Portuguese scientists in race to deliver alternatives to Covid vaccines

Portuguese scientists have been working flat-out since May last year to deliver a viable alternative to the Covid vaccines.

This isn’t because the vaccines are ‘not working’ – albeit limitations are becoming clear. It is because there are still large portions of society who for different reasons, are more susceptible to viral infections.

Geneticist Cecília Arraiano explains these people remain at high risk of complications if they contract Covid-19.

There is also the issue of variants emerging that have the capacity to elude the vaccines – and the practical impossibility of vaccinating the whole world.

Thus, as issues of transmission in the fully-vaccinated put many safeguards into question, the team at ITQB (the Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology) at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa is hoping its perfected research will start balls rolling.

Dr Arraiano appeared on SIC television news in March when she explained that the team had essentially discovered compounds (meaning current medications, cheap and available, patented for other uses) which work against Covid-19.

At the time, the research had reduced the virus’ capacity to harm by 50% (click here).

That has since been reduced even further, to between 60% to 70% – and this week the findings are close to being submitted for patents.

Once this is secured, Dr Arraiano explains it will simply be a matter for a pharmaceutical company – ideally one of three whose compounds have been found to be effective – to start clinical trials.

The magic word here is ‘repurposing’’ (a kind of pharmaceutical form of upcycling) to present a drug that people can take on the first sign of Covid that will see them recovering within the comfort of their own homes.

“I call it transforming the virus from a wolf to a dog”, explains the scientist. “We have found a way to domesticate the virus, and help the world get back to normal”.

The research has been a combined effort between Dr Arraiano’s team at ITQB and researchers at the next door INIAV (national institute for agrarian and veterinarian investigation).

As she stressed: No one knows how long antibodies conferred by the vaccines last.

Current research suggests the need for a third dose within six months of second shots may be necessary, particularly in older age groups – and this, on a global scale, is unworkable.

Another real boon of the ITQB research is that it has focused on the virus’ ‘machinery for replicating’: the ‘miracle pill’ that emerges will have a much more powerful effect on the virus’ ability to mutate – and that means the chances of variants developing will be reduced, if not eradicated entirely.

Says Dr Arraiano, the team’s work has essentially created a safety net for future epidemics.

“It is incredibly exciting”, she admitted. “We have been working very hard on this. We are all people with families who we want to keep safe…”

While this national work has reached the point where it can be taken up by a pharmaceutical company, scientists in Israel have developed a form of inhalable treatment which they too believe will be able to be rolled out on a global scale, without the need for annual vaccination programmes.

Trials undertaken on Covid patients in Greek hospitals have seen 90% of them recover to the point that they could be discharged after five days (click here).

“The more possibilities, the better”, enthuses Dr Arraiano. “I have read that Pfizer is also trying a compound. There is room for everything. 

“Right now, the vaccines are the best weapon we have, but they still don’t protect 100%”.

All eyes therefore are on this new national ‘solution’ which should get increased media exposure once the patenting stage is completed.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com