In late April a scientist at Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution in Nashville, Tennessee, said that he is weeks away from testing an anti-viral drug that may prevent COVID-19.
The scientist, Dr. Donald Alcendor, also worked on a successful antivirus to the Zika virus a few years ago.
Alcendor said the irony of the social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines is that he now has the time to enter Meharry in the global race to find treatment for COVID-19.
“The process is understanding how the virus gets into your system, where it goes and how it infects,” Alcendor told NBC News. “The struggle is that it is a single-strand that produces tremendous inflammation. The patient will feel like he’s drowning.”
His goal is to have the antiviral treatment created within the next two weeks. Then it will move on to clinical trials and, if successful, be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within a “few months.”
The success of the Zika virus antiviral drug makes him optimistic that his work could help and drastically lower the COVID-19 death rate. A vaccine will take up to 18 months to produce, but an antiviral drug would be used to treat patients once infected.
Meharry Medical College President Dr. James Hildreth has been advocating for pre-emptive screening in black neighborhoods for weeks. As an infectious disease scientist, Hildreth knew the contagious coronavirus was most volatile in people with existing health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and other issues prevalent in African American communities.
Meharry has administered free drive-up coronavirus tests and screening on its campus. The college is able to bridge the lack-of-trust factor that permeates the black community because of its longstanding reputation as a go-to place for black residents seeking talented black doctors.