Despite these testing times, drug discovery gives us reasons to be cheerful

Says Lu Rahman, DDW Editor in Chief

I’ll admit it’s pretty hard right now to come up with one, let alone multiple reasons to be cheerful. As I write this from my desk in the north of the UK, it’s bitterly cold, our schools have been closed (along with everywhere else you might see another human being), the health service is about to keel over and to top it off we have a mutant COVID-19 strain making its way from one end of the country to the next.

The mood is a stark contrast to the late 2020 near-euphoric sentiment that fell across the globe as vaccine approval news began to filter through. Mentally, many of us peaked too soon, hopeful that the New Year would bring with it new beginnings, at least as far as coronavirus was concerned.

But of course, all is not lost and there are many reasons to be cheerful. And these are largely down to the drug discovery and development community. With multiple vaccines gaining approval across the globe, there is hope on the horizon that we will tackle this pandemic. With news of the virus mutating, the sector is continuing its efforts to understand and be ready for a counter attack. The tireless work of researchers in labs throughout the world is helping create clearer insight into the effectiveness of the vaccine on the UK variant and hopefully the South African variant soon also. According to Yale professor Akiko Iwasaki, who collaborated with Californian biotech business Serimmune to examine the way that COVID-19 antibodies target the virus, the UK variant B.1.1.7 is “unlikely to escape recognition by antibodies generated by prior infection with [older versions of the] virus or the vaccines”1.

While understandably, vaccines are making the headlines at the moment, we should also be reassured by additional work being carried out such as the Remap-Cap clinical trial which involves nearly 4,000 patients in 15 countries globally. Its work has led to the discovery that rheumatoid arthritis drugs tocilizumaband sarilumab can reduce the effect of the proteins that cause a severe immune response in COVID patient, potentially saving one in 12 lives.

There is no escaping the fact we have some way to go before we are confident in our attempts to overcome this virus, but the beginnings of hope exist. Thanks to the efforts of the drug discovery sector and its ceaseless efforts to create vaccines, repurpose drugs and understand every aspect of this virus’ behaviour, we are in a stronger position than we were a few months ago, however hard it may still feel.

Volume 22, Issue 1 – Winter 2020/21


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