I’ve come to accept that the site is going to be pretty much all-corona-all-the-time during this crisis. I’ll try to do the occasional post on something else, but there’s so much news on the epidemic, so much (nearly involuntary!) interest and, not least, so much complete garbage information out there that I feel that those of us with some expertise to offer and some experience in communicating it should step up. And it’s not like I’m doing drug discovery work in my basement, either, sadly.
So what *are* biopharma researchers doing? There are naturally some who are at the antiviral forefront, and they’re staying busy indeed. Keep in mind, though, that it’s the folks up at the clinical end who are busiest now. I’m an early-stage drug research type, so the kinds of things that I’ve spent my career doing tend to bear fruit in. . .several years, which is not the time frame that’s of greatest importance right now. As mentioned before, trying to develop a drug from scratch is *always* going to take years; there’s just too much to be done. So that’s why you see so much work on repurposing existing drugs – those can go right into humans. The next best thing are the compounds from inside a drug company that made it into human trials but were dropped because they weren’t effective enough against their original target or disease. You’ve got a pretty substantial head start on those, too. But that lead diminishes rapidly as you move down the list from there.
But there are a lot of biopharma folks in “work from home” mode, because they do other kinds of research entirely. What if you’re an expert in osteoclast/osteoblast cell culture for bone research, just to pick a completely different field? Or if your company has no anti-infectives research expertise at all? I’m in that situation myself. I’m lending out my expertise wherever I can, and of course I’m also trying to spread information through this site, but it’s been years since I worked in antiviral research in any capacity. Even that was better classified as fragment-based drug discovery than anything specifically antiviral – if you go far enough upstream, the actual therapeutic area becomes less of an immediate concern. I know far more about viruses and about antiviral drugs than the average person that you would find by throwing a tennis ball into a crowded street (hey, remember crowded streets?) but I’ve spent more time in several other fields than I have that one.
One thing that people are doing during this enforced break from the lab and the workplace is to take stock of their current projects. There are always details that you don’t feel that you’re sufficiently up to speed on, papers that you meant to read and didn’t, ideas that you haven’t devoted enough thought to. Time to catch up! It would be a terrible waste of time to come back to the lab and not have a clear idea of what you’ll be doing, because you’ll have plenty of time to plan it out. And outside of your current projects, it’s time to pick up some new skills as well. Ever wanted to (say) learn some Python? Or perhaps learn why some people want to learn some Python in the first place? Get some general immunology details straight in your head? Improve your understanding of statistics? (Pretty much everyone is in need of that one). Ideally, we can all return to our work smarter and more up-to-date than we were when we left. Admittedly, doing a bit of these things will cut into the time spent stress-scrolling through Twitter feeds and the like, but that’s part of the point of doing them as well.