To panic or not to panic?


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illustration of man among crowd spreading coronavirus (COVID-19)

Editor's Update (June 20, 2020): The information represented in this article is a representation of when the original article was written on February 26th, 2020

Chances are, you’ve been keeping tabs on the recent coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak that has emerged out of Wuhan, China—and rightly so. Infectious diseases such as SARS, MERS, Ebola, and this new strain of the coronavirus (CoV) cause widespread morbidity and mortality, provoke civil unrest, and disrupt global travel and supply chains.

At the time of this writing, over 78 000 people have contracted SARS-CoV-2 across 26 countries, with a death toll exceeding 2300. As cases of CoV continue to surge, researchers around the world continue to search for exploitable “kinks” in the viral structure.

In search of one such kink, researchers at the National Institutes of Health were able to reduce the severity of a related CoV—MERS-CoV—in rhesus monkeys using a broad-acting antiviral called remdesivir (deWit et al., 2020). deWit et al. observed reduced viral titres in the lungs and decreased severity of lung lesions in animals when the drug was administered either before or after they were infected with MERS-CoV (Figure 1).

In recent years, nucleoside analogs have become the cornerstone of antiviral therapies. However, nucleoside-based treatments for CoV infections have long been hindered by the presence of exoribonucleases—proofreading enzymes that ensure successful viral RNA genome replication. Remdesivir—a synthetic analog of a naturally occurring nucleotide— inhibits CoV replication by interfering with viral RNA polymerases, despite the presence of intact proofreading exoribonucleases. While these findings show great promise for the treatment of related coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2, it will likely be years until drugs such as remdesivir can be implemented in clinical trials.

In the meantime, the most effective means of combating this outbreak—as draconian as it sounds—is quarantining to limit human-to-human transmission of the virus, in conjunction with accurate molecular diagnostics to appropriately impose those quarantines. Norgen Biotek—an innovative, privately held Canadian biotechnology company—has developed a wide repertoire of tools to help researchers and public health regulatory agencies study SARS-CoV-2. These include collection devices that allow for stable transport of potential virus-infected biological samples, purification kits for isolation of CoV RNA, as well as primers, controls and PCR reagents for use in detection of the virus.

 Figure 1.

Figure 1. (A) Lung samples were collected and stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) and analyzed for the presence of lesions by a board-certified veterinary pathologist. Each lung was given a score from 0 to 4 based on the abundance of lesions; the cumulative histology score is the sum of the scores of the six individual lung lobes per animal. (B) One representative H&E image was chosen for each group. Asterisks indicate statistically significant differences in a two-way ANOVA with Dunnett’s multiple comparisons. **P < 0.01; ****P < 0.0001.



  • 78,000 people have been confirmed to have contracted SARS-CoV2 across 26 countries where it has claimed over 2,300 lives

Mode of action

  • Remdesivir inhibits coronavirus replication through interference with the viral polymerase, despite the presence of a viral proofreading exoribonuclease.

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