an investment. If only a few months ago you had not order the opinion on whether public funds from our taxes should be spent on a group to investigate viruses in bats, what would we have said? Now we look at the laboratories of research, which we have had strangled for a decade.

We now realize that threats are global, including infectious diseases, and require global solutions. Everything is connected. More than 60% of newly emerging or re-emerging pathogens come from animals, and environmental and ecological changes influence the distribution of diseases. This is why the One Health strategy now makes even more sense: the work partnership between human health, animal health and environmental professionals. Only in this way will we be able to combat the next pandemic. Perhaps the time has come for our blue helmets to exchange their rifles for vaccines. The enemy is no longer our neighbor, our fellow man, one of our own species. The enemy is much more subtle, invisible and capable of paralyzing the entire planet. Let us invest in a new army of doctors, health workers, researchers with therapies, vaccines and laboratories instead of missiles and tanks.

This virus will go away. This pandemic will pass. Summer will come and we will go back to hugging, kissing and seeing our loved ones. Hopefully the confinement will bring out the best in us. May we realize how important it is for our health to take care of our health care system. May we bet on knowledge, on science and research, on partnership between public, private, civil and philanthropic organizations to prepare ourselves against future epidemics. Because there is reason for hope.