Role of chemistry against COVID-19

On 6 May, the webinar Chemistry, essential in the face of COVID-19 took place, highlighting how chemistry is playing a leading role in the fight against this pandemic, both from the field of research, seeking solutions to prevent a new pandemic spreading in the future, and from an industrial perspective, to guarantee the supply of materials and products needed to combat it at the present time.

Webinar poster against COVID-10

The role of chemistry in the face of COVID-19, in its scientific, industrial and pharmacological aspects, was the focus of the virtual session held on 6 May. The webinar featured the participation of Professor Rafael del Pino, Javier García Martínez, who is also Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Alicante and president-elect of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). He was joined by Mª Eugenia Anta, director of Product Stewardship and Internationalisation at Feique; Javier Urzay, deputy director of Farmaindustria and Cristina González, director of Innovation at Feique and technical secretary of SusChem Spain. The webinar has been organised by the Spanish Chemical Industry Business Federation (Feique), the Technology and Innovation Platform for Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem Spain), Farmaindustria and ChemSpain, with the collaboration of Foro Química y Sociedad, Smart Chemistry and Expoquimia.

In the time that has elapsed since the health crisis began, the chemical sector has worked hard, from all sides, to provide answers: from the scientific perspective, developing different lines of research to better understand the behaviour of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and identify its weak points in order to combat it. At the same time, from its industrial vocation, by increasing the capacity of its production chains to guarantee the supply of products and materials that are essential for the health and nutrition of people in this crisis. And, in turn, from its pharmacological side, the chemical sector is working tirelessly in the search for vaccines as well as medicines and treatments to alleviate its incidence.

"We must be prepared for similar health emergencies in the future".

During the session, Javier García MartínezProfessor of Inorganic Chemistry and director of the Laboratory of Molecular Nanotechnology at the University of Alicante, president of the Young Academy of Spain and president-elect of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has highlighted the fundamental role played by chemistry as the first wall of containment against the disease, while underlining the "immense effort" being made by industry to confront it. The research has made it possible to better understand the natural origin of the virus, to relate it to other viruses of the same SARS family that have been known for years and to prevent and prepare the population, as epidemics caused by coronaviruses are expected to return throughout the 21st century: "we know that they are recurring pandemics for which we have to be prepared and the health system must be prepared for this type of emergency", Javier García pointed out.

García Martínez also highlighted different current studies and clinical trials, which are essential to achieve an effective treatment in the fight against the coronavirus, such as the World Health Organisation's Solidarity trial, in which the pharmaceutical industry plays an absolutely essential role in order to find effective treatments and a future vaccine.

Industry readapts business lines to respond to demand for essential products

For her part, María Eugenia Anta, Director of Product Stewardship, Internationalisation and Trade at the Spanish Chemical Industry Business Federation (Feique), highlighted how the Spanish chemical sector has focused on strengthening and prioritising certain systems and production plans and has readapted its business lines to respond to the high demand for essential materials and products for health, ranging from medical gases such as oxygen, to pharmaceutical products, antiseptics or biocidal products for water purification, such as chlorine; for disinfection and cleaning, such as bleach or hydrogen peroxide; or it has generated the plastic materials needed to manufacture syringes, IV bags, respirators or surgical products, for food packaging or polymers and synthetic fibres for the manufacture of PPE, among many other chemical products of great relevance in this crisis.

Anta pointed out that "many companies have reoriented their production processes to respond efficiently to the supply of products in high demand at this time", citing the example of hydrogels or components for them, materials for the manufacture of respirators or PPE which, in many cases, have been donated altruistically and which have reached the main health centres that required them.

Pharmachemistry advances research to find a therapeutic answer

Javier Urzay, Deputy Director General of Farmaindustria, highlighted how the pharmaceutical industry is advancing and collaborating on a global scale in the research and discovery of a therapeutic response to the COVID-19 coronavirus: "there are currently numerous drugs under development for the treatment of COVID-19 and up to 20 vaccines around the world".

Urzay highlighted the challenge of searching against the clock for an effective vaccine against the coronavirus, stressing that two fundamental lessons have been learned during this crisis: "firstly, that we have to look after the health system as a fundamental asset of the country and an absolutely critical element of social and territorial cohesion, with enormous economic value"; and, secondly, that it is necessary to look after strategic industries: "The entire chemical sector and, within it, the pharmaceutical sector, are part of these industries that the country must maintain and strengthen", as these sectors "bear the ultimate responsibility for finding a way out of the crisis and are fully committed to developing, producing, marketing and making treatments accessible".

The pharmacological sector has faced a great challenge: to maintain the supply of drugs, which are critical in the fight against COVID-19, and to focus fully on research, which is absolutely necessary to find treatments and vaccines. Urzay highlighted Spain's role in clinical trials, "an area in which (Spain) stands out worldwide, almost second only to the United States in some cases, and even ahead of Germany, France and the United Kingdom".

In Spain there are currently 56 clinical trials for COVID-19 with 324 hospital centres participating and 67 observational studies underway, with the aim of recruiting 28,000 patients. "The aim is that all treatments are observed to extract useful scientific information for clinical practice and that these advances can be rapidly transferred to patients. In terms of vaccines, there are more than 80 projects worldwide and eight that have already entered the clinic, which is extraordinary, considering that they are being carried out in the last four months.

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Download the presentation by Javier García Martínez