The Coronavirus Project: from idea to measurement in just two weeks
By Alke Meents, leader of the CFEL working group FS-BMX
Our group FS-BMX (Biomedical research with X-rays) set a goal to develop many new methods at DESY in the area of structural analysis of biological samples, making them available to one of the broader user communities and more useful to research.
We’ve been collaborating for a while on this with groups from Universität Hamburg and other research facilities on the DESY campus and in the Hamburg area. After the spring holidays, we considered whether or not, with our expertise and unique opportunities here at DESY, we could contribute in some way to COVID-19 research. Then the idea struck us to try to look for a medicine for COVID-19 with the help of high-throughput sample screenings at the PETRA III measurement station P11.
We’d already prepared a similar project at the end of last year to look for a medication for Hantavirus. With that, we weren’t unprepared and, within a week, we could put together a suitable consortium that was really enthusiastic and ready to help. Within DESY, too, we didn’t have to perform a lot of prerequisite tasks – on the contrary, all of the groups were immediately ready to support the project quickly and unbureaucratically, a lot of them in their free time too.
In the end, it only took two weeks to go from the idea to the first measurements at P11 – a timespan that would otherwise be unthinkable for a project like this. Now, after six weeks, we’ve found a few interesting candidates for possible active ingredients. A substance that would have immediately been available as a medication is unfortunately not among them. That would’ve been great and easy; however, we have found a compound that readily binds to a coronavirus protein. We want to further research these candidates alongside other partners, as well as more precisely look into a minimum two further target proteins.
Even if it might be too late for this pandemic, maybe we’re better prepared for the next one with the new knowledge we’ve gained. In any case, we want to give a huge thank you to all participants: without your help this would not have been possible. It was and remains exciting, was a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to further cooperation with you all!