As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase around the world, there has been much discussion surrounding a potential vaccine. While a vaccine would help prevent the spread of the disease, it wouldn’t do much for a person who has already caught it. Scientists at a historically black college in Tennessee have been working towards finding a treatment. An assist from the federal government may help expedite the process.
NBC News reports that the National Institutes of Health have partnered with Meharry Medical College to test an antiviral drug developed by the school. The school has created MRCV-19, a reagent that works to prevent some of the more damaging effects of the virus according to Dr. Donald Alcindor, an associate professor at Meharry and one of the scientists working on the treatment. The drug has been synthesized and is ready to begin the trial process. “I’m thinking this may be something special. What can you take if you test positive for the virus? This is our option.” Alcindor told NBC News.
From NBC News:
MRCV-19 is primarily intended for those infected with the coronavirus before it causes damage, Alcendor said. It would sit in the body for up to five days and attack the RNA—ribonucleic acid, a nucleic acid present in all living cells— before it would have a chance to wreak havoc on the lungs, COVID-19’s modus operandi.
“It would defeat the purpose of the virus,” he said. “Inflammation and the disease itself would be reduced.”
It will be tested at the NIH in human lung cells in the “near term,” an NIH official said.
Last month, The Root reported on Meharry’s initial efforts to develop an antiviral drug. Alcindor was one of the scientists who helped develop the successful antiviral treatment for the Zika virus. Despite this, HBCUs still aren’t provided with the same level of resources and investment as some other institutions. Meharry president Dr. James E.K Hildreth has said the partnership with NIH has helped relieve some of that burden. “Meharry is one of many institutions taking advantage of the technology at NIH to accelerate its research on a potential therapeutic drug against COVID-19 virus. Doing so greatly facilitates our research and lowers the overall cost of the research as well.” Hildreth told NBC News.
Black people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in both contracting the disease and developing severe, if not fatal complications from it. “It’s extremely important when there is a disease or condition that disproportionately impacts African Americans that they trust the people who are looking for the cures.” Former Meharry president Dr. John Maupin told NBC News.
Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, has said that Meharry’s contributions in learning more about this disease have been essential. “Like with any other crisis, we need the data and the science to drive decisions of treatment. So it’s exciting to have Meharry doing this work. And I’m very excited to know of the partnership with an HBCU and the NIH exists because of the disproportionate number of African Americans COVID-19 is impacting.”
Meharry’s efforts towards battling COVID-19 have showcased the essential yet often overlooked contributions of black scientists in the medical field. “Their work puts a spotlight on their talent. It puts a spotlight on their purpose and it puts a spotlight on the continued re-investment in these institutions. Their work in COVID-19 is demonstrating again you must continue to put the investment in these institutions because they have some answers that will not only be helpful to the African American community, but to all Americans.” Maupin told NBC News.