TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's leading academic institution on Thursday (Feb. 20) announced that a team of scientists working around the clock had within two weeks managed to replicate the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise in treating the Wuhan coronavirus.
Academia Sinica announced on its Facebook page on Thursday that the team of scientists had managed to replicate remdesivir "from nothing to self-production, 100 mg level, high purity." After receiving instructions to replicate the drug, the seven-member team led by Chein Rong-Jie (陳榮傑), an associate researcher at Academia Sinica's Institute of Chemistry, started research and development on Feb. 6.
The seven scientists then spent the next 14 days working day and night to synthesize 100 mg worth of remdesivir, according to the institute. Chen said that due to the shortage of synthetic raw materials, the building blocks for remdesivir could not be obtained on Feb. 6. Therefore, Chen said the team used their own method to synthesize the drug from scratch.
The team went through more than 10 complex steps, with some compounds needing to be purified through more precise recrystallization. Finally, on Feb. 20, the team achieved a remdesivir purity level of 97 percent.
According to Chen, the drug synthesis work was arduous and complex. He said that although they are only a team of seven people, each of them felt a strong sense of duty and was looking forward to contributing to the containment of the epidemic.
He said that it was only by investing in research and development day and night that the team was able to successfully synthesize remdesivir in two weeks. Academia Sinica President James C. Liao (廖俊智) stressed that this achievement shows that the institute has the ability to undertake drug synthesis operations.
Liao hopes that the drug will not be needed in Taiwan but said it is important to have it at the ready in the event the outbreak worsens on the island. He said that now that the drug has been synthesized, it can be mass-produced through technology licensing to help treat severe cases of the disease.
The drug is currently under development by American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences for Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
"The drug was found to show encouraging results when administered to the first US patient infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, according to a publication in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)," a report on the Clinical Trials Arena website said. The patient has been discharged from the hospital since recovering.