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Chemistry against COVID19

It will not be easy to forget the pandemic: masks, PCRs, vaccines, hospital gases, drugs and liters and liters of disinfectant entered our lives as shields to live safely. 200,000 professionals and more than 3,000 companies in the Chemical Sector redoubled their efforts to deal with COVID

Washing our hands saved our lives

Soaps and disinfectants are the basic weapon against SARS-CoV-2. Washing hands with soap allowed to destroy it, by eliminating the layer of fat that covers the virus. The surfactant molecules present in soap contain long chains made up of carbon atoms that help dissolve the lipids that protect the genetic material of the virus, leaving it defenseless.

In addition to soap, hydroalcoholic gels have been linked to our lives throughout the pandemic. Its composition includes, in a concentration that varies between 60 and 85%, short-chain alcohols – mainly ethyl and isopropyl alcohol – glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. In some cases, antiseptics, such as benzalkonium chloride or chlorhexidine, are added to increase their effectiveness.

  • The BASF plant in Tarragona modified its operation to produce three million tons of disinfectant that they donated to various local hospitals.
  • Dow produced 300 tons of hand sanitizer per month at its chemical complex in Stade, Germany, and adapted one of its facilities in the US for the same purpose.
  • The Juste group received the 2020 Responsible Care award for “Joining forces, spreading commitment and saving time against COVID-19”. The organization modified the production lines to manufacture hydroalcoholic gel, which was later donated to public and private organizations in coordination with authorities and other organizations.
  • Clariant , Repsol and Solvay modified the production processes to manufacture hand and / or surface disinfectants and donate them to medical institutions, authorities and others.
  • ExitusPlus ™ : provided effective solutions for effective decontamination in the laboratory, such as PanReac AppliChem .

The oxygen that allowed us to continue breathing

The chemical industry develops medicinal gases with multiple applications. Among them oxygen, essential in a respiratory disease such as COVID-19.

  • The supply of oxygen and medicinal gases for the field hospital located in the Ifema facilities was carried out in record time. Air Liquide and Metallic Carbides worked together in the installation and provision of oxygen circuits to attend to patients admitted for coronavirus Covid-19 in this complex. Nippon Gases was the great supplier of medicinal gases to Ifema.
  • Metal carbides has participated in more than 150 interventions in hospitals to supply medicinal gases.
  • Air Liquide was also in charge of setting up the facilities and supplying medical oxygen in various hospitals. One of them was the field hospital installed in Vic, in which the company administered a 15,000-liter tank. In addition, the company made the pertinent adjustments for the canalization of the pipes and the installation of 160 oxygen intakes for the patients’ beds.
  • Nippon Gases also carried out installation, supply, pipelines and medical oxygen administration intakes, especially in the Community of Madrid. The company installed several oxygen administration points at the Gregorio Marañón University Hospital.

The PPEs that have become famous

The chemical industry provides polymers and synthetic fibers to manufacture PPE such as masks and gloves and medical supplies such as syringes, respirators or even the coating of medicines. They have worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Industry, monitoring the PPE available in the international market and supplying the information to the authorities of international suppliers and specialists in the sector.

  • Lubrizol activated the production of materials for 3D printing of face shields.
  • BASF expanded the supply of raw materials for 3D printing of material for hospitals, nursing homes and first aid personnel, and started on-site production of therapeutic cream for hands to donate to local hospitals
  • Archroma and Ercro s multiplied the supply of raw materials for the manufacture of masks and other personal protective equipment.
  • Atlantic Copper , Clariant, Covestro , Dow, DuPont, ExxonMobil , Repsol donated funds and / or critical supplies, such as raw materials for medical devices, safety glasses and overalls for medical personnel and mattresses for hospitals.

Drugs that served as a barrier

After identifying 300 interactions between SARS-CoV-2 and human proteins, 69 drugs were identified that could be useful in treating Covid-19.

  • Antivirals, especially remdesivir. Thanks to remdesivir it is possible to prevent the replication of the virus. The drug was manufactured by Gilead Sciences, it was the first authorized by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use against Covid-19.
  • plitidepsin. It is a compound extracted from the sea squirt Aplidium albicans that is used against acute lymphoid leukemia and is marketed by the Spanish company PharmaMar. Plitidepsin gave good results against HCoV-229E, which is a coronavirus related to the one that causes Covid-19 disease and has demonstrated its efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 in in vitro tests carried out by reference research groups at the level such as the one directed by Dr. Luis Enjuanes or the one directed by Dr. Adolfo García Sastre at the Institute for Emerging Pathogens at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
  • Corticosteroids, which are generally used to control inflammation in asthma sufferers and those with allergies, are working well in combating the effects of Covid-19. In a June clinical study of more than 6,000 people, dexamethasone reduced deaths by a third in patients using medical respirators and by a fifth in those receiving oxygen.

Some of the molecules that are being studied against COVID-19. Source: Research and Development on Therapeutic Agents and Vaccines for COVID-19 and Related Human Coronavirus Diseases, ACS Central Science, 2020


Molecules that can serve as the basis for drugs against COVID

The PCRs of our lives

The PCR is the reference test and allows detecting the RNA of the virus. The test will be positive when the analysis detects genetic material of the virus. PCR was invented by a chemist, and everything that is used to make it work has to do with chemistry.

PCR, or the polymerase chain reaction, is a chemical reaction that molecular biologists use to amplify (create copies) of DNA fragments.

This reaction allows a few DNA fragments to replicate in millions or billions of copies. DNA amplification makes it possible to study the DNA molecule in detail in the laboratory and detect coronavirus, if it is present. With this technique, a trillion copies of the sequence under study can be produced in just a few hours.

  • Kary Banks Mullis shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Michael Smith, due to the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

The basis of the vaccines that will end the pandemic

vacuna contra la Covid

© Alphaspirit |

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be manufactured fully synthetically. But not only do you need pharmacists and biologists on board to develop them, chemists are also essential.

Part of the secret source of these vaccines is that chemists have found a way to modify RNA and enhance what nature has developed to increase its stability and lessen its strangeness to the body.

  • Vaccines are encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles, a fatty coating to protect fragile mRNA molecules. Those lipids are also synthetically developed.
  • The vaccines also contain preservatives such as 2-phenoxyethanol and stabilizers such as sugars (lactose, sucrose), amino acids (glycine), gelatin or proteins (recombinant human albumin, derived from yeast).
  • Surfactants, which are used in foods like ice cream, hold ingredients together.
  • The global pharmaceutical industry is focused on developing new vaccines against COVID-19 and ensuring their subsequent manufacture and distribution in an unprecedented challenge that will require billions of doses in record time. There are currently more than 160 vaccines against Covid-19 in the research process and almost 50 in the clinical phase, in addition to more than 600 drugs that are being studied (WHO data).
  • Nippon Gases España served more than two tons of dry ice, essential to keep Pficer’s vaccine against COVID at -80ºC during transport and storage.

Avant-garde chemistry in the face of COVID futures

State-of-the-art chemical science technology and computer-aided drug design (CADD) were offered to address the COVID-19 crisis. The artificial intelligence also entered the fray.

COVID Moonshot is an ambitious collaborative initiative to accelerate the development of a COVID antiviral. They use artificial intelligence and the collaborative Folding @ home supercomputer to determine which drug designs to send for manufacturing and testing in the lab.

Using UCB’s proprietary molecular simulation and design technologies, computational chemists work hand-in-hand with medical chemists to design novel compounds aimed not only at the inhibition of SARS-COV-2, but also at the inhibition of broad spectrum of multiple coronaviruses to better protect our future.

So far, there have been collaborative collaborations of more than 5,000 molecular designs, of which more than 400 compounds have been synthesized.



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