No country was ready to face the COVID-19 pandemic, which took the world by surprise last December. However, scientific communities have been able to help fight the disease through accelerated research and technological advances.
“We see it in nations as different from ours, such as the United States, that even with their budget in science and research, they are being hit; however, it’s evident that progress in these disciplines has had an influence in tackling it”, assured Susana López Charretón, from the Institute of Biotechnology (IBT) of the UNAM.
From the beginning of the global health emergency in January, Mexico’s scientific communities have begun working on, and investing in, research projects to help tackle the virus.
The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the institution with the most research output in the country, issued an extraordinary call to finance research projects, and the National Council on Science and Technology (Conacyt) launched a National Strategic Program for health (Pronaces), where there is a national project for virology research.
Several multidisciplinary groups created in response to the call are now unveiling the first results.
The Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), which had already developed vaccines against HIV, Ebola, Zika or Chikungunya, is working on a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 through a viral vector based on a modification of the virus used to eradicate smallpox.
UNAM researchers, together with members from public institutions (IMSS, INDRE, INER, among others) sequenced the coronavirus genome to understand mutations.
Another group of UNAM scientists also sequenced the virus, with the aim of supporting health authorities in the detection and diagnosis of the coronavirus, through tests carried out at universities.
Gustavo Cruz, professor at the Institute for Research in Applied Mathematics and Systems (IISMAS, also based at UNAM), adapted a mathematical model developed for the 2009 A(H1N1) epidemic, allowing the average number of infections that each infected person has to be counted, as well as when spikes will occur.
The National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico (IPN) is testing the drug Transferon, a drug it manufactures, which may work to prevent complications of the disease.
Three other drug investigations serve to treat COVID-19 patients: the antiviral Remdesivir; Tocilizumab, a monoclonal antibody, that prevents lung tissue from swelling; and hydroxychloroquine, a medicine for malaria and rheumatic diseases.
Clinical trials of the three investigations have already been approved by the regulatory agency, the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (Cofepris). Each is in a different phase of investigation, with the most promising appearing to be Remdesivir.
New medical devices
Mexican businesses and researchers are working to develop new devices that help medical professionals care for COVID-19 patients.
XE Médica, a medical equipment company dedicated to innovation, made an isolation capsule with a HEPA filter system to keep it inflated. The capsule prevents the virus from escaping when a patient is transported and protects healthcare staff who have contact with the patient.
Meanwhile, Mexican engineers have created open-source, self-contained respirators that anyone can replicate, based on Spain’s Resistencia Team model. IPN engineers are doing the same with invasive and non-invasive models, all open source. In addition, UNAM engineers are working on a model 10 times more economical than commercial ventilators.