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Chinese Science Bulletin, Volume 65 , Issue 22 : 2321-2325(2020) https://doi.org/10.1360/TB-2020-0600

Coronavirus (COVID-19) combat: The power of chemistry

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Abstract

The pandemic of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread around the world. COVID-19 is one of the most serious infectious disease threats in the past 100 years. Epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that early diagnosis of infectious COVID-19 cases is of great help to slow down the spread of disease and reduce mortality. Therefore, the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection is of great significance in the control of the pandemic. However, because patients with COVID-19 show partially similar symptoms to diseases such as influenza-like illness, it is impossible to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infection by relying solely on the patient’s clinical features. Meanwhile, there are a number of asymptomatic patients, who are capable of spreading the infection while passing general surveillance. The early diagnosis of such cases is also critical for the prevention of the outbreak and control of the pandemic. Given there is no effective SARS-CoV-2-specific anti-viral agents, chemists are engaging in the development of analytical strategies for the SARS-CoV-2 detection and antiviral drug to combat the spread of the COVID-19. In order to support the innovation in the ongoing research on fighting COVID-19 pandemic, we summarized part of the achievements in SARS-CoV-2 detection and drug development engaged by chemists in China. By summarizing the available products and patents with practical potentials in fast analysis, we discussed the recent advances in the techniques for SARS-CoV-2 detection and their application potentials in diagnosis of COVID-19. For the diagnosis of COVID-19, the most specific analysis method is polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based nucleic acid assay. At the end of March, National Medical Products Administration has approved more than 20 products aiming at SARS-CoV-2 test, most of which are kits based on the principle of real-time quantitative reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR). Because PCR-based method needs complex manual operation steps, the technique is limited due to the time-consuming reaction steps. Later on, techniques with multiple procedures including nucleic acid extraction, amplification, and virus detection have been integrated for rapid detection. In order to solve the problems caused by disadvantages of complex thermal cycling process in PCR, isothermal amplification has been applied for nucleic acid detection. Combined with isothermal amplification, rapid point-of-care test is applicable for the detection of collected SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA. Although viral RNA assay is the most specific method for diagnosis of COVID-19, it cannot be used to determine the post-infection or monitor the immunity of general populations. The immunological assays could be applied for the detection of antibodies themselves several days after the infection by SARS-CoV-2. Therefore, lateral flow assay, microfluidics, and other technologies have successfully applied for the immune assay. Some reagents, detection kits, and devices have been certificated and marketed internationally. Specific anti-SARS-CoV-2 agents have been designed and tested. Moreover, several small-molecule drug candidates with high efficacy and low toxicity showed great potential in clinical application. Facing the outbreak of epidemic of COVID-19, Department of Chemical Sciences, Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences of National Natural Science Foundation of China have jointly funded three innovative projects to support the research on the effective and expedite control of the epidemic. These projects include “Research on rapid detection of new coronavirus in aerosol on site”, “A pre-clinical study of using small molecules to treat SARS-CoV-2-induced excessive inflammation and injury”, and “Polymer micro-/nano-fibrous non-woven fabrics prepared via flash-pressure- released technology and reusable high-quality medical protective suits produced with these fabrics”. The pandemic of COVID-19 is a major public health emergency, which poses a major challenge to health system worldwide and also has a major impact on economy and society. In response to sudden large-scale outbreaks, rapid, accurate and high-throughput detection technology is undoubtedly the priority of “anti-epidemic”. Focusing on the present and serving the long-term requirement, we still need to innovatively propose new ideas to meet the major needs in the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases based on a global perspective.


Author information

陈拥军 1963年11月生于江苏. 1979~1983年, 江苏师范大学攻读学士学位; 1983~1986年, 大连理工大学攻读硕士学位; 1986~1989年, 北京化纤工学院应用化学系讲师; 1989~1993年, 中国科学院化学研究所攻读博士学位; 1993~1999年, 分别在比利时根特大学和英国伦敦大学学院从事博士后研究; 1999~2004年, 任中国科学院化学研究所副研究员, 课题组长、研究员和博士生导师. 2004年6月任国家自然科学基金委员会化学科学部副主任, 2015年8月起任化学科学部常务副主任.


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