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Jack Ma teams up with Columbia University to find cure for COVID-19

15 million yuan will support a research project led by Dr David Ho, a world-renowned HIV/AIDS researcher with the university.

February 21, 2020 / 07:58 PM IST

China's tech billionaire Jack Ma has pledged over USD 2 million to support the development of antiviral drugs to combat the new coronavirus which has killed 2,236 people in the country and infected more than 75,000 others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic as a public health emergency.

In accordance with a deal signed between the Jack Ma foundation and Columbia University, the 15 million yuan will be used for supporting a research project led by Dr David Ho, a world-renowned HIV/AIDS researcher with the university, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The researcher will lead in setting project objectives, conducting research and tracking results, said a source of the foundation based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, with Wuhan as the epicenter, Ho and many researchers at Columbia University have been following the situation closely and started related work to combat the virus, the report said.

In support of the cooperation project, Columbia University has set up a multidisciplinary team involving professionals in virology, molecular biology and chemistry who proposed four different new solutions to tame the pathogen, according to the source.

China's richest man, 55-year-old Jack, is the co-founder and former executive chairman of the Chinese multinational technology conglomerate Alibaba group.

The coronavirus has killed as many as 2,236 people, mostly in the hard-hit Hubei province, and infected 75,465 others, according to the Chinese health officials.

A number of countries including US, UK, Japan Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal have evacuated hundreds of their nationals while about 800 to 1,000 Pakistanis are still in the area.

The virus outbreak originated in China's Hubei province in December and has spread to more than 25 countries, including India.

Many countries have banned arrivals from China while major airlines have suspended flights to the country.
first published: Feb 21, 2020 07:50 pm

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