Michael Farzan is the Scripps Resesarch virologist who discovered the ACE2 receptor binding site for SARS, which is the same for both the first SARS coronavirus from 2002, and the recent one (a.k.a. Covid-19 or SARS-Cov-2). In other words, he solved the crucial scientific mystery of how this species of coronavirus gets inside cells.
Farzan also worked on HIV, Ebola, Zika, and Dengue. Recently, he gave a nice intro (excerpt below) to the science of coronavirus. Highlights:
- HIV is very smart: it’s figured out how to evade your immune system and hide in your body for years
- Influenza is pretty smart: it adapts pretty quickly (which is why you need a flu shot every year)
- SARS “flunked immunology 101”
SARS-Cov-2 moves from host to host before your adaptive immune system kicks in (i.e., antibodies). So it leaves itself exposed & highly vulnerable both to vaccines and to antibodies.
Plus: it has a very *large* genome, which requires high-fidelity reproduction. Which means it mutates slowly. All of which means that antibodies and vaccines that work now are likely to work for at least a few years (as they did for SARS-Cov-1).
This is excellent news for the 111 vaccines and 197 drugs in development (just 4 months from first sequencing the virus!).
In other words, more reasons for #optimism.
Full talk from Farzan here (start at 07:50 to skip the intro).
ps – nice science romance story: Farzan discovered the ACE2 binding site for SARS together with his wife Hyeryun Choe. When they first met at a lab 20 years ago, it was at a lab “so small they were either going to kill each other or fall in love.” (I’m a sucker for this kind of story. My parents were academic scientists in the same field; my wife and I have both worked in lung cancer research.)