The new coronavirus is ’80 percent identical’ to the 2002-3 SARS, says Prof. Shy Arkin. On the whole it causes a mild respiratory tract infection.
He stressed that he didn’t have all the answers to our questions.
Prof Shy Arkin: Okay, so let me first say that I am not a physician, nor am I an epidemiologist, and I may not even be considered a virologist per se. What am I then? I am a biochemist and what I study are the mechanisms in which viruses regulate their salinity and acidity. So I am a molecular expert on several different parts of viruses.
The two staple viruses that we have studied for close to two decades are influenza and SARS. We have characterized several important components in these viruses.
Another route that people are taking, and that’s the route that I’m taking, is to look at drugs that inhibit viruses. So, for example, there are very effective drugs against HIV, the causative agent of AIDS. There are no vaccines against AIDS.
They are somewhat effective drugs against hepatitis C. There are no vaccines against hepatitis C.
The last method, which we are not doing, which is not as common, is an antiserum. That’s the sort of thing that when you get bitten by a snake, you rush to the clinic and then what they essentially give you is antibodies that someone else generated for you.
Often it’s a large animal like a horse or that sort of thing. In the first SARS epidemic in 2003, people tried that to an extent. They literally took antibodies or serum from the blood of someone who recovered from that disease, and gave it to someone who was currently sick. They did that a few dozen times, if I’m not mistaken. But that’s not a very common route.