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Pharma wrap: Coronavirus outbreak, time to be on high alert

So far there was no case detected of the novel cornonavirus infection in India.

January 26, 2020 / 02:17 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

From last week to this week, the novel coronavirus outbreak has spread its tentacles.

The highly virulent strain known to have infected hundreds of people so far, and Chinese authorities have now reported at least 26 deaths. People typically have flu like symptoms such as fever, cough and respiratory problems.

Experts are comparing the latest coronavirus to the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which had a short incubation period of two to seven days.It was first identified in Wuhan in December and is said to have transmitted from animals to humans at a local seafood market that also sold other wild animal meats like snakes. Authorities have since confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission.

The pathogen is a coronavirus, a member of a family of viruses that include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which caused major outbreaks in 2003 and 2012, respectively.

The Chinese were able to sequence the genome of the virus strain, enabling development of vaccines  and monoclonal antibodies. The virus is 75-80 percent identical to the SARS-CoV and even more closely related to several bat coronaviruses.


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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Earlier Moneycontrol had reported about the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) began work to develop three vaccines in partnership with US-based biotech companies Inovio and Moderna; and the University of Queensland, Australia. India is a founding partner of CEPI.

The World Health Organization (WHO) which has met early this week is yet to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. WHO cited as limited number of cases abroad and banking on the preventative measures adopted by China to contain the spread of the outbreak.

India's response

India can't be complacent. So far there was no case detected of the novel cornonavirus infection in India. There was one suspected case of an Indian school teacher in China contracting a coronavirus infection.

Preeti Maheshwari, a primary art school teacher at the International School of Science and Technology in Shenzen, is undergoing treatment in the Critical Care Unit of Shekou Hospital in Shenzhen. She was admitted to a private hospital with severe Type 1 respiratory failure, Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome (MODS) and septic shock on January 11.

There was no official confirmation from the Indian Embassy. Another suspected case of an Indian nurse Saudi Arabia contracting the virus, turned out to be false alarm.

India already initiated some measures these include thermal scanning of passengers and in-flight announcements airlines to help isolate people with symptoms of the coronavirus infection.

The embassy on Thursday started two hotlines +8618612083629 and +8618612083617 for Indians who want to get in touch with their relatives in China.

Reports say there around 23,000 Indian students studying in China, and hundreds of them in and around medical schools in Wuhan. Also lot of business and tourism related travel. The bilateral trade between India and China is inching towards the $100 billion

The Indian Embassy in China has issued advisory for India that include wearing masks, maintaining personal hygiene like washing hands, avoid contact with people having symptoms and immediately report to the nearest health facility.

To be sure there no specific treatments like antivirals, humanised monoclonal antibodies and vaccines to treat the coronaviruses

"It is early days. But if the respiratory virus can kill young and healthy people it is something to worry about. And the other thing to worry about Coronaviruses is that, these are RNA viruses that mutate quite rapidly with high transmission," said Dr Gagandeep Kang, Executive Director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute under Department of Biotech Technology (DBT).

Kang is also vice-chair of CEPI.

"Infectious diseases don’t need passports, visa, expect the coronavirus shortly in India," Kang warned

Currently there are not specific treatment options available for the virus. But public health measures, including quarantining,  timely diagnosis and strict compliance to universal precautions will help in preventing the spread of the diseases.

Kerala has recently shown the way for India during the Nipah virus outbreak, on how to respond with speed and contain the spread of such infections.  We need to follow the template

Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Jan 26, 2020 02:17 pm

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