Virologist Matthew Frieman at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is just one of the scientists cleared to receive samples of the virus derived from the first U.S. case of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), a 35-year-old man in Snohomish County, Wash., who recovered. Others have ordered the virus and are waiting.
Frieman plans to test two dozen drugs that showed promise against two previous lethal coronaviruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), to see if they work against the new coronavirus. He’s also partnering with companies that need the expertise of a laboratory that works directly with the virus to test new therapeutics or vaccines.
Testing lots of different drugs on cells and animals infected with the virus is conceptually simple, but science can be finicky and laborious. For example, the coronavirus that causes SARS successfully infects mice but doesn’t make them ill, so researchers had to modify the virus to create a lethal mouse strain of SARS. MERS didn’t even infect mice, so researchers had to genetically tweak the mice so that they were susceptible to it. An early study found that an existing strain of laboratory mouse can be infected by the new coronavirus, but researchers still need to see whether it works in their hands.
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