With the coronavirus surging in the United States [actually doubling in some metro areas], research on animals may prove to be the hope Americans (and the world] are seeking. As of this posting, there are 369,179 cases and 11,013 deaths officially documented in the U.S., with the first cases logged at the onset on January 12, 2020. So with those numbers escalating exponentially what's being done regarding a cure?
Fort Detrick, Maryland is home to the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The center's focus is to conduct research on infectious diseases. As of April 6, they've begun testing a potential coronavirus vaccine on animals. This is the first of many steps in manufacturing widely available prevention against the virus.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman noted to reporters during a Pentagon briefing that the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases was beginning non-human primate testing.
The DoD will be involved in five different clinical vaccine trials, in addition to supporting other federal agencies conducting their own testing, noted Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon.
More than 140 experimental drug treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus are in development world-wide, most in primary stages, including 11 already in clinical trials, according to Information Pharma Intelligence.
How long will it take?
Friedrichs emphasized while the vaccine-testing process is progressing as quickly as possible, a breakthrough treatment is still months away.
"Once we know that they're safe, then we expand the testing candidates," he explained. "After animal testing, researchers will evaluate the medicine in a small group of people, then a larger test group. Only when we know they'll be both safe and effective [will we] be able to offer them more widely."
Friedrichs reinforced recent remarks made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, who is regularly seen on TV in briefs at the White House.
"We are still months away, not weeks away, from a vaccine," Fauci said reinforcing Friedrichs' update.
Drug Mixtures to dampen the severity
The military is also conducting tests on a number of drug mixtures that could dampen the severity of the coronavirus' symptoms, or even the length of the infection; Friedrichs said it's possible those results will come in faster than a potential vaccine.
President Donald Trump in recent press conferences has addressed the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, and its use to fight malaria. With treatment for patients with arthritis or lupus, it is considered a "game-changer." Evidence that it works for the coronavirus, however, is anecdotal at best.
Trump has said its effectiveness can be increased when paired with azithromycin, an antibiotic. That drug has been used overseas. Doctors have administered hydroxychloroquine mixtures in France, Spain, Italy, and China during the growing pandemic, according to various media reports.
Fauci has continually urged that additional research is essential to determine whether this medication is safe and effective for treating COVID-19. In some cases, hydroxychloroquine can adversely affect those with chronic heart or blood pressure problems.
"The data is really, just, at best, suggestive," Fauci said on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday.
"There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there's no effect," Fauci said. "So, I think in terms of science, I don't think we could definitively say it works."
Problem using the right animals for testing
Most animals are not affected by the coronavirus. So from ferrets to mice and marmosets, researchers are scrambling to find the best animal for these tests. Some have used ferrets. Others are using macaques, marmosets and African green monkeys.
Epidemiologists are racing to determine which creatures work best, a task that could take months. “We’re at the ‘Uh oh, it’s complicated’ stage,” said Lisa Gralinski, a microbiologist and assistant professor of epidemiology who studies coronaviruses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Not every animal is susceptible to the virus [see "Are Our Pets Susceptible To Coronavirus?", and those that are may not show signs of the disease. Even if they do get sick, that doesn’t mean their symptoms match the ones doctors hope to prevent and treat in humans -- which can run the gamut from almost unnoticeable cough to life-threatening lung injury.
So, the jury is still out, and I will reporting updates as they occur. Please comment below if you have additional testing that has been conducted in the U.S. or elsewhere.
Primary Source: Military.com