FILE - In this illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. A woman in the San Francisco Bay Area who became ill after returning from a trip to China has become the ninth person in the U.S. to test positive for a new virus, health authorities said Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020. (CDC via AP, File)

B.C. scientist one of many fighting coronavirus pandemic on dozens of fronts

The federal government awarded almost $27 million in grants to coronavirus-related research

Public health officials across Canada and around the world are working flat out to test as many people as possible for the novel coronavirus.

Srinivas Murthy is working to figure out how to help them if the result is positive.

“What medicines work?” he asks. “We don’t know.”

Murthy, a professor of critical care at the University of British Columbia, is one of hundreds of Canadian scientists spending long hours in their labs and by their computers trying to help governments and clinicians figure out how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the federal government awarded almost $27 million in grants to coronavirus-related research. The money is funding 47 projects across the country.

There are studies into faster diagnostic tests, how the disease is transmitted and the structure of the virus itself. Other scientists are considering why some people ignore public health warnings and how the public perceives risk.

Some are asking how to keep health workers safe. Some are looking at the effects on children or Indigenous people or on food security. Lessons from past public-health crises are also being studied.

“It’s basic research. It’s public health research. It’s community-based research,” said Yoav Keynan of the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases at the University of Manitoba.

“Many are redirecting their efforts to the virus. There are many things that need to be worked on.”

Murthy is trying to find out how hospitals can treat patients who have the COVID-19 virus. Each virus is different, he said, and what works on one won’t work on another.

“This is a new virus,” he said. “We don’t know what specific medication works.”

That means trying familiar drugs that have been effective on other viruses. Using what’s known about this coronavirus, Murthy estimates the chances of old drugs working on it and starts with the most likely candidate.

“We build on what we’ve already got,” he said.

Right now, he’s working with an antiviral agent that was originally developed in the fight against AIDS. Clinical trials with COVID-19 patients who have agreed to participate are the next step.

“We know it’s safe,” said Murthy. “We don’t know if it’s effective.”

When you include public health and medical personnel involved, the scientific fight against the coronavirus now involves thousands of people, Keynan said.

“There are many gaps in understanding the transmission of the virus — how long the virus stays on surfaces or the proportion of individuals that contract the virus but remain asymptomatic and serve as a reservoir for spreading the virus.”

The good news is that public-health research has come a long way since the SARS virus swept through 26 countries in 2003.

“We have better communication, better knowledge-sharing and better lab capacity,” said Keynan.

“Sharing of information globally and within Canada has improved dramatically over the last 17 years. And we’re going to need all of it.”

Canadian scientists are at the forefront of worldwide efforts to bend the curve of COVID-19 infections down, said Keynan.

“Canadian researchers are global leaders in infectious diseases and virology and we have better capacity than we had in 2003 to be meaningful contributors. We are making contributions.”

But no single lab or nation is going to come up with all the answers on its own, Keynan said.

“This is not a Canadian effort. This is a global effort.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2020

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Schools get creative to provide food to students

Initiatives underway include providing gift cards

UPDATE: First presumptive case of COVID-19 in Prince Rupert

Doctor says it was a visitor, Northern Health won’t confirm

Schools ramp up contact efforts with students

Efforts of school district employees called “extraordinary”

North District RCMP see massive spike in domestic calls

Connection to COVID-19 pandemic likely for reduced call volume, increased severity

Northwest mines lengthen crew rotations in response to COVID-19

Northern Health confident precautions sufficient enough to keep work camps open

COVID-19: 4 new deaths, 25 new cases but only in Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health

A total of 1,291 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Sanders drops 2020 bid, leaving Biden as likely nominee

Sanders plans to talk to his supporters later Wednesday

B.C. faith leaders, Horgan discuss need for virtual religious ceremonies

Leaders were open to providing other ways to celebrate during the pandemic

Emergency COVID-19 funding now available for children with special needs

Funding to be used to help support families through uncertain times of pandemic

Revenue dip needed to qualify for wage subsidy drops to 15% in March: Trudeau

Wage subsidy would over 75% of each employee’s salary for qualifying businesses

B.C. closes all provincial parks for COVID-19 protection

Easter weekend approaches, camping already closed

Air Canada says it will apply for wage subsidy to rehire workers after cutting 16,500 jobs

Air Canada said March revenues fell by more than 30 per cent year over year

Most Read