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Need for anti-viral drugs against Covid



Covid-19 is the third viral epidemic to have come upon man since the first in 2003 and it may not be the last. Next pandemic could be more destructive and there may not be an effective vaccine to fight the disease. Further developing an effective vaccine is not easy and is time consuming. By the time a vaccine is developed and tested a lot of lives may have been lost as happened in the US due to Covid-19. Adequate inoculation of a population is no easy task as could be seen at present in the African countries. Variant strains of the virus which prove to be more elusive, destructive and resistant to vaccines poses another threat. Virologists and researchers have though belatedly realized these dangers and are working hard to find solutions. Perhaps, broad spectrum antiviral drugs which are effective against viruses and their variants may be the solution.

Corona viruses have been jumping species and causing disease every nine years or so since 2003. Encroach by man into the territories of the animals is believed to be the reason for this unusual behaviour of viruses. Such encroachments deprive the wild life of their habitat and provides opportunities for invasive organisms to jump from one host to another. Sometimes these organisms prove to be pathogenic to the new host. SARS struck in 2003 and disappeared soon and everybody thought that was the end of the story. But people like Robert Webster leading authority on avian influenza warned against complacence and advised researchers to prepare for the next outbreak. He recommended drugs that target a wide range of viral pathogens should be developed and stockpiled. Drug researchers did not listen to him and the industries that fund research were not interested as there was no disease they could see. They will not fund research unless they are assured of profits.

Another warning shot came in 2012. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS appeared and disappeared. There was still no concerted effort to develop vaccines or drugs. In 2020 all hell broke lose. SARS Cov-2 struck with a vengeance and Covid-19 engulfed the world. There was a mad rush to develop a vaccine and the researchers were successful in producing several excellent vaccines. But the virus seems to be having other ideas, it produced several variants with increasing infectiousness and also to some degree vaccine resistance. And the virus is not done yet. Only god knows what kind of monster it may produce next.

The need for an anti-viral drug was felt from the beginning of the pandemic as doctors felt unarmed against an enemy with the ability to improve its weapons and change its strategies. They tried the drug remdesivir which had been developed in the fight against hepatitis C and Ebola. This drug was of little use against Covid and had other disadvantages like the cost and the fact that it has to be given intravenously, factors that make the drug almost useless in pandemic situations.

Anti-viral drugs are difficult to develop for in the virus there are only a few structures that could be targeted by drugs. In the case of other pathogens like bacteria, fungi and parasites there are several anatomical and chemical areas that a drug could attack successfully and make the organism ineffective in causing disease. In enveloped viruses there are only the lipid envelop, few proteins and the genetic core material. The surface cell membrane in bacteria on the other hand is a common structure found in many bacteria and a drug like penicillin which inhibits the formation of the cell membrane could be effective against a large number of different types of bacteria. Therefore the researchers say “now we need an arsenal” as no single drug could be effectiive against all the emerging pathogenic viruses.

Realising the immense danger paused by Covid and similar infections that may occur in the future the National Institute of Health in the US is planning a major programme to develop therapeutics against SARS Cov-2 variants and other viruses with pandemic potential. The project would not be starting from scratch as several initial efforts for developing suitable drugs have been made and strategies developed with some success from the beginning of the present pandemic. Scientists have been saying “we don’t want to have another year like 2020 and we don’t have to if we do the work in advance”. The investment made in the field of molecular biology research and virology in the last couple of decades would no doubt stand in good stead in this endevour.

Basically, two strategies are being developed, one is to target the virus physiology and the other is to target the mechanisms in the human physiology that the viruses commandeer for their own purpose. Drugs could function as fake building blocks for the virus and mislead the virus to use them for replication which would fail as wrong building blocks have been made available. Instead of inserting the correct RNA bases during replication a viral enzyme called polymerase is tricked into incorporating derivatives of the drug. Human polymerases cannot be similarly misled and therefore human physiology remains unharmed. But because of the limited targets in the viral structure a drug effective against herpes is unlikely to be effective against Corona.

Some drug researchers as mentioned earlier aim to interfere with human pathways that viruses hijack for their replication, for example a drug that blocks fat-regulating enzyme used by many viruses to promote entry into host cells could stop its entry into human cells. By inhibiting this enzyme the virus is deprived of access to host function upon which it depends for its invasive process. Another host directed antiviral strategy is to deprive the virus the lipids that it steals from human cells to manufacture its lipid envelope without which it cannot exist. As everybody now knows soap causes disintegration of this wrapping of fat and that is why we are told to wash our hands as often as possible as a Covid preventive measure.

All this great effort has resulted in the production of a promising candidate drug called molnupiravir which is easier to assimilate and therefore is cheaper and could be administered orally and therefore very practical in pandemic situations. This drug is now undergoing late stage clinical trials and is nearing approval. It is found to shorten the duration of the infectiousness of Covid. This drug targets the Corona virus and provides it with fake building blocks for the replication process of its RNA genome.

We must realise that only science could save us from monsters like the Covid. Superstitious mumbo jumbo has no place in a life threatening situation like this. We have to look up to the West who are ahead in science and technology in this area though the East is not far behind. We hear good news from China too in the battle against Corona and they are expected to unveil their anti-viral drugs sooner than later. Sri Lanka which maintains good relations with both West and East could benefit in this situation for if one fails the other would surely oblige. S. Amaratunga

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Jayantha Dhanapala, a star in a Trinity galaxy



It was about one and a half years ago that I contacted Jayantha Dhanapala to find his Kandy address in order to send him two of my books. On that day he informed me of the death of Mr SML Marikkar, his classmate at Trinity College, Kandy and my student to whom I had taught the classical languages. In an appreciation of Mr. Marikkar I had used the well known Latin dictum, “seniores priores” to indicate that in death too the older should take precedence over the younger as in matters of ordinary life.

As I commenced teaching the classical languages I was more than surprised that I had to teach another subject to the students of the University Entrance class . It so happened that the students learning this subject were an exceedingly outstanding group of Arts and Science students. Among them were Jayantha, Marikkar, Sarath Amunugama, Arjuna Aluvihare, Nihal Perera, Breckenridge and Karaliyadde.

The subject was called General English, a motley combination of general knowledge, language, precis writing and current affairs . In my school by the Beira this subject was taught by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai, a mathematician turned a teacher of Government to senior students.

Why the Trinity Principal, Mr Norman Walter selected me, a green horn, to teach this subject was a mystery to me. Sometimes I was out of depth. Some of these outstanding students would help me by raising very appropriate questions in class before I got “drowned.” They were Jayantha Dhanapala, SML Marikkar, and Sarath Amunugama. The last two later joined the Civil Service. Sarath even became my boss when I returned to the public service, the SLAS, after premature retirement with full pension rights.

Jayantha won the open Essay prize at Trinity in his final year. The English teacher Rev. Eliott shortlisted the competing essayists selecting two Jayantha’s and JKL Pereira’s as the two best and asked me to be the final arbiter. Though my talents were elsewhere, in the logic of grammar and in figures and less in literature it was clear that Jayantha should be the winner.

JKLP, who came second, like me chose accountancy as a profession. After finishing the English Honours degree with a good second class, Jayantha had a short stint at my old school at Maradana. In the first Administrative Service examination held, after the abolition of the Civil Service, he was placed first. But he chose the diplomatic service.

I heard that he had chosen to learn Mandarin Chinese as one of the foreign languages that young diplomats were required to learn. He later progressed in his career up to the top as an Under Secretary to the Sec. General of the United Nations. I remember reading in the media how President Clinton had paid a tribute to him on his handling of the complex affairs with regard to the nuclear arms proliferation and disarmament.

I had not met Jayantha while he was serving in the UN. It was only when he attended meetings of the Peradeniya Jayatilleke Hall old boys reunions that I came face to face with him after 50 years or so. He would have been surprised to see me at these reunions ,sometimes playing the piano accordion accompanying the ageing old boys of J Hall singing old favourites. Among them were Rev Fr. Derrick Mendis and his cousin Rev Fr. Egerton Perera, both of whom had qualified as Chartered Accountants and had dedicated themselves to a life of poverty as Jesuits. Sadly they are no more.

Jayantha could have reached the top in the UN outfit had the then SL government sponsored his candidacy with greater vigour. Even in the case of his classmate, Sarath Amunugama, had the recommendation of the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka that Aumunugama be the second in command in managing the affairs of the country been realized, the world and our country would have been better places.

May Jayantha Dhanapala’s soul rest in Peace.

Dr Leo Fernando,

Talahena Negombo.

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TImely action must be taken to preserve Buddhism in Sri Lanka



As reported on the first page of Sunday Island (June 4) it is indeed very praiseworthy for the government authorities to have taken timely action to safeguard the most venerated Bo tree in the world. It is both an object of worship and symbol of national sovereignty on the majority Buddhist island of 22 million people. It is a well established fact that a sapling of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi was brought to Ceylon by none other than Indian Emperor Ashoka’s daughter Sangamitta Maha theri, who established the Bhikkuni sasana here.

However it is sad to note that presently the Bhikkuni sasana is not given the due recognition it deserves in our country, though it is common knowledge that our Buddha sasana comprises of Bhikku, Bhikkuni, upasaka and upasika. It is very difficult to fathom why the government authorities are not issuing Bhikkuni Identity cards, while the Bhikkus even though some break the vinaya rules in public from time to time are allowed to continue with their Bhikku identity cards. Why the double standard? Therefore it is of great importance that Buddhists rise up to the occasion and demand that government issue Bhikkuni Identity cards and give them the due recognition they deserve to have in our society.

If timely action is not taken to rectify the situation to protect the Bhikkuni Sasana, it will face the same fate as the Dhamma Chakraya, which symbolizes the Eight Fold Path preached by The Buddha in his first sermon to the Pasvaga mahanunun, after attaining Buddha hood. The ancient Dhamma Chakraya is correctly depicted in all Emperor Ashoka’s pillars which were erected in Buddhist places of worship in India, under his direction and guidance. Needless to say it is in the shape of a cart wheel with eight spokes connecting to the outer circle depicting the Eight Fold Path. It was also accepted as the Buddhist symbol here after Emperor Ashoka’s son Arahat Mahinda Threra introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

However, presently due to unknown reasons the Dhamma Chakraya has taken the form of the helm, (the wheel connected to the rudder to steer a ship), with projections from the outer circle. Presently 90% of the Buddhist establishments, TV channels and print media use this wheel as the symbol of Buddhism which is an incorrect depiction of the original Dhamma Chakraya. Thus it is equally important to take timely action to rectify this to contribute towards stability and continuity of the Buddha Sasana for posterity.

R. W. W.

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Appreciation: Nalini de Lanerolle



Peradeniya with its soaring architecture reminiscent of auspicious traditions melding the grace of the sculptured rock and incredible richness of greenery and extravagant streamers and showers of glowing flowers in the space of 1956 to 1959 merged Nalini de Lanerolle’s (then de Silva’s) stores of reading and imagination to a vision of the past in all its splendor.

She graduated from the University of Peradeniya in 1959 where she majored in Sociology. She married Asoka de Lanerolle in 1960, and became the mother of a girl and two boys. From 1960 to 1972, she was a Librarian in the Ministry of Planning; from 1973 to 1975 she was an Instructor in English at the University of Colombo.

Energetic in temperament, she had many interests. She read extensively from teen-hood: a vast variety of books ranging from the classics to murder mysteries and science fiction to movie magazines and historical novels. In Sinhala, she mentioned having enjoyed W.A. Silva’s Vijayaba Kollaya and Martin Wickramasinghe’s Rohini, at Visakha. She was appointed to the panel which judged the annual Sinhala Drama Festival. She was also a member of the panel appointed to evaluate films and performers regularly. Le Roy Robinson’s “An Interview with Nalini de Lanerolle on Aspects of Culture in Sri Lanka” reveals the scope of her reflections which enriched readers through ‘The Reign of Ten Kings – Sri Lanka – The World 500 B.C. – 1200 A.D.

Alert in judgment, she had had an active mind and capacious imagination which turned mere curiosity to tough questions with firm answers. Why do the Apollo Belvedere and the Gandhara Buddha show distinct traces of similarity? Was there a King Arthur?

Nalini de Lanerolle has not only satisfied her own musings; in her book she has deftly interwoven facts from Lanka’s chronicles and periods of European history to throw light. To quote Manik de Silva “She has done some innovative historical researching and found exciting parallels of kings and epics in the East and West during the same periods.”

According to Sir Arthur C. Clarke ‘The Reign of Ten Kings’ is an “excellent and much neededpiece of research. I hope that her book will bring to the attention of a large audience some of the most remarkable architectural and cultural achievements in history …”.

Nalini in her interview with Le Roy Robins attributes her interest in history to her father, a Government Surveyor who travelled widely in the country and who told stories of Greek Gods to his children pointing out the constellations including Orion striding across the night sky. Her mother too inspired her, reading to her in Sinhala from Milindapanha, which she later discovered was about the questions posed to an Indo-Greek ruler, a contemporary of King Dutugamunu. Parallels always interested her. As she says to Le Roy Robins “I think I was a history addict. It began with the stories of all those kings – King Arthur included.”

Her husband, Asoka de Lanerolle took a keen interest in history as well and to quote her “my husband Asoka has been interested in most of my thinking regarding history, so he has always urged me to write”. I tried out the idea of parallels in history on him and he encouraged me feeling it was “a different way of writing a history of Sri Lanka”.

Asoka having gained his high school education at Royal, graduated from the University of Peradeniya with an Honors degree in Economics and began his career as an Assistant Lecturer in Economics. He then became a Foreign Service diplomat, and later the Marketing Manager at Lever Brothers Ceylon.

In 1972 he was nominated as the Eisenhower Exchange student from Sri Lanka, giving them both the opportunity of living for seven months in the USA and travelling widely soaking in the history of a different continent. When he joined the UN International Trade Center in Geneva, and worked in Somalia, Bangladesh and Nigeria, Nalini travelled extensively enjoying glimpses of history like the sale of frankincense (one of the three gifts to baby Jesus by the kings) in Somalian market places.

She took great pleasure in all her children being avid readers despite the advent of televisions and in the fact that they all strongly supported the publication of her book, helping her by taking photographs, doing line drawings and cross-checking all the years mentioned in the book.

We have lost a historian and an intellectual, one who sought knowledge and thought, for the pleasure it gave – who has left to her country men and visitors to the island and enchanting and enlightening volume.

Dr. Lakshmi de Silva

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