It has been two months since the State of Alarm was declared in Spain in response to the COVID-19 pandemia, a decision made also by many other countries across the world. This is an unprecedented health crisis and, as part of the MedChem community, we feel this could be a good time to reflect and share some thoughts on this situation. There are lessons to be learnt here.
This worldwide crisis has put the life sciences in the spotlight, with the international community, both public and private, working together toward new treatments and vaccines. However, it is important to remember that the development and validation of new medicines take time. Drugs are not serendipitously discovered but the result of years of hard work. While multi-disciplinary, international collaborations have been quickly established with this aim and ample funding is now flowing from governments and the European Commission – both of which will definitely speed up the process – there is no such thing as a shortcut when taking a new medicine into clinical trials and then the public. Not if we want to ensure its safety and effectiveness.
Here come in hand-in-hand education and communication, which in the current times of “fake news” have become particularly relevant. On the one hand, we must recognize once for all the value of STEM education and of good R&D infrastructures. Now more than ever, investing in training programs and state-of-the-art facilities is a sure bet for the future, where we will be presented with new health and technical challenges.
On the other hand, promoting advances in science is important, but so is the communication of this progress. All scientific disciplines have reached enormous levels of complexity, and such complex concepts need to be presented adequately to the layman. In this sense, we need more educated voices to speak out when the general public is constantly being flooded with misleading or incomplete information. May serve as examples the claims of “vaccines in 3 months” and finding the “perfect solution” in a previously discarded antiviral drug. The truth is that coronaviruses are not new, but SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, and we cannot just simply assume that repurposing existing drugs will work or that we already know everything we need about this disease. This is a work in progress and all approaches need to be considered with the same scientific rigor. While there are good reasons to be optimistic with the prospects currently on the table, there is no need to sell “holy grails”. It is the responsibility of the political leaders and the scientific community to ensure that all the information that is reaching the public is honest, contextualized, and supported by scientific evidence.
The measures imposed worldwide regarding confinement and restricted movement have forced most of us to rethink and adapt our workflows and protocols. We have been able to continue working throughout these difficult weeks by implementing strict safety measures in our labs and offices to protect our employees. Their continuous help and commitment have allowed us to carry on with our activities to support the pharmaceutical industry in varied projects.
COVID-19 has also highlighted the importance of public healthcare systems, as well as the role that each of us plays through our social responsibility in stopping the spread of the virus. Aside the strain this pandemia is having on the economy of many countries, we shall never forget the impact on our societies.
The crisis is not over; we all have to accept that this virus will stay with us for some time. Already, many things will never be the same. “Unprecedented” is definitely a good way to describe the current situation: it both defines the extent of this pandemia and our response to it. Our message to all would be to trust science, now and always, and to trust humanity, we are capable of great things! We will come out of the tunnel with new perspectives, new priorities, and a new awareness of our vulnerabilities. And that can only be a good thing.
We would like to thank again all healthcare and services personnel for their hard work and sacrifice over the past few months, as well as our clients, collaborators, and workers for their understanding and continuous support as we adapted our protocols to the new situation.