Evening Snapshop puts TransPharm under the microscope
By John Hummer
With an infectious disease lab right here in the area – in Napoleon – we didn’t have to go too far to get expert opinion on the current COVID-19 situation in the country.
Infectious diseases account for about 17 million deaths a year globally. That’s according to Dan Ross, owner of TransPharm Preclinical Solutions in Napoleon, a full-service contract research organization specializing exclusively in microbiology and infectious disease. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount of deaths caused by heart disease per year.
“It’s nothing new – infectious diseases have been around forever,” Ross said.
So, what is all the attention on coronavirus for then?
“Having 200,000 deaths, or whatever it is we’re at globally, will certainly bump it up a little bit, but it’s nothing new, unfortunately,” he said.
However, there is reason for the “stay home, stay safe” orders and social distancing.
“I think it’s how rapid this can move from person to person,” he said. “You look at how long this virus will last. Say somebody sneezes. That will last in the air, wherever that little pocket is, for probably three hours – just in the particles. If you sneeze on something, like a table, that can last for two to three days. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands.
“People hear this in the news and read it all over in the papers and it sounds so simple, but the best thing to do is wash your damn hands,” Ross said emphatically. “I cannot overstate that enough.”
Ross says when he is in a grocery store or a big box store people touch too many things.
“They’re touching everything – absolutely everything,” he said. “I walk through a store and my hands are in my pockets. I’m only touching what I know I’m going to put in my cart.”
When things gradually open back up, Ross encourages everyone to wash their hands before sitting down at a restaurant, as well as when done.
“One of the first things I do when I go out to eat is, I go to the restroom and wash my damn hands. I come back [to my seat] and the only thing I might touch is what I’m drinking or eating. Who knows how many things you’ve touched before you’ve sat down and had that meal,” he said?
Ross says the whole coronavirus pandemic is going to change everyone’s thought process. One thing he is adamant about changing is the incorrect way many people take medication, particularly antibiotics.
“Viruses and bacteria are constantly evolving. A lot of it stems from people who don’t finish their medication,” he said. He used a 14-day treatment of antibiotics as an example.
“The reason you have to take it for 14 days is to ensure you’ve knocked down that bacterial load in your body by a certain value. If you don’t knock it down below that level, it can start to become resistant, because you haven’t killed all the bacteria in your system. That is the number one reason that bacterial resistance is there – because people just don’t finish their medications. And it goes for any viral medication – you have to finish that.”
Many area people have asked Ross if his company is working on anything related to the coronavirus.
“The whole COVID-19 pathogen itself is considered a biohazard level three pathogen and we’re referred to as a level two lab, so we’re not even allowed to work with it,” he said.
Ross was asked by some 15 companies around the world if his company could work on COVID-19 lab studies, and he’s had to turn them down.
“We’re not allowed to – we’re not set up for it,” he said.
Ross, however, said they work with human coronavirus, just not the COVID-19 strain.
“That’s been around for years and years and years, but as those start to become resistant and new strains originate, it is almost like starting from scratch,” he said. “A lot of the pathogens we work with here every day will kill you a whole lot faster than that [corona]virus will. Every week we’re working with something that will kill you faster, but it’s not as contagious.”
TransPharm’s chief scientific officer, Santiago R. Lopez, Ph.D., said the next pandemic, if there is one, which there probably will be, could be a level two, in which case TransPharm would be right in the midst of it.
“We’re helping companies find treatments for pathogens that affect humans,” he said. “When that pathogen becomes a pandemic, if it becomes a pandemic, then those treatments are already there and available. We may not be in the midst of the crisis going on right now, but I think we are ahead of the curve for a future crisis by helping our clients find these medications.”
TransPharm has a lot of multi-drug resistant bacteria that they work with, and are partnering with clients to find treatments.
“There are a lot of bacteria and viruses that we work with that, by themselves, may not necessarily be that fatal,” Lopez said. “However, when coupled with underlying medical conditions, or if presented with a secondary infection, then they can be quite fatal. We work with a lot of those different types of bacteria and pathogens.”
As far as the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus, Ross said it’s a brand-new pathogen.
“You’re starting from scratch. It’s probably going to be a couple years before a vaccine will ever reach the market – even having it fast-tracked. That’s the nature of the beast,” adding, “I’m not saying give up hope on it for our immediate needs.
Ross said TransPharm works on vaccines frequently.
“It’s years down the road before these things ever make it to humans.”
Lopez feels the scientific and medical research community, is headed in the right direction – not only looking for vaccines, but also treatments.
“They’re finding some anecdotal evidence of certain procedures that are working,” he said.
In addition, he thinks the social measures that are being taken at the state and national level are positive.
“I think from an infectious disease standpoint, the measures that we’re taking are the correct ones,” he says. “The longer we keep those up, that buys the researchers more time to find a solution, to find a vaccine, to find a treatment. It allows more time for the health care workers to stock up on the supplies that they are desperately running short on.”
Ross would like to see things open back up again, but realistically thinks it’s going to have to be region-by-region in the nation.
“Some of these areas that aren’t being hit very hard at all that can open, I think should open,” he said. “We all know Michigan is one of the big hotspots – third in the country. Maybe it’s going to take us a little longer. If you got to stay home a little bit longer, stay home a little bit longer.
“There’s nobody out there that’s immune to the effects of this,” he added. “We’re all in this, and we’ll all get out of it, too.”
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