Vaccine or remedy? No matter what it is, we need it soon to fight the coronavirus

Prof. Rolf Hilgenfeld is an expert in drug-design and structural virology. He has been conducting research-programs on different kinds of corona-viruses since the first SARS-outbreak in 2003. Photo by Thomas Berg / Universität of Lübeck in Germany

A scientist from Arolsen, Hermann’s sister city in Germany,  is one of the many scientists worldwide researching on an active substance to stop the coronavirus. He studied chemistry and works on the border line between chemistry and virology. He worked on drug-design and structural virology.


Prof. Dr. Rolf Hilgenfeld from the University of Lübeck in Northern Germany is renouned for his success in decrypting the RNA of an important protein belonging to the SARS virus that hit China and other countries in South Asia in 2003. 


His findings helped to understand and fight that virus to that time. The University of Singapore even dedicated a memorial to Prof. Hilgenfeld. The statue has the magnified form of the RNA string that contains the virus code. The abbrevation SARS stands for South Asia Respiratory Syndrom.


In 2014 Prof. Hilgenfeld examined the MERS-virus (MERS stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrom) and developed active substances against that virus. 


The new coronavirus is somewhat similar to the SARS- and MERS-viruses. That is why Prof. Hilgenfeld now could come up rather quickly with a substance that successfully works against SARS-2, another word for the coronavirus. However Prof. Hilgenfeld cannot yet say when his substance can be used and produced in an effective medicine. 


Prof. Hilgenfeld who is an expert in chemistry and drug-design explained to the Arolsen newspaper that  his substance had to be tested first on mice to find out how the substance was accepted best by the infected body.  It could either be injected by a syringe or  swallowed like a pill. There are many different ways to apply a medicine. The test showed that the substance developed by Prof. Hilgenfeld worked best when it is inhaled.


But there are many more test necessary before the substance can be applied safely to humans. Prof. Hilgenfeld was very confident that his medicine against SARS could be developed after the 2003 outbreak and after the 2014 MERS outbreak. But soon after the epidemics were over there were no more patients and no pharmaceutical company would finance the development of a drug against a disease that has disappeared. Prof Hilgenfeld is convinced, that this medicine would have worked against  the new corona-virus, if only it had been developed till the end.

Now the world has to invest years into the development of an effective and safe medicine. The drug might come  too late for the outbreak we are facing right now, but it might be ready to fight the viruses of the future. Prof. Hilgenfeld is almost sure that there will be a SARS-3 in a few years and he says, the world should be ready by then.


In the ongoing discussion about fighting the coronavirus it is important to tell the  difference between a vaccine and a remedy. The vaccine contains parts of the virus and it enables the human body’s own resistance to fight the virus. A remedy brings an active substance to weaken the virus into the human body.