Corona highly mutational, outlives vaccine: Experts

At a conference in Chandigarh Press Club, experts said therapy targeting host human protein instead of viral protein may help combat the virus
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Updated on Mar 09, 2020 12:32 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | ByAmanjeet Singh Salyal, Chandigarh

One option among the long term solutions for dealing with virus epidemics such as Covid-19 is ‘host-directed therapies’, experts said during a round-table conference on ‘integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to combat Covid 19’ at Press Club Chandigarh on Sunday.

In such medical emergencies, when countries are dealing with such fast-spreading infections, there is less probability that a vaccine in the near future can be developed for preventing Covid-19 but that does not mean that it will result in irreversible loss, experts have claimed.

“During the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the researchers rushed to develop vaccines for protection. The same is happening now but it comes with many challenges,” said Dr Indranil Banerjee, an expert in infectious diseases caused by emerging human pathogenic viruses at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali.

Formulations developed for treating MERS-CoV have not been able to show promising results during clinical trials and so scientists cannot say that a perfect drug is available for its treatment. “Speedy pharmaceutical countermeasures are hindered because the gene sequencing of the new virus has shown that it has 380 mutations identified in 27 protein sequences when compared with SARS-CoV , and we will be very lucky if we develop a vaccine in a short time,” he said during the event organised by the Joshi Foundation.

Coronaviruses are highly mutational which means they constantly transform to outlive the vaccine developed by researchers. “By the time a vaccine is ready, the virus could naturally have dissipated,” he added.

In such a case, researchers are focusing on host direct therapies which means that proteins encoded by human genes are targeted by drugs rather than viral proteins so that the viruses do not make an impact.

“Host-directed therapies utilise small-molecule drugs and proteins to alter the host response to pathogen infection by identifying the traitor genes,” he said.

Professor Ashish Bhalla, of PGIMER’s department of internal medicine, said viruses will outlive humans and the better part is to focus on the deregulated immune system of humans. “Such epidemics should make us focus on developing innovative solutions and how to break the chain of transmission,” he said. The only way to counter it is by exploring methods to develop strong immune systems which are impacted due to various external factors, he said.

Dietician Sunita Malhotra, HOD at PGI’s department of dietetics, and dietician Sonia Gandhi emphasised that nutrition plays a major role, so it is advised to eat hygienic and nutritious food, increase intake of fresh fruits, water and drinks such as nimbu pani, shikanji, coconut water, chacch.

Public health expert Dr Ravindra Khaiwal, additional professor of environmental sciences at PGI’s school of public health, focused on the importance of hygiene in personal spaces and work place. He also said that one can get a test report in just 2 hours at PGI, so there was no need to panic.

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