JUPITER, Fla. — As pressure for a coronavirus vaccine mounts, scientists are working as quickly as possible to come up with answers.
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- Scripps Research Institute located in Jupiter, Florida
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Teams of Scripps Research Institute staff, located in Jupiter, Florida, are part of that effort.
Their goal: To develop drugs, therapies, and a vaccine for the coronavirus.
"I think we are looking at something very, very serious," said Dr. Michael Farzan, a professor in the Department of Immunology. "This is certainly the most urgent thing we've ever worked on in our career."
A candidate vaccine is undergoing study now. It is designed to resemble a fragment of the spike protein that SARS-CoV-2 uses to latch onto human cells and infect them.
"The truth is, except for the absolute urgency here, this is a relatively easy virus to combat," Dr. Farzan said.
He said because the virus spreads so quickly, it's more vulnerable to a vaccine.
"Another thing that's very helpful about this virus is that it mutates at a lower rate than for example the flu or HIV," he said.
He said once they find an effective vaccine for coronavirus, it should continue to work.
A key to successfully developing a vaccine is preventing an inappropriate immune response.
"Because sometimes having a vaccine can be more dangerous, make your disease more severe," said Dr. Hyeryun Choe, who's also in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology.
"We hope our approach might be more effective and possibly less dangerous than others being studied elsewhere," said Dr. Farzan.
Work is also being done in Scripps Research's robotic screening center.
Scientists are building plates of micro-test tube wells to search for new coronavirus drugs.
The facility has a collection of more than 13,000 drugs and drug-like compounds that have already passed Phase 1 safety testing.
"So any hit that comes from that library will be more rapidly usable than a sort of random drug," said Dr. Farzan.
"It's incredibly important," said Dr. Tim Spicer who oversees the robotic program. "The thing that helps us get out of bed in the morning and come to work is really just that. If we do a good job, ultimately down the road, we should be able to help and enhance human life. I think given time it will absolutely find things that will help, maybe even a cure."
Researchers said we could know what the best vaccine is within a matter of weeks or months.
"But the second issue is the manufacture, safety testing, efficacy testing and distribution," said Dr. Farzan.
He said that can take up to 18 months.
Still, researchers said they are keeping a positive attitude and it is "contagious."
"This particular instance, yeah, you feel a little bit more pressure," said Spicer. "But generally speaking, if we can help crack the nut, that's awesome."
Farzan said researchers around the world are coming together to learn more about the coronavirus. He said their next step will be to publish their findings and to get the information out to as many people as possible.
"We know we're part of a much larger effort and we're trying to find ways that we can be useful, uniquely, in that larger effort," he said.
Farzan and Choe were also part of a team that worked on combating the SARS virus in 2003.