The coronavirus epidemic that surfaced in China over a month ago, scattering panic and sending the medical field, as well as the economy, into chaos worldwide, has puzzled doctors and scientists who are trying to find an effective cure.
The virus is extremely dangerous, with the human body having no defence mechanism against it.
“The virus is transmitted as fast as the flu, but the difference is that in this case we have no treatment strategy. Instead, we take a very broad approach,” Dr Stavros Selemidis told Neos Kosmos.
“What we do is treat the symptoms with drugs, without being able to hit the virus itself and what actually causes it.
“The only defence we have right now against coronavirus and other viruses that may break out in the future are gloves and masks, which of course are not enough.”
Recognising this, for the past five years Dr Selemidis has been apart of a team of top researchers and clinicians from universities across Australia, the United States and Ireland, working to discover an antiviral drug for everything from the flu to viruses that have yet to even surface.
“The importance of our research has been particularly evident in recent days with the emergence of the coronavirus. We need to develop more effective treatments than we currently have,” explains Dr Selemidis, who says that governments need to truly understand the flow on effect.
“We are facing a huge global socio-economic problem, but the money spent on research to tackle this problem is very little compared to the financial strain that it has caused,” he said, referring to the impact the coronavirus has had thus far on tourism due to the ban on flights out of China.
A PANACEA FOR ALL VIRUSES
While it is not yet clear where the coronavirus came from, Dr Selemidis says viruses of this type often develop from bats and camels, which for reasons that remain unknown, can mutate and be transmitted to humans.
Though the rate of transmission can be frightening and deadly, he advises that while “citizens should be aware and alert, they do not need to panic”.
“Those who experience some suspicious symptoms, such as coughing, difficulty breathing or fever, should consult their doctor immediately,” he said, adding that those particularly vulnerable such as children, the elderly or those who already suffer from a respiratory problem, should be particularly careful.
While the coronavirus is currently in the spotlight, Dr Selemidis reminds us that other viruses are just as pressing.
“For example last year we had 22 million cases of the flu in the US with a two to three per cent mortality rate. This year we have forgotten about it, not because it does not exist, but because it has been overshadowed by the coronavirus,” Dr Selemidis said.
Along with his team, they have developed a prototype that is expected to be available to the public in the coming years.
“I don’t mean that there will be an immediate breakthrough with coronavirus, as these things take time. But we have made significant progress towards ensuring that something like this does not happen again in the future,” he assures.
OPTIMISM FOR THE FUTURE
While Dr Selemidis acknowledges that “viruses cannot be eradicated as they are part of nature”, that hasn’t dampened his spirit in the fight.
His goal and that of the international interdisciplinary team was to decipher the impact of viruses in their broad sense on the human body. After years of research, they have deciphered a common pattern of progression of these diseases, whether it is just the flu, Aids or any other virus.
“We have proven that all viruses trigger the same pathological process that has paved the way for the creation of a novel, widely used drug that can stop the diseases caused by these viruses,” Dr Selemidis said.
He is optimistic about the immediate future, describing the research project as unique in that it is not a small initiative but a global effort with the participation of outstanding and dedicated scientists, clinical doctors, immunologists and other specialists.
“We are on a very good road. I have confidence in our strategy and the original active substance, so it is a matter of time until we move on to the next stage, which is the phase of testing the efficacy of the drug on various individual viruses.”