Dr. David Ho’s work as an HIV/AIDS researcher has been nothing short of legendary.
As director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and professor of medicine at Columbia University, Ho has made numerous scientific contributions to the understanding and treatment of the HIV infection.
Now, the 67-year-old Taiwanese American has set his full attention to COVID-19 in a bid to find an effective treatment against the novel coronaviruses, TIME reports.
Ho, who pioneered the idea of creating an early treatment for infection, will head four research teams at Columbia using the $2.1 million starting grant from Chinese billionaire entrepreneur Jack Ma.
“We put together a proposal in record time—probably no more than 72 hours,” Ho was quoted as saying. “We predict in the coming decade there will be more [outbreaks]. And we need to find permanent solutions. We should not repeat the mistake we made after SARS and after MERS, that once the epidemic wanes, the interest and the political will and the funding also wanes. If we had followed through with the work that had begun with SARS, we would be so much better off today.”
Using strategies that they have been using to find treatments for HIV, Ho and his team are studying samples from people infected with COVID-19 to find antibodies that could help stop the virus.
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According to Ho, his team is also building the first-ever library of coronavirus drugs to improve the response to the potential of future coronavirus outbreaks. Similar to HIV, coronavirus is an RNA virus, which means it produces more of its own genetic material after infecting a host cell.
Ho’s team is already stocking up on polymerase and protease inhibitors as well as other drugs that were developed to fight HIV, viral hepatitis and other similar RNA viruses by stopping such replication.
Ho noted there are about 4,700 types of such medicines, including those drugs that are structurally similar but use slightly different formulas and produce other side effects. He believes that there’s a high probability of finding drugs that can potentially treat not just SARS-CoV-2 but other coronaviruses still to come, as such viruses tend to replicate in a similar manner.
He hopes that their efforts, along with the other research on animals, will help the world prepare to fight another coronavirus outbreak in the future.
“We have a goal to have [some] lead candidates [to treat COVID-19] in one year’s time. So we really have to get going,” Ho shared. “But if we had done something like this after SARS and MERS, we would be further along already.”
As a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Clinton in 2001, Ho also received other honors and awards for his scientific accomplishments such as the Ernst Jung Prize in Medicine, Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science & Technology, the Squibb Award, and the Hoechst Marion Roussel Award.