The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to provide samples of 15,000 therapeutic molecules to the Gasthuisberg hospital at the University of Leuven, to aid research into therapies to combat the coronavirus Covid-19, De Standaard reports.
The molecules come from the Scripps research institute in California and its drug development division Calibr, which keeps a portfolio of therapeutic molecules used in the development of drug treatments.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes that among these 15,000 substances, there are one or more molecules that can slow down the novel coronavirus,” commented Professor Johan Neyts of the virology lab at the Leuven university Rega Institute, which will carry out the research. “We will be looking on their behalf.”
The ultra-bio-safe Rega laboratory is perhaps the only one in the world, he said, that can test thousands of candidate molecules at high speed, one after the other and safely.
“A week or two after the delivery arrives, we’ll have the results,” Prof Neyts said.
The lab was developed within the institute by Pieter Leyssen, now senior industrial research manager at the university. It works fully automatically, and can be left to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The samples will be delivered in pallets of 400 containers, each containing a different molecule. On arrival in Leuven the containers will be fed with cells and a sample of the Covid-19 virus added. Then it is a case of waiting to see if any of the molecules has a retardant effect on the virus’ activity.
The Covid cells used in the testing were provided by Prof Neyts’ colleague at the institute, Professor Marc Van Ranst, who in turn obtained them from the nose of Belgium’s first case of infection.
The entire screening of the 15,000 molecules will cost the Foundation “several tens of thousands of euros,” Prof Neyts said.
“That’s a pittance, compared to the cost of developing a medicine from scratch and bringing it to the market.”
The team is careful not to hope for too much – that a substance will be found in the shipment which brings the virus’ growth to a halt.
“But a little bit is good enough,” Prof Neyts said. “Or better still, a couple of substances that each slow it down a little, that we can combine to help seriously ill patients to hopefully get better.”
The Gates Foundation was started by the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda “to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.” It is based in Seattle, and is funded not only by the Gates fortune, but also a contribution from another billionaire, Warren Buffett, as well as donations from companies, institutions and individuals from around the world.
This article was originally published in The Brussels Times on 4 March 2020.
Header image: KU Leuven (courtesy of KU Leuven).