Several Warnings of SARS-like Coronavirus Epidemic are Ignored

With the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV from Wuhan to the whole world, the seriousness of SARS-like Coronavirus threat on human beings raised everybody’s concerns. But there was an article which is highly related to the current 2019-nCoV and has warned us by a laboratory test on the SARS-like Coronavirus threat.

Figure 1 shows the front page of the paper: Menachery et al. (2015). It is noted that the coauthors include Zhengli-Li Shi from the Key Laboratory of Special Pathogens and Biosafety, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, China.

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Figure 1 The Front Page of the paper by Menachery et al. (2015)

The most controversial issue of this paper is the methodology that it adopted. Traditionally, viruses are collected from the environment to study their characteristics. However, the paper “built a chimeric virus that encodes a novel, zoonotic spike protein in the context of a viable CoV backbone.”

From their study, they have identified “the group 2b viruses encoding the SHC014 spike can efficiently utilize multiple ACE2 receptor orthologs, replicate efficiently in primary human airway cells, and achieve in vitro titers equivalent to epidemic strains of SARS-CoV.”

Worse still, they also found that “both monoclonal antibody and vaccine approaches failed to neutralize and protect from CoVs utilizing the novel spike protein.”

More importantly, this paper put forward a third paradigm of SARS-like Coronavirus transmission pathways. The previous two theories basically argued that “spike adaptation in a secondary host is seen as a necessity, … Both theories imply that pools of bat CoVs are limited and host range mutations are both random and rare, reducing the likelihood of future emergence events in humans.” But the current “results suggest that the starting materials required for SARS-like emergent strains are currently circulating in animal reservoirs.” In other words, the current “circulating bat CoV pools maintain ‘poised’ spike proteins capable of infecting humans without mutation or adaptation.”

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Figure 2 Emergence Paradigms for Coronaviruses. Source: Menachery et al. (2015)

Unfortunately, after publishing for almost 5 years, the warning of a SARS-like epidemic is ignored. Similarly, four years ago, when Bill Gates warned in a TED Talk that the biggest human crisis is infectious diseases. He told the audience of a simulation finding by his research team that was based on an outbreak of the 1918-Spanish flu-like virus in modern cities, and the results estimated that an epidemic could cause as many as 33.36 million people deaths worldwide! (Gates, 2015) But no one takes his warning seriously.

Last October, another warning on Coronavirus epidemic was raised again in the Event 201, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and jointly researched with the World Economic Forum and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Safety. This time they directly took a hypothetical “new coronavirus” called the CAPS as the basis for the simulation. It was estimated that 65 million people would die in one year in the outbreak! The economic output value fell by 11%! (Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, 2020).

The team once again urged the world to prepare immediately for the imminent coronavirus epidemic, yet, as usual, people do not pay attention to these warnings.

References

Menachery, V.D., Yount Jr, B.L. et al. (2015) SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronavirus pose threat for human emergence, Nat Med, 21(12), 1508–1513. doi:10.1038/nm.3985. free download full paper version at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4797993/

Gates, B. (2015) The next outbreak? We’re not ready, TED Talk Apr 3.
youtu.be/6Af6b_wyiwI

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (2020) Event 201: A Global Pandemic Exercise, Oct 18. http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/event201/videos.html

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