The Coronavirus Fighter: 'Science will get us out of this'

Worldwide consortium to defeat COVID-19 based in La Jolla
Posted at 11:49 AM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 23:51:24-04

LA JOLLA (KGTV) - We are battling an invisible enemy with COVID-19, but scientists will eventually defeat it.

One of the best virus fighters in the world is here in San Diego.

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire is an immunologist who once led an international effort to defeat Ebola. She is now directing another worldwide team to do the same to beat coronavirus.

"It's like the introduction of smallpox into the new world," Saphire says from an office outside her lab in La Jolla.

She's describing how native American's must have reacted during the 1500s when Europeans brought the smallpox pandemic into the new world. The emergence of coronavirus is as unusual to us today.

"When there's a spillover event, and it's something new to us, and we have no prior immunity, and we have no defenses, it tends to expand and explode," adds Ollmann Saphire.

The San Diego immunologist directs a worldwide consortium from here at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology.

Ollmann Saphire oversees a global team that operates in 50 labs on five continents. They're job it is to save the world -- they study the virus and find a way to defeat it.

"This is the most exciting area of science, and the tools, the strategies, and the collaborations that we have to move against something novel are incredible," says Ollmann Saphire. "The data sharing is unprecedented."

But the work takes time. It will be at least a year before a vaccine is created, maybe longer.

We asked Dr. Ollmann Sapher for her expertise about the warm weather theory. Does it slow the virus? She explains that viruses such as the cold and flu do have seasonal patterns.

"You are more likely to get infected with many things in January than you are in June," says Ollmann Saphire.

But she adds new emergent viruses such as COVID-19 are unpredictable, which could make warm weather ineffective. Staying at home and social distancing are most effective in preventing the spread and contracting the virus.

"If we've all been shut up in the spring and we go out and interact with each other in the summer, you can expect the virus is going to keep spreading and expanding," says Ollmann Saphire. "Until we have something that gives us immunity, we're not immune."

And then there is something called herd immunity. Essentially, if you have enough people who get the virus and recover, it creates something similar to a fire-break blocking the spread of the virus. But you would need about 200 million immune American's for that to be possible.

As of April 27, we know of about one million confirmed cases, maybe more.

"And if there are ten times as we don't know about that we do know about, that's maybe 6 million are immune as a guess. That's a long way to go between 6 million and 200 million."

And finally, we asked about a message of hope from a scientist's perspective. How will we find a way through this?

"Science is what is going to get us out of this," adds Ollmann Saphire emphatically.

The Coronavirus Immunotherapy Consortium (CoVIC) is a global partnership to accelerate discovery, optimization, and delivery of life-saving antibody-based therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2, and is supported by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.