Meet The Resistance
Bloomberg Businessweek|March 23, 2020
Renowned researcher David Ho is leading a team of aggressive young scientists racing to beat the coronavirus
Robert Langreth and Susan Berfield

It seems obvious now that David Ho, arguably the world’s most famous AIDS researcher, would get involved in seek-ing a treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It seems obvious that he would redirect the work of his several dozen scientists at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. That he would, as he says, “rob Peter to pay Paul” to get started with funds meant for the lab’s HIV studies. That he would receive $2.1 million from the Jack Ma Foundation in Hangzhou, China, without even asking and an additional $6 million from other private donors, among them a few very concerned businesspeople.

But in late December, when Ho was tracking reports of a few cases of unexplained pneumonia in Wuhan, it wasn’t obvious he’d be needed. “We were paying attention but didn’t think we would get involved. It seemed rare—and over there,” he says. In early January, as his lab changed its affiliation from Rockefeller University to Columbia University and moved to Upper Manhattan, the situation in Wuhan had become worse. Ho still wasn’t sure if he should get involved. “The scientists in China were already doing so much,” he says. Many of those scientists, in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, are former students of his. “They could very well do the job.”

He’d also seen funders lose interest in emerging diseases after the immediate panic about an outbreak subsided. Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, for example, had been contained relatively quickly in 2002, and as soon as it was, money for research became scarce. Ho’s lab had developed antibodies that could have been used to pursue treatments for SARS, another coronavirus, but it was too late—he couldn’t raise the $20 million or so he needed to continue pressing forward on his own. “No one seemed to care,” he says. “That’s frustrating.” If he’d found the money, it’s possible he’d be closer to a treatment for the new coronavirus.

By mid-January the magnitude of this epidemic was becoming clear. The Chinese government was making plans to quarantine the city of Wuhan, and four other countries reported cases. Scientists had identified the virus and shared its gene sequence. Ho also believed that this time the Chinese government, for one, would provide funding for sustained research. “They’ve learned their lesson,” he says. He decided to get involved.

Eight weeks later, the virus has taken hold around the world. Counting the ill and calculating the rates of infection and death are daily, hourly exercises in caution and dread. The 1918 flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people. The HIV pandemic has so far infected 75 million and killed 32 million. The death rate for Covid-19 appears to be much lower—it remains uncertain—but the illness spreads easily. If it reaches only 1% of the global population, that would mean 75 million people would be infected, and at the current mortality rates, 1 million would die.

Scientists at Ho’s lab, and at Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Regeneron, and at least 10 other drug and biotech companies, are working as quickly as they can to identify treatments. This virus is part of a family they’ve come to know. They’re rushing to test old compounds even as they devise programs to create new ones. Among the furthest along is Gilead Sciences Inc., which is testing remdesivir, an antiviral drug tried on Ebola patients, on corona virus patients around the world. Gilead expects to report initial results in April.

Scientists say they can tame this corona virus, but for a while it will move faster than they’ll be able to. It may be a year or more before any specific treatment for Covid-19 is available. Until then we’ll have to contain it with distance and soap and the drugs we already have.

Even once there’s a treatment, it’s probable that Covid-19 will remain with us for longer than we’d like. Completely wiping out something this widespread is exceedingly difficult, Ho is quick to say. Only one such virus has been eradicated: smallpox. That took about 20 years.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

The Hyperinflation Hype

Talk that the U.S. is going the way of Zimbabwe or Venezuela is bunk but bunk can move markets and influence policy

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

The Sheriff Wants a Word With Robinhood

Massachusetts regulator William Galvin says the free app is encouraging novice investors to trade themselves into trouble

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

The Geopolitics Of Chips

Taiwan and South Korea have amassed an uncomfortable degree of market power

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

THE SUPERCAR SPECIAL

Electrification is redefining what it means for a car to be extraordinary.

7 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

Tech's Latest Perk: Never See the Office

Silicon Valley companies are wooing executives with the promise of remote work forever

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

VACCINE CAPITALISM

Pfizer deserves every bit of the credit it’s receiving. But should a drug company decide who gets a shot?

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

GOD SAVE MY PUBS

Tim Martin is fighting to keep Wetherspoons, his working-class British chain, alive. His detractors would bid it good riddance

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

WHO GUARDS THE SECURITY GUARDS?

THE PEOPLE ASKED TO ENFORCE COVID SAFETY RULES PUT UP WITH LOW PAY, MINIMAL TRAINING, AND SOME DANGEROUSLY ANGRY CUSTOMERS

9 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

Can Clubhouse Keep The Party Going?

Silicon Valley’s hottest app is getting more than just money from its prominent investors

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021

After a Grim Limbo, Hope

A migrant camp empties as Biden undoes Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 08, 2021
RELATED STORIES

HARRY & MEGHAN'S $500M ROYAL GAMBLE

Throwing queen under bus to nab fancy future deals

2 mins read
National Enquirer
March 15, 2021

If You Can't Join ‘Em… Stream ‘Em

This fall, Ricky Gervais was living his best lockdown life. Hollywood was on pause, but the actor and comedian kept in full stride. Binging fans had made his Netflix series After Life the most watched British comedy for the second year in a row while he stayed home writing a third season.

7 mins read
Innovation & Tech Today
2020 Year-End Issue

MEGHAN PREGNANCY HEALS HARRY'S HEART!

Baby brings marriage back from brink but won’t end royal rift as TV tell-all stuns queen

4 mins read
National Enquirer
March 08, 2021

ROCK THE VOTE!

Dwayne Johnson mulls run for president!

1 min read
National Enquirer
March 08, 2021

CHRISTIAN MOTORCYCLISTS ASSOCIATION

One of the great benefits of riding with friends is the fact that when you ride in a group there is a lot of support.

2 mins read
Born To Ride Southeast Magazine
February 2021

IN YEAR OF PANDEMIC, HOME DEPOT BECAME SUPPLIER TO MILLIONS

The housing market was among the very few bright spots for the U.S. economy in the year of the lockdown and Home Depot became its supplier, racking up an unprecedented $132 billion in sales for 2020.

2 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #487

BONE CANCER SURVIVOR TO JOIN BILLIONAIRE ON SPACEX FLIGHT

After beating bone cancer, Hayley Arceneaux figures rocketing into orbit on SpaceX’s first private flight should be a piece of cosmic cake.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #487

SHRIVELED SHIRLEY'S FACE-LIFT FAILS!

Beloved Oscar winner unrecognizable at 86

2 mins read
Globe
March 01, 2021

TURN YOUR QUARANTINE CLUTTER INTO MONEY

I placed more online orders than I can count in 2020. And I justified all of them.

4 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #486

PASSION, POWER & PRESCIENCE

How enigmatic entrepreneur Howard Hughes blazed a trail for today’s business tycoons

7 mins read
Maxim
March - April 2021