The key problem to solve in the quest for coronavirus treatments

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Happy Thursday, readers.

It’s been a week since our first edition of The Capsule, formerly known as Brainstorm Health Daily. That’s if you believe the calendar—it feels more like a few years.

Our collective heads are spinning during a coronavirus pandemic that has wrought catastrophic human suffering. It’s become all the more imperative to keep a close watch on the science underlying COVID-19 drug development.

That science is pretty complicated given some basic facts we still don’t fully understand.

The key unknown: What is it about this particular coronavirus strain that makes it so deadly for certain people? It’s a question that will determine exactly which kinds of treatments—whether they be antivirals, antibodies, or other drugs—will be most effective in healing sick patients.

Viruses have many opportunities to wreak havoc on the human body. They can break down our cellular machinery; they can also turn our own biological defense mechanisms against us.

“Immune response may be what’s causing the severe disease,” Geoff Porges, director of therapeutics at SVB Leerink, told Fortune.

If that’s the case, then a drug that attacks the virus directly could have diminished effect since it doesn’t address the immune response issue; other types of treatments may actually make the disease worse by galvanizing an even more extreme immune response.

Again, all of this research is still in its nascent stages. Creating a new therapy is tricky in even the most stable of times. Getting from an experimental molecule to an approved treatment on the market can take more than a decade.

With a crisis raising the stakes considerably, regulators have been expediting the process by cutting down on red tape and drug makers have had to get creative, scouring their existing treatment libraries to see which therapeutics may best aid in the fight.

Initial data on which drugs could prove most effective are due in the coming months. We’ll be keeping an eye out.

Read on for the week’s news, and see you again next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

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