Researchers were not starting from scratch when they learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
SARS-CoV-2 is a member of the coronavirus family. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there are hundreds of coronaviruses — including four that can cause the common cold, as well as the coronaviruses that sparked the SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, epidemic in 2002 and the emergence of MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, in 2012.
Dr. Eric J. Yager, an associate professor of microbiology at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, NY, told MNT that scientists have been studying coronaviruses for over 50 years. This meant scientists had existing data on the structure, genome, and life cycle of this type of virus.
Dr. Yager explained, “Research on these viruses established the importance of the viral spike (S) protein in viral attachment, fusion, and entry, and identified the S proteins as a target for the development of antibody therapies and vaccines.” He continued:
“Early efforts by scientists at Oxford University to create an adenovirus-based vaccine against MERS provided the necessary experimental experience and groundwork to develop an adenovirus vaccine for COVID-19.”
Dr. Yager said that thanks to advances in genomic sequencing, researchers successfully uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in January 2020 — roughly 10 days after the first reported pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. The ability to fast-track research and clinical trials was a direct result of this worldwide cooperation.