Science Advances Against the Coronavirus

During the coronavirus outbreak, we have witnessed the heroic work of health care professionals. Doctors and nurses have been on the front lines, treating patients and attending to their health care needs under the trying circumstances of a pandemic.

May 17 through 23 of this year is Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week, and the contributions of EMS personnel have been vital as well. As the first to respond to calls for help, they act when time is of the essence to help save lives.

We owe these personnel our thanks as they carry out their vocations of healing the sick and tending to the ill.

Extraordinary efforts are also being made in the field of medical research, as scientists in the government, private sector, and academic world race to find treatments and vaccines to prevent, or at least to alleviate the effects, of the coronavirus.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began developing the first vaccine candidate once the virus’s genetic code was posted online on January 11, even before the first known coronavirus case in the United States was recorded.

To aid and accelerate such important medical research work, the CARES Act passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27 included $11 billion for the research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics related to the coronavirus. The law also cut away red tape, permitting the Federal Government to partner more easily with the private sector and to expedite diagnostics and vaccines.

The speed with which the medical community has answered the call to respond to the coronavirus is striking.

The NIH and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have been working with private industry to evaluate treatments. As of May 15, those treatments numbered over 100.

Further, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved more than 130 therapies for active trials, with 450 more in the planning stages.

The varied experimental treatments make for interesting reading.

For example, Sorrento Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company based in California, has conducted research on antibodies, the part of the immune system that neutralizes viruses. Sorrento claims to have found one particular antibody that is 100 percent effective in blocking COVID-19 from infecting cells, therefore preventing the virus from replicating.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has suggested that antibody treatments such as this offer promise. Doctors have taken plasma from individuals who recovered from the coronavirus, which contains the antibodies that block it, and infused that plasma into patients still fighting the virus. But Dr. Gottlieb worries that there is an insufficient supply of this “convalescent plasma.”

A supply of plasma is essential for this treatment, so if you have had the coronavirus, have been fully recovered for at least two weeks, and are otherwise eligible to donate blood, consider a plasma donation. The American Red Cross permits convalescent plasma donations every 28 days.

Many of these treatments are under development in laboratories with teams of scientists and researchers working together, but doctors on the front lines of the pandemic, confronted for the first time with COVID-19, have also contributed through their attempts to treat patients.

The Richmond Times Dispatch reported on April 15 about a doctor who successfully treated his patient, a fellow physician. The doctor’s experience guided him toward prescribing Actemra to prevent the inflammatory system from overreacting to the virus. He also injected vitamin C. This treatment worked.

Many of the doctors who find treatments that seem to work for their patients share the results with each other as a resource.

As the outbreak stays alive, so does the effort to fight it. On May 15, President Trump announced Operation Warp Speed, an initiative bringing agencies across the Federal Government together with the private sector to coordinate the development, manufacture, and distribution of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.

Many once-feared diseases have been drastically curtailed or even eliminated thanks to the advances of medical pioneers. In response to the coronavirus, science has taken up the challenge again.

For questions, concerns, or comments, contact my office, in Abingdon at (276) 525-1405; in Christiansburg at (540) 381-5671; in Washington at (202) 225-3861, or via email at  www.morgangriffith.house.gov.

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