Bill Gates seeks a cure for the corona virus in Leuven

16/03/2020

Bill and Melinda Gates have paid for 15,000 medicinal molecules to be shipped to a leading laboratory in Belgium to be tested as a potential cure to the corona virus.

The therapeutic samples, all active ingredients in current antiviral treatments, will be screened at high speed for their inhibiting effect on particles developed from a swab from the first Belgian patient to be diagnosed.

The molecules, from the Scripps research institute in California, will be shipped to the Rega Institute for Medical Research, in Leuven. The Scripps institute has an extensive collection of the active ingredients of existing or in-development drugs.

Prof Johan Neyts, who will carry out the analysis in Leuven, said he expected results within a fortnight of the shipment arriving in Belgium.

He said: “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes that there are one or more molecules among the 15,000 substances that can also inhibit the new coronavirus. We’ll figure that out for them. We will know the results a week or two after the shipment is delivered.”

The biosafety laboratory in Leuven is one of the few facilities in the world able to test thousands of molecules at high speed.

The cost to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be “a few tens of thousands of euros”, Neyts said. “That’s nothing compared to what it costs to design and market a medicine from scratch,”, he told De Standaard newspaper.

Neyts said he did not expect a miracle cure but that any sign of inhibition of the Covid-19 disease would be considered a significant breakthrough.

He said: “A bit is also good. Or even better: a few substances that inhibit a little, and which we can then combine to hopefully cure seriously-ill patients.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has said it will provide up to $100m to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts in response to the global epidemic. By Wednesday morning, more than 93,000 people had been infected in more than 80 countries and the global death toll was 3,190.

Writing on the website’s foundation Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s wealthiest private individuals, said he believed there were promising efforts being made to find vaccines “ready for larger-scale trials as early as June”.

He added: “Drug discovery can also be accelerated by drawing on libraries of compounds that have already been tested for safety and by applying new screening techniques, including machine learning, to identify antivirals that could be ready for large-scale clinical trials within weeks.”

There are no proven treatments for coronavirus but a few drugs are already being tested on humans in China. One, Kaletra, has previously been used to treat people with HIV. It has been tested on 200 people so far and results are expected in about a week.

A second, Remdesivir, was tested during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018 but it was found to be insufficiently effective.

Both trials were expedited by the World Health Organization. As they have been approved for other conditions there will not need to be the usual safety tests on animals and humans.

Source: The Guardian
Picture Johan Neyts: Yves Herman/Reuters