Why the coronavirus and most other viruses have no cure

The Philadelphia Inquirer – By Tom Avril – March 18, 2020 Updated: July 18, 2020

People hospitalized with severe symptoms from the coronavirus are given medicine to bring down the fever and fluids to keep them hydrated, generally by intravenous tube. Some patients are connected to a ventilator: a mechanical device that helps them breathe.

This menu of treatments is called supportive care, and despite the lukewarm-sounding name, there is no question that it saves lives.

But as for waging a direct attack against this virus, and most other viruses, there are no drugs. The human immune system is on its own.

The reasons involve biology and, to a lesser extent, money. Drug companies have developed treatments for a handful of viruses in the last few decades, such as HIV and the flu, but the arsenal is minimal when compared with all the antibiotics we have for treating bacteria. Remember that viruses are not bacteria, so antibiotics are no help.

The main difficulty is that viruses are technically not alive, instead depending on the “machinery” inside human cells to reproduce, said Zachary A. Klase, associate professor of biology at the University of the Sciences. So a drug that targets any part of that parasitic cycle could harm the patient in the process.

“You want something that targets the sickness and not you,” he said. “You need to look for the special things that only the virus is doing.”

A few of the enzymes used by various viruses are distinct enough from their human counterparts that they can be targeted without harming the patient, said Megan Culler Freeman, a fellow in the pediatrics department at the University of Pittsburgh. That is how antiviral drugs work against HIV, for example. But even then, such drugs do not eliminate the virus, but instead keep it under control, she said.

That has not kept pharmaceutical companies from testing drugs for one virus to see whether they work against another. With the new coronavirus, for example, scientists have been testing a drug called remdesivir, which was originally developed to treat Ebola. But it did not work very well against Ebola, and results so far against the coronavirus are unclear.

The interest in a coronavirus treatment is so keen that misinformation has a way of spreading much like the microbe itself. Earlier this week, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement to dispel rumors that one of its antiviral drugs showed promise. The company said that it was screening a variety of antiviral compounds against the coronavirus, but that so far there is “no evidence” that darunavir, the drug that sparked the rumors, has any effect.

In fairness to the scientists, they have not been at this problem for very long.

Bacteria were first observed under a microscope in 1683. The existence of viruses, which can be less than one-tenth the size of bacteria, was not verified until more than 200 years later.

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PS The Vaccines give you a virus hoping that your own immune system will kick in & fight it. The vaccines don’t cure viruses–presently there’s no known cure.

Posted by Teri Perticone


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