Bill Gates takes his philanthropy very seriously. Overall, he has pledged over $100 million to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.
The foundation has pledged "to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts", and as part of this, they have paid to have 15,000 molecules tested as a potential cure for the coronavirus.
There is no proven cure for the novel coronavirus, although some medicines have already been approved. This type of trial typically takes years, and although trials have been accelerated tremendously, development is still painstaking and slow.
However, dozens of vaccine trials are already in the pipeline, and research for antivirals and immune boosters is also underway. Several research groups are also testing old treatments for other conditions -- for instance, a lab in Japan is trialing some HIV drugs against Covid-19.
But the World Health Organization is adamant:
“There is only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy, and that’s remdesivir,” said WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward at a press conference last month.
This is where the new effort might come in handy.
Essentially, Bill and Melinda Gates have paid to have 15,000 medicinal molecules tested at a leading laboratory in Leuven, Belgium. All of these molecules promising ingredients in different types of antiviral treatments. They were shipped from the Scripps research institute in California, and they will be tested to see if they inhibit or destroy the novel coronavirus, says Prof. Johan Neyts, who will carry out the analysis.
Of course, this is a far cry from a full-fledged therapy. The testing effort is only the first step into what is a lengthy and difficult process, but it's a very important first step that can make future research less of a shot in the dark, and more likely to be successful. The Leuven lab is one of only a handful in the entire world that can analyze thousands of compounds quickly. It is hoped that this effort can direct future research and create a library of what works against the novel coronavirus and coronaviruses in general.
Of course, it is unlikely that there will be any miracle cure. But even a small inhibition can help -- and if several substances are found to be effective separately, they can be combined to help cure very ill patients.
“Drug discovery can also be accelerated by drawing on libraries of compounds that have already been tested for safety and by applying new screening techniques, including machine learning, to identify antivirals that could be ready for large-scale clinical trials within weeks,” Gates wrote on his foundation's website.