Billions of people around the world are anxiously waiting for news of a cure for Covid-19.
But a combination of the priorities of the big drugs firms and the difficulties associated with treating viruses are making a solution very difficult.
Even those drugs today trumpeted as a potential treatment are at only the earliest stages of development, with mass production months, if not years, away.
Big pharmaceutical companies are voting with their feet and deciding not to invest the billions of pounds needed to research new therapies.
They see far too many risks and not enough chance of profit.
One risk is that new antiviral treatments could come at a cost of terrible damage to other organs.
The legal battles as a result of this are something big business will want to avoid.
Another is that their research may result in a temporary cure, but that the virus will then mutate and make their treatment useless.
Their investment in research would then be lost.The best way to pursue cures is for the coordination of research across the globe.
And the best form of that is a publically owned pharmaceutical industry. This would publicise its research and results so that even if they fail, their work might lead to a breakthrough elsewhere.
The huge funds required for this level of study, and the preparation of factories and distribution networks all over the world to mass produce medicines, must be found.
For decades big pharma has made billions from people in need. That time must surely come to an end.
Viruses are one of the biggest threats to humanity, and a big part of the reason for that lies in the way they infect us.
Compared to other infections they are much smaller and simpler.
Treating Covid-19 infections is likely to involve much more than a single “magic bullet” drug
Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics because they don’t reproduce on their own.
Instead, they invade cells and once they control them, they make copies of themselves.
That makes it hard to find drugs that target only the virus but don’t also damage healthy human cells.
Perhaps the most difficult problem in treating viruses is the way our own immune systems respond to them.
Once our bodies detect a viral invasion they start preparing a natural defence—antibodies.
These attach to both the virus, and the cells they have taken over, and mark them for destruction.
But this defence mechanism can create other problems, such as fever and inflammation.
Many of the most serious symptoms associated with Covid-19 result from viral pneumonia that follows in the most severely affected patients.
Lungs damaged by the virus respond by filling with inflammatory phlegm, which clogs them up and cause further bacterial infections.
These complications means treating Covid-19 infections is likely to involve much more than a single “magic bullet” drug. Perhaps a cocktail of antiviral drugs and inhibitors, which target the virus and stop it replicating, will be combined.
If that were the case the path to profit for any single firm could prove difficult.
So, if humanity is to stand a chance, the battle for cures must be wrestled away from those who measure everything in terms of profit.