From SARS to new coronavirus: How much has the study changed?

From SARS in 2003 to the current outbreak of the new coronavirus, in less than 20 years, humans have experienced three severe outbreaks caused by the coronavirus. Even so, some scientists working on coronavirus research say that during this time, coronavirus research has been at an end in between rise and decline — and that research and funding will fall to a low point whenever the outbreak subsides.

From SARS to new coronavirus: How much has the study changed?

New coronavirus (Photo: Rocky Mountain Laboratory, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

If interest in coronavirus research continues, we may be more prepared for a new outbreak.

In a report published on the STAT website, the authors write that in the nearly 20 years since the SARS outbreak in 2003, studies of coronaviruses have undergone multiple ups and downs. During the SARS and MERS outbreaks, a large number of researchers developed strong research interest in the coronavirus, but soon that interest faded until the next outbreak caused by the coronavirus.

“Surprisingly, the coronavirus field hasn’t changed much since the SARS outbreak began nearly 20 years ago,” said Vineet Menachery, who studies coronavirus escloser at the University of Texas Medical Division. Research in this area remains weak. “

Research funding

In the late 1990s, the threat to humans from coronaviruses was limited , when the four coronaviruses that caused illness in humans caused only mild symptoms such as colds. Therefore, the study of coronavirus esthest virus esility is not urgent. There is little interest in the field of coronaviruses and there is a dearth of research funding. Anthony Fauci, director of the American Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said NIAID spent $3 million to $5 million on coronavirus research a year before the SARS outbreak.

With the SARS outbreak, which infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 800 people, NIAID’s research funding for coronavirus research increased tenfold to $50 million in the following year or two. But soon, funding for coronavirus research was gradually reduced, and by 2010, research funding had remained at an average of about $20 million a year.

Menachery was a postdoctoral fellow in 2010 when he followed Ralph Baric, a coronavirus expert at the University of North Carolina, to study coronaviruses. Nearly seven years have passed since the SARS outbreak, and another coronavirus (MERS-COV), which causes MERS, has not yet been infected with humans by camels.

In that year, Baric’s lab had just begun to study how coronaviruses replicate and affect hosts. Menachery is interested in studying how the virus affects the human immune system. From a scientific point of view, Menachery is doing a meaningful research, but considering career prospects, it’s an adventurous choice.

“When I was working in Baric’s lab, the feasibility of conducting coronavirus research was a real problem,” Menachery said. Lisa Gralinski, an assistant researcher who works at Baric Labs, agrees, saying: “In the 10 years between SARS and MERS outbreaks, you have to come up with a more attractive research background for research.” Because only by making the general public and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aware of the importance of research can they apply for research funding. “

Scientists applying for funding for coronavirus research say they will come under greater pressure to explain why the study still makes sense after the outbreak. But they know that more research is needed on coronaviruses that can spread in humans, because a new pathogenic coronavirus may appear at any time.

When he wrote his application for funding in 2010, Menachery said, “on the first page, I spent half or even three-quarters of the time to prove why we’re still studying the SARS virus.” “

Menachery received the grant on the second application. But even so, timing was a factor. A month after he resubmitted his application in August 2012, the MERS outbreak occurred, and the corresponding appropriation suing was reviewed in November of that year.

This condition has also led to age faults in the field of coronaviruses. The field consists of older senior scientists such as Baric, a very small number of researchers of the middle age, and young scientists who have only recently joined the field.

Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, says there are too few scientists working on coronaviruses: “I’ve trained a lot of researchers, but most of them don’t do coronavirus research. “

Gralinski noted that research funding finally stabilized after the MERS outbreak, although it did not reach the highest level since the SARS outbreak. Fauci also said NIAID’s research funding for coronaviruses has stabilized at about $27 million a year following the MERS outbreak.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 outbreak could significantly alter research funding for coronaviruses. “I don’t know how much research will be spent on coronavirus research, but it’s clear at the moment that studying coronaviruses can have a really beneficial impact on society and that there will be more lasting interest in the field,” Fauci said. “

Number of papers

Coronary virus-related papers are published that follow the same rise and fall cycle. Since the SARS outbreak, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of scientific papers containing “coronaviruses” in the Web of Science core collection database. The database includes more than 21,000 peer-reviewed academic journals worldwide.

However, as the SARS outbreak was brought under control, funding for coronavirus research was gradually reduced, and in contrast, the pace of publication of coronavirus papers has slowed. The number of papers fell to 594 in 2011, compared with 1007 coronavirus research papers in 2004.

In 2013, after the MERS outbreak, the number of research papers on coronaviruses rose again and continued to grow for some time, but by 2017 the number had fallen again. This, the researchers say, reflects the rise and fall of this field of study. Since 2002, about one-third of the papers on coronavirus research have been published from the United States, and another quarter of the research papers from China.

If the research holds on,

When people look back on nearly 20 years of coronavirus research after a new outbreak, we will find that the previous interest in coronavirus research is intermittent, so that our understanding of coronavirus is still a lot of gaps.

Scientists don’t know how long a patient can remain immune to the virus after contracting the coronavirus. The study of the infectiousness of coronavirus has also become an urgent problem. And, until now, no drug has been available to specifically treat coronaviruses. During the SARS outbreak, some scientists tried to test whether existing drugs were effective against SARS, but such research stopped after the outbreak subsided. If these studies hold on, it could help front-line doctors when the coronavirus strikes again.

William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor, played a central role in the U.S. response to the AIDS and anthrax crisis. ‘Coronary viruses have many weaknesses that are vulnerable to antiviral drugs, and using existing drugs or combination therapies can control disease and disable the enzymes needed for the virus to grow,’ Haseltine wrote in a blog post on Scientific American.com. In different types of coronaviruses, the similarity of these enzymes is high. If we continue our research efforts after the SARS and MERS outbreaks, there is hope that we will stock up on a large number of drugs that can stop the spread of the disease when the outbreak occurs. Wang Liming, a professor at Zhejiang University, has also said that if many studies during SARS persist, we may have more scientific and medical preparations today when we face the new coronavirus.

Research on other coronavirus vaccines could also help in the development of new coronavirus vaccines. There are some similarities in the pathogenic mechanisms of these coronaviruses (especially the fact that SARS uses the same receptors to invade cells) and these vaccines have in common in technical ways. The Jenner Institute says it is using the same technical pathways as developing the MERS vaccine to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, reducing the time to prepare clinical trials for new vaccines.

During the SARS outbreak, important progress has been made in the development of the SARS vaccine, which has passed phase One clinical trial. But since the outbreak was over, the lack of subjects caused the SARS vaccine to fall into clinical trials.

Some researchers in the field of research hope that after this battle with the new coronavirus, people will be able to carry out more continuous and in-depth research on the coronavirus. “In terms of public health, we are very good at responding to emergencies,” Gralinski said. However, it is difficult to maintain preventive surveillance and research on viruses. “

Menachery expects more researchers to enter the field of coronavirus. “Given that three deadly coronaviruses have emerged in 17 years, scientists will be doing more research in the field of coronaviruses,” he said. However, the outbreak has the potential to promote research into other coronaviruses. “