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Biotechnology and health

We talked to a researcher working on covid-19 treatments

Here's what she said about our prospects for ending the pandemic and working in a lab racing toward a cure.
April 9, 2020

Note: This episode has ended.

In this episode of Radio Corona, Karen Hao, senior AI reporter of MIT Technology Review, spoke with Shion Lim, a postdoc research fellow at the Wells Lab of UCSF. They discussed prospects for developing tests and treatments for covid-19 as well as what it’s like to work at a lab that has stayed open to fight the pandemic.

Lim studies antibody-based diagnostics and therapeutics, specifically how proteins on the surface of our cells are altered in specific human diseases such as cancer and infection. Since the onset of covid-19, the Wells Lab has started working on protein engineering to develop molecular tools that might help in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of covid-19 infection. We recommend that you read through some of our coverage about antibody testing and treatments.

This episode was recorded on April 10, 2020. You can watch it here.

Karen Hao: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Radio Corona. This is a show from MIT technology review about covid-19 and its wide reaching impacts around the world. I'm Karen Hao I'm a senior reporter at MIT technology review and today we're joined by a doctor, Shion Lim, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Wells Lab at the University of California San Francisco. Shion studies how the proteins on the surface of ourselves are altered in diseases such as cancer and infection. And she uses that knowledge to develop antibody based molecular tools that help treat and test those diseases. Since the onset of covid-19, she and her colleagues at the Wells lab have redirected their expertise toward the pandemic. Okay, so today we're going to hear about the potential of this research as well as what it's like to work in a lab that chose to stay open during the pandemic. At any point during this conversation, if you have questions, you can put them in the comments on Facebook or YouTube, wherever you're viewing. And our show producers will be monitoring both those places and feeding those questions back to me. So Shion, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the show.

Shion Lim: Thank you for having me on Karen.

Karen Hao: So I wanted to start, I wanted to break this up into two parts. First talk about antibiotic body-based tests and then about the treatments. So I was wondering if you could first give our audience a brief overview of how specifically antibody based tests work.

Shion Lim: Great. So, antibodies are biological molecules that are produced by our immune system in response to an infection or an outside pathogen. But and there are proteins, but what's unique about antibodies is that they can also be repurposed as drugs or also as a way to detect something of interest. So, in terms of efforts for Covis 19 that are being developed for antibodies, it can be broken down into a couple of different categories. First is the therapeutic. So we can generate antibodies through various methods, whether it's through looking for them in human patient blood to have recovered from Covid 19 or to kind of engineer through animal immunizations or through in vitro methods like testing methods where we're generating them recombinantly and those can then be repurposed and tested to see if they can neutralize the virus to prevent the virus from infecting the impacting ourselves. So that will be a therapeutic approach to using antibodies.

Another approach using antibodies is that antibodies are very good at specifically recognizing a certain protein target of interest. So you can use it as a diagnostic tool. So if we can make an antibody that is specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is causing covid-19, we can use that to detect whether the virus is present in say patient samples, maybe on surfaces or you know, to make sure to see if someone or an item has that virus or not. The last thing is that, we can also use antibodies for other venues, and this is kind of the broadest category. It can be used for serology tests where we're trying to detect patient antibodies that are might react to the virus. Antibodies can also be helpful in vaccine design or in vaccine trials and also they can be used useful as molecular tools to support research on general biological research to understand what this SARS-CoV-2 virus is, to add to our knowledge of the virus.

Karen Hao: That's really interesting. I didn't realize, actually that there was a difference between using antibodies to test the presence of a virus versus testing whether there are the presence of antibodies. So I'm curious like I think that there's been, a lot of conversation recently around, antibody-based testing given that there's such a huge challenge right now in testing capacity in the US and, there is a lot of confusion as well about what it can actually do. So with these two different categories, using antibodies to test for the presence of a virus versus, testing the presence of antibodies. Like what, what are the, what are the things that it can actually tell you about a given individual?

Shion Lim: Right. So for using antibodies to detect the virus, we will generate an antibody that will recognize a protein on the virus. And one of the more common proteins that we've been going for is the spike protein. It's one of the proteins that is on the surface of the virus on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And it's what the it's one of the proteins that the virus uses to engage ourselves and to enter ourselves. And it seems, there's been antibodies reported both in literature and in development already that will recognize the spike proteins so we can use those antibodies. And see if the virus is present and say like a patient, say like a patient nasal sample or a lung sample for example.

Karen Hao: Got it. So in terms of the kinds of limitations or the possibilities for these different methods, what do you actually see as the role that antibody testing can play in fighting the pandemic versus other testing methods or approaches?

Shion Lim: Right. Yeah. So we think all of these, the antibody based detection efforts are going to be in parallel with other detection methods that are out there already. So there are TPCR-based methods that will look at the app, look at whether the viral genome is present in a sample. Using PCR, which is the preliminary chain reaction to amplify the viral genomic material. So that's been kind of the, I think the most widely deployed method, but that is looking at the genomic material virus, whereas an antibody will look at the protein of the virus. So we think these approaches are complimentary and there are even ways to combine them. So from a given single patient, a single sample, we can both do a PCR based approach and also an antibody based detection approach. And that'll give us like say a double positive or a double negative, which will give us also more confidence if there's a sample presence or not. Additionally, both the PCR method and also the antibody based method, so detecting DNA or protein, they both have their pros and cons and different levels of high throughput minus. So I think having as many methods as possible, especially when kind of testing capabilities are still limited, expanding is important.

Karen Hao: Could you talk a little bit about the pros and cons between these different testing methods?

Shion Lim: Sure. So, let's see. So there's, they use different instruments. There are also different methodologies, so some different situations, different labs might be better suited to do one of those, either a PCR based method or an antibody detection method. Both are relatively high throughput. So I think that's similar in those regards, they are detecting different things. So for example, the PCR method is going to detect DNA, whereas the protein, I guess I said antibody detects protein material. And I think there's been, kind of thoughts on whether detecting if even if you can detect the viral DNA, maybe those are kind of remnants of viral particles, kind of pieces of the virus that's left over, but maybe they're not infectious anymore. So that can maybe give you a false positive or you know so there's a little bit of open question at that part.

For a protein base antibody-based methadone detect protein, that's kinda telling us whether the viral proteins are present and at least as a protein chemist, I think of proteins as kind of the functional workhorses of you know, a virus or a cell. So that can maybe give us a slightly different indication of what well actually what the viral proteins are present. So maybe we have it as still effective particle or not. So again, I think there are different methods are both amenable. I think the first deployment, the first kind of most widely used method is a PCR method the qPCR method. But, I think both approaches and also even more approaches that can be developed as a researchers are, you know, we're incredibly creative, so we're trying to develop all sorts of different types of diagnostics. I think those can all be useful and can be deployed in the appropriate context.

Karen Hao: We had one viewer asked what is throughput, if you could give them a bit more clarity on that.

Shion Lim: So throughput is kind of the amount of kind of samples you can process in a given amount of time. So something that's high throughput means we can look at many things patient samples at the same, at the same, in a given amount of time, whereas a low throughput method will take, you know, there'll be fewer samples we can look at. And that's going to be a really important thing about throughput because, we need to test a lot of people and there's a big basket and you probably have all heard in the news about how it's difficult to get testing right now and it's expanding, but the process is slow. So if you can process hundreds and thousands of patient samples in a day, that's that many more people we can get back to with, in terms of whether they have covid-19 or not, or, and, ramping up that more high throughput testing capability is going to be essential.

Karen Hao: So just to, for my own clarity, if I remember what you said correctly, you mentioned that detecting the viral DNA is lower throughput because it takes a little bit longer to do those tests, whereas antibody testing is higher throughput because it's faster.

Shion Lim: No, I would actually say both of them can be made into high throughput formats.

Karen Hao: Okay. I see.

Shion Lim: And with the appropriate instruments I think both are capable of handling large patients samples, but I think the highlight of the two methods is that they're complimentary and that they're detecting different kind of components of the virus.

Karen Hao: Yeah. There was another viewer question from earlier where they were asking, once you detect the presence of an antibody within an infected individual, can it actually tell us about the infectiousness of that individual?

Shion Lim: Could you, so you said once you detect the presence of an antibody in that individual...

Karen Hao: Yeah, of them having the covid-19 antibody, is there actually any correlation between the presence of the antibody with their infectiousness?

Shion Lim: So let me clarify in terms of the antibody in a patient sample. So that will be a serology assay, we're looking in that patient serol, so in their blood to see if they have antibodies that have been made in response to covid-19. Just like how whenever we get, a disease, whether it's SARS, covid-19 or to the cold or infected by other pathogens, our immune system mounts an immune response and that generates antibodies. It's a little kind of two layered in that we're generating antibodies as tools and therapeutics, but also our own bodies are making antibodies against it as well. So what we're looking at for, with a serology assay is seeing whether patients, mostly those who've recovered from a covid-19 inception, have antibodies in their bloodstream that will react to the virus. Telling us that their immune system has already seen the virus and is probably primed to respond to it if they were ever re-infected. And knowledge of that is important because that might tell us, and this is still a open question of whether having these antibodies is protective or not, but if these antibodies are protective, it means that these individuals are going to be more resistant to getting covid-19 again to be re-infected and perhaps that can inform us kind of how we can, you know, kind of bring our society back to more functioning again, who can maybe go back to work who is more at risk and who is less at risk. And that's going to be information that's really important to know, as we move forward with this pandemic.

Karen Hao: Yeah. That's related to another question I have, which is, so my colleague Neel Patel, he wrote a story yesterday about this concept of immunity passports where it's like the idea that if you have the presence of antibodies, covid-19 antibodies, it could say that you're immune and then you get a government sanction document or something like that that essentially allows you to reenter society. What is that actually something that would be possible given, like what the scientific literature says about the sensitivity or accuracy of these tests and do you see, this there potentially being other risks to this kind of model or this concept?

Shion Lim: Right. So serology, the serology test that we just discussed though, that's different. Some of those assays have already been starting to be deployed and there has been literature reported and also universities doing serology tests at other labs, doing serology tests that have confirmed that patients that have recovered from a covid-19 infection do have antibodies against the virus. So that's been confirmed is that we can detect those antibodies and we can show that they're reactive to the virus. Whether that means that person is immune to another covid-19 reinfection. And also how long those antibodies will remain in their system. So how long does that immunity last if there is one? I think it's still an open question. And that's something that there's research labs that are trying to answer that at the moment because it's, again, like you said, it's going to be really important. And maybe we could start stratifying the population on those who might be more, might be protected from this infection or not and can maybe, have less of like a, physical distancing guidelines. But that's, yeah, it's definitely going to be a combination of, additional research and also, public policy decisions that need to come together to see how that's actually gonna be deployed.

Karen Hao: Specifically related to your, the work that you're doing in the lab. Could you give us a sense of the timescales that we should be expecting for research like yours to then translate into widely available testing products?

Shion Lim: Right. So as I mentioned, a serology and the diagnostic serology testing is already being done. And the diagnostic testing, both the PCR method and also these these antibody or protein-based methods are available and are being deployed, not just through efforts in my lab but also labs around the world are doing this and a lot of university labs, government labs and also private labs have kind of stepped up to make these tests be available. So those are happening already. Which will be important and that's really helped expand the diagnostic ability to test whether someone has covid-19 or and I think the serology you will, as we learn more about these, antibodies against the virus, we'll learn more about what, how we can use that knowledge. Like we said in terms of continue maintaining or changing physical distancing. So those things are available. And again, the throughput and the wider deployment is going to continue I think in the next few weeks and months. In terms of therapeutics. So biologics is only one of our antibodies is only one of the ways you can develop a therapeutic against covid-19. And I'm in that space because we're in the our lab specializes in protein and antibody engineering. So that's kind of our expertise, but people are also looking at small molecule based methods. People are also trying to take drugs that are already approved already in the clinical pipeline and seeing if they can be repurposed to treat covid-19. And there's also this whole other effort of making a vaccine against covid-19. So all of those are going to have different timelines depending on who's working on it. And you know, how much that molecule has been studied or already in clinical development or not. So I think it's going to be, I can't, I don't think anyone, or it's hard to give a exact timeline on when the therapeutics will be ready. But there's a lot of incredibly rapid progress happening right now, both in the publics, the academic research labs, and also in the private sector as well.

Karen Hao: Yeah. What are, what are some of the challenges that you are facing in your lab or that you've heard from your scientific colleagues and other labs facing in actually developing and doing the work that you do, whether it's test or therapeutics. Are there, because you used to do this work for more established diseases like cancer where this covid-19 is completely novel, so are there actually unique challenges that you're facing now with working with such a novel disease?

Shion Lim: It is a novel disease and that is a novel virus, but also it is also still a virus and there are biologists who that we're collaborating with and also who are also around the world, who are experts in understanding viral replication and what are the best kind of strategies to target this virus. So that wealth of knowledge we have, is something that can be applied to even a new virus like this And additionally some of the strategies of developing an antibody, against this virus is, similar to whether we are targeting this virus or another infectious disease or in the context of a whole of a completely different disease types such as cancer, which our lab kind of has more experience doing. So I think prior knowledge of this, prior knowledge, even outside of SARS-CoV-2 has been helpful. Additionally, this virus, although it's, you know, distinct from the SARS-CoV-1 the 2003 SARS, there are similarities and they are fairly closely related in some ways, so knowledge from previous coronavirus outbreaks has been incredibly helpful as well.

Karen Hao: Yeah, that makes sense. So for those of, those of you who are just joining us, we are here with Dr. Shion Lim, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Wells lab at UCS. And we're talking about the potential of antibody-based testing and treatments for covid-19. You can put your questions for Shion in the comments on Facebook and YouTube and we will try to get to as many as possible. So I want to now move to talking about more about the therapeutics aspect of this. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the main purpose of when to use antibody based therapeutics. Is it to help cure someone who's like incredibly ill or is it meant to be used at the early stages of the disease? Could you talk about that?

Shion Lim: Right. Yeah, so, that depends on, I think what we're going to target with our antibody, we are, at least in our lab, we are developing antibodies that target this coat spike protein on the Corona virus. And that's the protein that the Corona virus uses to latch onto another protein on our cell called h2 once that kinda connection is made, though a couple of other step, the virus gains entry into our cells and starts replicating. So, we're trying to target that spike protein and to kind of disrupt its ability to engage with H2 on our human cells. So that will be kind of the infectious stage.

So we can imagine, and this is something we will have to obviously test in, you know, different contexts and if it, but we imagined that it can either be used to prevent, to kind of prevent infection probably in the early stages, but maybe it has, maybe it can have effect in the later stages as well as the virus gets released from an infected zone and then infects the neighboring cell. We can also imagine that maybe it could be also used as a prophylactic or let's say someone may have been exposed to the virus and before they really start showing symptoms, they can maybe take an antibody based drug that will block the interaction and that can prevent the disease from maybe taking hold and kind of progressing the disease before. Yeah. So that's another option as well. And those are kind of questions active questions we're having in our group and also with collaborators on kind of what strategy are we going to take?

Karen Hao: Yeah. Related to the last one of trying to prevent the disease from even progressing after initial infection I was reading from one of my other colleagues that there's also this notion that perhaps you could inject someone before they're ever infected with antibodies to act as a temporary vaccine. So could you talk about what you know with existing scientific literature about the efficacy of that approach?

Shion Lim: Right. Yeah. So that approach has been used for other diseases. So using antibodies as a prophylactic I think is definitely an open possibility. And that's something we're pursuing as well. But it's a way to kind of build up immunity beforehand. Or also just had these protect these antibodies that are known to be reactive to SARS code 2 just circulating in your system if you know that you have a likelihood or chance that you were exposed. It's a little, kind of a parallel or orthogonal method to like, say a vaccine where you can, immune through immunization. You can generate your own antibodies against SARS code 2.

Karen Hao: Yeah I actually think that there's some confusion among the general public about the differences between a vaccine versus a therapeutic treatment. So could you expound on that a little bit more?

Shion Lim: Right. So a therapeutic is going to be something that's going that is going to be more of an acute treatment, in response to or in kind of anticipation of an infection. So either a patient is already showing symptoms and we need to address that infection and either stop it at that point, minimize its effects or to if they haven't started doing infection symptoms yet, to basically stop the virus from infecting, as early as possible. So that's what I kind of think of as therapeutics. But we, you know, people can get creative and also, depending on not just antibody based therapeutics, but these other drugs that are being considered, kind of are going and targeting different aspects of this disease. So, yeah, so I guess I'm not sure if that's the best answer, but basically it's more, addressing the actual infection.

Whereas a vaccine, which, people may have received through, you know, hopefully everyone is receiving through shots for like the flu vaccine that's well before hopefully you're getting, you have the you've gotten, SARS code 2. And often those are using say a kind of inactive viral particles or viral proteins to. So they're not infectious. But they will be considered foreign your body and your immune system will mount an immune response against it almost as if it's thinking it's being infected, but it's not because the actual virus is not there. It's only part parts of these virus. And then so that the immune system has almost seen the virus already without you actually getting COVID 19, so that if you were ever exposed to Covid 19, after that immunization event, your immune system will be like, Oh, I've seen that before and I have, I know how to deal with it. And it can Mount an immune response, a natural immune response against infectious virus and basically prevent, you know, the disease from taking hold in your body and you'll be okay. So that's kind of the goal of a vaccine is, preventing the infection from happening. And it can be distributed to people who, you know, do it people who are able to take a vaccine so that we can kind of immunize and protect the general population at large.

Karen Hao: Right. We had an audience question that I wanted to go a bit more in detail on how the therapeutics work at the actual virus and antibody level. So the question was how does the engineered antibody actually disable the virus?

Shion Lim: So it depends on what the antibod...It can depend, but the, so, but one approach is the antibody can, the antibody can bind to the virus and cove the virus. And that itself can be used to send a signal to your immune system to be like, Hey, this antibody coated thing, we don't want that. Please get rid of it. So you can actually, It can be used to recruit the immune system, to remove the virus or the foreign particle. And it can, and another way, and this, these approaches can also stack up on top of each other. So you can have one, an antibody do multiple things is the antibiotic can maybe bind to the virus in a way where the virus can't buying to a stew. So basically you're blocking that interaction from happening. Maybe like covering, using the antibody to basically cover up that interaction interface. So now even though the virus is in your system, there's no way for it to get into your cells. And what's unique about viruses is that viruses need to infect ourselves and use the protein machinery in ourselves to actually replicate. So if the virus can't get into ourselves, it's going to be hanging out, trying to get in, but it can't. Eventually it's going to get removed from our system, because it's not able to replicate and cause damage to us. So those are different, kind of antibody based methods that at least we're approaching. And there might be even more options as well as we learn more about the virus, what it's doing and how it's also, co-opting our, biological processes to be infectious. So as we learn more there, and I'm sure there's already other efforts happening, using antibodies to target other aspects of this infection.

Karen Hao: How much coordination has there been between your lab versus other labs that are approaching other antibody based diagnostics or therapeutics? Is there a lot of knowledge sharing that's happening right now or is it kind of difficult because things are so fast paced?

Shion Lim: I think the amount of collaboration and amount of sharing across the scientific community has been really incredible during this pandemic, as soon as, kind of word came out that there was a, you know, possibly a novel coronavirus circulating, the genomic sequence of the virus was published and what became available on these open access platforms such as a bio archive or met archive. So that's allowed the dissemination of information, scientific information, incredibly fast cause, so that's really facilitated research. We have a lot of collaborators that we are talking to because, and it's, I think, these open communications that's been happening across scientific labs has been incredibly important because, you know, for example, we are approaching an antibody engineering group and, but we're not biologists.

So we're going to definitely need to talk to biologists who know kind of more about virus life cycles, how to set up, say like a virus neutralization assay. We might need, let's say animal models to validate some of our work. So then we need to work with people who have expertise in that. And of course if things look promising and we want to really push things to clinical development, we're going to need to recruit the help of, you know, company, whether it's a company or a larger organization that has say more large skill and manufacturing capabilities to really ramp up production. So it's definitely going to require an ecosystem. And there's definitely different people, different groups, across the private and public sector that are all working on this. And some are, some have their own capabilities. Others, have their own kind of specialized domain. But I think in general, especially in the academia side, people are really open to working together, sharing regions and basically doing what we can. Yeah. Yeah. We've already talked about some of them, the questions that really need to be answered in order for the entire community continue conducting their research. Like how does the what are the different types of antibodies and how does the virus life cycle work and things like that.

Karen Hao: Is there, are you able to identify like one or two key questions that are, that are more of a bottleneck to your research than any other question right now? Like, if you could answer something by tomorrow to really help progress your research, what would that question be?

Shion Lim: I mean, I think the biggest question for us is at least with the the binders that we have generated, the protein molecules and the antibodies we've engineered, our biggest question is do those actually neutralize the virus? And once we have that key dataset, then we can really start thinking about how to make it into an actual drug. So I think that's the question. I think my lab is really hoping to answer and we're working towards basically getting an answer to the next a few weeks.

Karen Hao: So what is, could you talk about how you're actually going about getting it answered? Are you starting trials?

Shion Lim: So we're working, so in order to, we want to test our binders on live virus, so that will require working in a pretty specialized, lab environment. It's called biosafety level three. If you want to work with live Coronavirus. And that's something where we've been working with collaborators who have this, who have access, who can work in these higher containment laboratory settings to test their binders with live coronavirus. Because that's definitely something that you don't want. You want to make sure there's proper safety precautions and protocols in place to prevent that virus from infecting the workers and also to, for it to be getting out. So there are certain labs that are able to do this.

Karen Hao: Yeah. Just as a reminder to our audience, we're here with Dr Shion A Lim, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Wells lab at UCSF and we're talking about the potential of antibody based testing and treatments for covid-19. So once again, you can put your questions in the comments on Facebook and YouTube. The last comment that you just made, it's a good segue into this last section that I want to talk to you about, which is kind of the personal experiences of you and your colleagues in working on this, because you chose as a lab to stay open during the pandemic and continue your research, which puts you at risk of exposure, especially like as you have been co-leading this initiative. So you've been actually going into the lab day after day to do this kind of lab work. So can you talk about the process that your lab went through to make that decision?

Shion Lim: Sure. So before kind of the so again my lab is at UCSF. And before the San Francisco Bay area kind of went on a full shelter in place. We had already started working on this project. Once we kind of really started seeing this pandemic starting to, you know, explode in its scope. And we realized that because we have the expertise in protein and antibody engineering where like we felt that we had an, we had the knowledge and the technology and kind of also a need to contribute somehow. So we had started kind of our project, which ended up being a multipronged project to engineer binders against this engineer binders and also protein molecular tools to study and to diagnose and to treat virus. And then the shelter in place order happened. In kind of early to mid, March for a month, for a couple of days we stopped working in the lab, entirely working from home and kind of thinking about like, one, should we continue working or should we resume working and if so, in what capacity?

So we met together on zoom as a lab and discussed what that might look like. My advisor Jim who's the head of the lab, he got approval through UCSFs, for us to resume work in a limited capacities. So we have people working in a lab and I've been going in some days, but not every day. And the number of people in a lab is limited to a handful of people kind of in their own separate base, practicing physical distancing. And proper PPE as well and really disinfecting everything coming in and out of the lab. So we're taking you know, the precautions that we can to protect ourselves. And being cognizant of that. And it's only just people who are going into the lab doing lab work, but to kind of ease the burden on them. We have a huge team who is working off site you know, setting up collaborations, putting up protocols, doing data analysis, strategizing the next steps. So we have a kind of a crew onsite, a even bigger set of people offsite on doing incredibly important support work. And then we have even a bigger, wider net of collaborators who are basically helping us test these molecules and seeing if there work.

Karen Hao: Can you talk a bit more about the personal calculus that you made? Because as you mentioned, every individual sort of was given a choice to come into the lab or to do non wet lab work where they can do it remotely. And you obviously have a family and you had to have a discussion with your spouse and potentially with your parents about continuing to go into the labs. So what was your discussion process there?

Shion Lim: Right. So, yeah, I definitely thought about it and talked about it with people. I only live with my husband. And we're both in a fairly low risk category. So that helps, I also have access to a car that allows me to go into work without taking public transit. So that's another important one. So for me it felt like it was a reasonable risk to keep going with the research. And that's kind of, I think that was the thought of many people in our lab. And again, people are contributing in whatever way they feel comfortable and whatever way they can, and all of that effort is valuable.

But we definitely thought, you know, at first as you know, we are an academic lab, and we're, you know, a team of about 12 or so right now, maybe a little bit more. So we definitely had a question of like, well, we're one small lab, an academic lab. There are other labs, there are other companies, around the world who are all trying to develop these tools, for covid-19. So, you know, you can think about of like, well how much can I do? Like, what difference can we make? And that's definitely a thing to think about. But at the same time, we also thought that, you know, having as many shots on target to really, you know, put a end to this disease is going to be really important. Whether our actual molecules make it through whatever that finish line, you want to call it, whether it's FDA approval or not, that's still going to be an open question. But I think we felt that because we have the expertise and the technology to make these antibody and biologic reagents that are particularly promising that we should give it a shot. And I think that was something that people in my lab can get on board on.

Karen Hao: We just have a couple more questions from the audience. So the first one is, how does the fact that the coronavirus could mutate, actually affect your work? Are you studying multiple strains? Does it make things more complicated?

Shion Lim: Right. So because the coronavirus its genome has changed over the course of kind of spreading around the globe. For what I can understand now is that, and that link and fascinating lineage can be tracked, which is a really cool thing in itself. But, what I, well at least my understanding is that a lot of illustrations that are still circulating in terms of their basic mechanism of infection has not changed. There might be, might have small mutations in their genome here and there, but as far as we can tell, it's not say evolving or changing so rapidly that a therapeutic option is out of the question. And also a vaccine is not out of the question. Again, it's a, you know, a rapidly developing situation, but as far as we can tell it's mutating just because DNA replication or, you know, replication is not 100% accurate, but it's not replicating in a way that you know, we're trying to now combat so many different strains. And that's something that's going to be, I think that will be addressed as we, you know, these molecules progress towards more clinical candidates.

Karen Hao: Yeah. We had another pretty related question, which is given what we know in the scientific literature now, are we able to say whether or not these types of therapeutics will prevent reinfection? Or I guess the broader question was actually like, can we get reinfected do we know anything about that? But then once we have good therapeutics, how long might that last?

Shion Lim: Right. So these therapeutics, once they're generated and validated for the coronavirus should be effective for SARS-CoV-2. So as far as we can tell, these therapeutics will most likely be very good drugs to use once they're ready to be, once they're approved and deployed. I think, you know, the whether the virus will change so much to the point where, you know, these vaccines or antibodies are no longer effective, I think that's an open question. But so far in the scientific literature, I don't think we've seen this virus changed to the extent that that's a big red flag. I don't think that's a red flag right now.

Karen Hao: Yeah. I just have one more question which is a lot of our tech review readers and the people who are watching right now, probably work in fields that could potentially collaborate with you. So I'm wondering if you just have any, if you have like a call out to people that might want to help in ways that they could help.

Shion Lim: Right. So I think I just want to start with, I think everyone can help by practicing physical distancing by, you know, being cognizant of proper hygiene and just being, you know, aware of that, you know, by you sheltering in place or, you know, limiting your movement, you're contributing. So that's something I think everyone can do, although, you know, you'll get, you know, it's hard to kind of fight the cabin fever at times. I think what I've seen, and there's so many, I can't imagine I'm starting to list them, but I've seen so many different people take what they know how to do through their current work or even just like they just know how to do through their hobby or not, and repurposing it to help this pandemic.

And it's not just research. It's things like making masks. It's people who know how to program, who are making models, people who are, you know, helping hospitals or you know, local governments that are overloaded, to help facilitate their, you know, their kind of their pipeline. So I've seen incredibly creative ways that people are using what they know how to do or what they want to do to help this pandemic. Because making these therapeutics and diagnostics is one aspect that I think we're, you know, society is trying to combat the disease and it's going to be critical obviously, because that's, I think that, you know, we need these drugs and we need these vaccines if we want to really pull past, pull through this pandemic. But I think this pandemic has altered so many aspects of human society that if you feel like you can contribute to any aspect of it to make people suffering or their burden easier, that's going to be important. So, yeah, sorry, and then one more thing. If you're a researcher and you heard kind of what we've been talking about and you feel like you have something to contribute, I'm happy to talk offline, You can always reach me and we can brainstorm. I'm sure we can think of something we can do together.

Karen Hao: Awesome. Thank you so much, Shion, and thank you to everyone who was watching. You were watching radio Corona and tune in for episodes next week.

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