Sunday 16 August 2020 8:30 AM UTC
In January 2020, a new virus was found to infect humans and cause COVID-19. The virus has a spike protein, which helps it bind to human cells in the upper respiratory tract. It then hijacks the host cell’s machinery, producing more virus particles, and causing a range of mild to severe clinical symptoms. In worse cases, it results in death. In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic and it has caused devastating healthcare, social, and financial problems in many countries.
Cherian Koshy, Chief Biomedical scientist from London’s King George Hospital, Goodmays was in Kerala holidaying with his family in February, when news about Covid pandemic breaking out in the world. India and in particular Kerala was nowhere near in comprehending what this mysterious new respiratory infection named Covid was about. However, Cherian was closely following the news as he knew that this is going to have a serious impact on his life back home in the UK. While he was in Kerala there was 2 reported cases in Thrissur, medical students returning from Wuhan China.
King George Hospital is part of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS trust, (BHRUT) which also manages Queen’s Hospital in Romford. Together they serve three quarters of a million people in three north-east London boroughs — including the large elderly population in the borough of Havering, who staff feared would be hard hit by Covid-19. Cherian could foresee that if Covid broke-out then the staff at these hospitals would find themselves at the centre of a rapidly evolving, high-pressure global emergency with no certainties.
Cherian returned back home in the UK at the earliest with his family and got back to his job and moved ahead at full speed. By that time his lab had started receiving samples from suspected patients. Tests for Covid-19 was only available at Public Health England (PHE) labs, as the tests required expensive equipment’s, trained personals, and Labs with specialist Health and Safety requirements. He knew the important of mass testing for Covid-19 are crucial in controlling the spread of the virus, but countries are struggling to obtain reagents and instruments that can do the tests due to global demand. His efforts concentrated on Covid testing locally at his own Lab as the number of requests began to increase in early March 2020, and he knew that the PHE labs won’t be able to cope with the continual increase in demand. Cherian and his team overcame all the challenges and successfully introduced Covid-19 testing at BHRUT within a short period of time, in March.
Cherian soon earned the nickname Mr Covid from colleagues because of how quickly he became an expert on the disease. His dedication and sincerity earned him praise from the national media in the UK. He was featured by Evening Standard newspaper’s Everyday Heroes project where they interviewed and photographed as one of the front line NHS workers involved in the fight against Covid 19.
The research carried out by University of Oxford has brought in promising news for the world giving hints that we are nearing closer to defending the Coronavirus. Currently, the United Kingdom Government, University of Oxford, and pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, are testing a vaccine against the spike protein. This was after extensive research from various scientists across UK.
The clinical trials are almost completed and the vaccine is expected around October/November 2020 if the further trials are successful. This will make it the first COVID-19 vaccine available in the world. The vaccine has been shown to produce a strong long-term host immune response, by stimulating host antibodies and immune cells, to successfully fight the virus.
Q.1 Can you please give us an update on the works University of Oxford is doing and what is it makes important the news that they are nearing to find a vaccine for Covid? I read that there 22 other potential vaccines also in clinical trials and more than 100 at earlier stages of research. The Oxford vaccine is the leader but does it mean that it will win in the end?
The Oxford study was published in the Journal Lancet 20th July 2020. The trials are promising; Britain is one of the leading nations in Vaccine research and I believe this could work. According to the World Health Organization, 160 coronavirus vaccines are in various stages of development. The Oxford /AstraZeneca team have developed new technology to produce an almost harmless genetically-modified virus to produce an immune response based on previous research and has already begun final-stage tests. However, the problem is how potent to make the immune response without causing side effects. This will require further trials.
Q: Can you please let us know how your work as chief biomedical scientist at King George Hospital in London links up to the works which scientists at University of Oxford are doing? How do you contribute? Or how do other scientists in other parts of UK contribute towards the race to find vaccine for Covid?
I have not contributed to the vaccine development. Vaccine Research and Developments are done at PHE labs. Our lab provides mass testing and provides statistical data of positives to Negatives in patient groups at BHRUT and the areas we serve under to PHE, for Epidemiology. We also collect and store all our positives and send it for Genomic research. The information I provided was from reading scientific journals and speaking with colleagues.
Q: In your views do scientists all over the world share their findings between scientists in different countries? Dont you think that not sharing the findings with other countries is a setback for humanity as people in other countries would lag behind or not be able to secure the vaccine on time like some countries that are much ahead in the race? What are your views on this?
Scientists already have shared information such as genomic genetics and S protein information’s through scientific journals and other forms of communications. I am hopeful that developed countries will shoulder most of the financial burden of the research and developments required to create a vaccine. In addition, there are different ways to produce a vaccine and in the early stages, this is largely trial and error, which has associated financial and safety risks. It is in the best interest of developed countries to ensure that the vaccine is made available to the whole world rather than few countries to minimise the spread virus across the globe.
Q: Can you please let us know where you are from Kerala and where you are settled in the UK and brief about your family?
In Kerala we are from the Valiyatharayil family located in Chettikulangara; between Kayumkulam and Mavelikara. My Father Koshy Varghese was working for the British Army in Singapore; he alone came to UK in the early 70’s and the family joined him in UK in 1980. My Dad Passed away 4 years ago My mum Alexamma Koshy is a retired science teacher from Kerala, who taught me science from an early age; She lives in Eastham, an active member of MAUK. My sister Jeena lives in Watford with her family. I live in Grays, Essex with my wife Sheeba is a teacher and 2 children Joshua and Jeremiah.
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