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Why there is no treatment for the new Chinese virus

Posted on Jan. 21, 2020, 1:52 p.m.Updated on Jan 21, 2020 at 3:10 p.m.

As China (and possibly the world soon) fear a new epidemic of viral pneumonia
 , what can be the contribution of the pharmaceutical industry? At this stage, that is to say a few days after the onset of the disease, the answer is almost nothing. We must first learn more about the virus and get the sequence of its genome in order to eventually develop a diagnostic test. In 2003, during the SARS epidemic
 , the Swiss group Roche had managed to develop one in eight weeks, but only for research use.

Respiratory symptoms

The symptoms of the new pneumonia that started in China are attributed to a new coronavirus. This type of virus, whose genome is carried by RNA, like the influenza virus, is similar to that which caused the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2002-2003. While coronavirus infections most often cause cold symptoms in humans, some can lead to more dangerous respiratory conditions. In 2002-2003, the most serious epidemic claimed 774 lives worldwide, and in 2012, the MERS-CoV coronavirus was identified as the cause of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

According to Arnaud Fontanet, head of the epidemiology unit for emerging diseases at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, the current virus is the “seventh to give clinical manifestations in humans”. According to an expert from the research foundation Wellcome Trust and the Chinese authorities, “there is a certain degree of transmission of the virus from human to human”. However, this is the determining factor in knowing whether we are dealing with an epidemic or a simple local contamination imputed in the current case to seafood.


In the case of human-to-human transmission, the only response is early diagnosis followed by quarantine. Existing influenza drugs, Tamiflu in particular, are unlikely to be effective since it is a different virus than the flu. Tested against SARS in 2003, they had produced no results.

As for the twelve years necessary for the development of a specific drug, they remove any relevance to the approach. If Tamiflu could have been used during the avian influenza epidemic
 2005 is that it had already been authorized in 2000 and forgotten in a corner due to lack of use. It is also not completely effective.

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