How Has Covid-19 Changed Science?

The William Haseltine ideaXme interview

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:00:00] Who are you? What do we need to know?

How Covid-19 Changed Science

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:00:04] My name is William Haseltine. I’m a scientist. I was trained by four Nobel Prize winning scientists in the field of biomedicine. I’ve had a career dedicated, primarily to helping people stay healthy to avoid disease. I did that first by doing fundamental research on cancer, then HIV AIDS came along.

Dr.William Haseltine. Credit: Dr. William Haseltine.

William Haseltine, Author and Scientist

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:01:19] You recently wrote, in fact, you’re a prolific writer. You’ve written 11 books. You write regularly for Forbes and you’ve recently written an article for Scientific American, the subject of which was how covid-19 has changed science. Could you talk to us about that, please?

Science Communication In The Covid-19 Era

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:01:43] Well, thank you for mentioning my books. It’s a lot of fun for me to help communicate ideas about science and health to people, not only in the USA, but around the world. But in one respect, Covid has been a great gift to the scientific world because it’s allowed us to do something we’d always wanted to do, which is seamless communication. The idea that people have about scientists is that we’re beavering away in secret in our labs. Well, that’s true, but it’s true only for a very short time, because in the past, the way you got credit for what you did is letting everybody else know you did it first. If you do a second, it doesn’t count. So you do it secretly and then you let everybody know right away. And that gives the idea that things are secret. But it’s not really science is a cooperative enterprise. What Covid has done is enormously enhanced the cooperativeness of science. I will just give you a couple of examples. One of them is publication. It used to be you submit a paper to a journal and you were obligated, if they were to publish it, to keep it totally quiet until they published it anywhere from three to nine months later. That’s a long gap. Covid has now allowed us to publish our research instantly. The moment we’ve got the result, we can post the paper before it is reviewed. Eventually, it does get into the journal, but that’s a big change. Let me give you how big a change when the Chinese lab first determines the sequence of the Covid virus. It was a week before that was widely known around the world, and over a weekend, that information was used to make what turns out to be the Moderna vaccine by scientists in the United States.


Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:05:05] And we go back to the scientific challenges before we go on to talk more about how important cooperation collaboration has been during the process of tackling this terrible disease. Can you talk to us about the importance of mRNA and the other technologies and discoveries that have become absolutely critical to creating vaccines to tackle SARS‑CoV‑2?

Evolution Of Vaccines

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:05:38] Well, vaccines are one of our older technologies, actually, where you trace it all the way back, it goes way back to China about fourteen hundred years ago, where people would take the scabs of smallpox and grind it up, which was then used in the Middle East. And of course, we know that was one of the first vaccines where the name comes from vacca “cow,”(cow pox) vaccine for smallpox. And we know the stories of Edward Jenner (considered the founder of vaccinology) , but it’s been a continual upward progress. After that, people have learned to attenuate viruses to make the weaker. Yellow fever during the Spanish American War, at least that’s what we call it, the Spanish, American War or some may call it something else. But that was a huge step forward. In my own life — Polio vaccines. I knew Jonas Salk. I actually got to work in the lab, actually had the space where Sabin isolated the polio virus. That was a huge advance — that was taking the virus growing up and killing it. Those are all techniques that work, and then I’ve been witness and helped participate in the revolution to use purified proteins, recombinant DNA technology, actually my first company was creating a cat vaccine to a retrovirus. And it’s used very similar to some of the techniques that are using today. That was in nineteen eighty three/eighty four. The techniques used were very similar to the techniques that are used to make some of the vaccines today.

AstraZeneca and J&J Vectors

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:09:26] And Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca use a vector technology. Could you talk a little about that technology please?

Why mRNA Vaccines Said To Work Best

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:09:34] Right. Well, a whole other way to do vaccines is to introduce them into cells with the virus. Viruses naturally get into your cells, so you create a virus and it only has a chance to go in once and can’t spread around. And that’s the adenovirus technology. It’s widely used for gene therapy to get viruses into our nervous tissue. There’s a great new experiment that we’ve just done to put a new photoreceptor into somebody who’s photoreceptors have blinded him, [00:09:59] 40 years later that man could see some things. He [00:10:06] hadn’t been able to see for forty years. That’s the adenovirus driving a gene into a useful cell. Well, the adenovirus can drive genes that can make the proteins of the virus into the appropriate cells. And it does so. And when it does it, it makes the body recognizes it is foreign, makes it immune reaction. Sputnik, the Russian vaccine uses that. The J&J vaccine uses the antivirus and so does the AstraZeneca. It turns out it’s not as effective as the mRNA technologies. For some reason, you don’t make the same high level of antibodies. And that’s a problem when you come to treating, or trying to prevent some of the variants. For example, the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is better than that of the virus for seeing these variants. That’s just because it makes it more of the antibodies, probably. But they are good technologies.

Unprecedented Scientific Collaboration That Changed Science

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:11:08] Can you take us through, please, the chronology of how collaboration has worked in this case? For example, a precedent was set by the researchers in China, then another researcher in Australia shared the findings on Twitter and so on. And we then arrived at a system that institutions have adopted. So it was really driven by humanness, a motivation for the greater good.

Ongoing Importance Of Collaboration In Science To Tackle Covid-19

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:15:40] The pandemic is not done with us. As the rates of infection come down to Europe and the United States, they’re rising sharply in South America, in Africa. And we’ve just seen an enormous human tragedy in India, which is now spreading to Southeast Asia. And even countries which had contained the pandemic by public health measures alone are subject to continual assaults. And as I speak there, several cities shut down throughout Asia, Melbourne, the state of Victoria, the whole of Taiwan and about one hundred million people plus in southern China are under restrictions because the virus is back in. And what’s happening is the virus is evolving to become more and more transmissible. We’ve seen it go stepwise, let’s say a rate of transmissibility of one to two to four, now six and possibly now eight. That means a little bit of virus you’ve got infected. And instead of infecting just one person, it didn’t affect many more people. And so we’ve seen countries like Brazil has had one terrible epidemic where most people got infected in certain parts get reinfected the same thing in India. So this is not over.

The Covid-19 Virus Is Sneaky — So Ongoing Sharing Of Knowledge Is Critical

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:17:08] We need every bit of knowledge and cooperation. So you asked me for some specific details. You know, when you look at how these viruses are becoming more and more transmissible, there is a group of people that I am in real touch with. I would say through the literature on a daily basis, daily basis. I start off every morning and every evening looking at the literature and their jewels and gems every single day. Let me just give you an example of one. This virus is sneaky. It gets in and acquires your immune system for long enough to get out. That’s its basic trick. You don’t feel sick when you get infected with the virus. It’s not the virus that makes you feel sick. It’s your immune reaction to the virus, just like a vaccine. That’s why we got the vaccine. Some people feel like they’ve got the flu. It’s the same thing. So this virus can shut down the immune system long enough for it to get out again and then you start feeling sick. But how is it doing all that and what’s it doing? Well, a lot of collaboration between people working on cancer and cancer biology. People working in virology have figured out that maybe it’s shutting down interferons, but maybe if we stimulated something happens a little later down the pathway, we’ll be able to short circuit with the virus, trying to prepare us and prevent the virus from getting a foothold.

Thrilling And Exciting World Of Science

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:18:31] That’s a good idea. Well, people have thought of that for cancer. So can we get that to rev up the immune system a little bit better? And so a drug that was being used for cancer and publish for that people that, oh, let’s try it to see if we can prevent these viruses from killing mice. And sure enough, it works. I just did a little Forbes piece on that. But that’s one kind of example of how different kinds of fields come together, deep, deep knowledge of what this virus is really doing and how it’s doing it, turning off interferons, understanding the details of that pathway, understanding what is the potential target based on 30 years of research on what’s called innate immunity and then understanding that there might be a drug from a different field that could be used for that. I mean, that’s thrilling, that’s exciting. It’s like watching the best movie every day with a really surprising and often happy ending.

ACT Accelerator

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:19:28] It’s been estimated that it will cost the world 30 billion dollars to vaccinate everyone. Could you talk to us of ACT Accelerator’s proposals in making the richer parts of the world, the richer countries encouraging, I should say, the richer countries to contribute to the cost of vaccinating everyone?

The Cost Of Vaccinating Everyone

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:19:54] Well, I think as you’ve lowballed it, I think the cost is going to be people now are saying 50 billion and maybe 100 billion. It really doesn’t matter. That’s small potatoes compared to the trillions, tens and even higher trillions of dollars in lost productivity and human suffering and in lost lives. So that is a very small price to pay for the world. Now, I mentioned that even if you protected your own country, you’re still at risk. Let’s just do a little math. Suppose you have the very best vaccine. Ninety five percent of people protected. If you have 300 million people like you have in the United States, that’s hundreds of thousands of people who are not protected even by the best vaccines. You want to protect those and you want to protect the children, which are not now protected by vaccines. And even then, as vaccine wanes, more people are going to be susceptible and they’re going to be viruses that come in that are that basically evolve to get around our vaccines like flu does. This really looks a lot like flu. Maybe it’ll be tamer than flu. It looks worse right now.

What Can Drug Companies Do?

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:22:22] The commercial organizations Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and Madonna have reported huge vaccine revenues in the first quarter of this year. What do you think they could directly do in alleviating this situation?

Dr. William Haseltine. Credit: Dr. William Haseltine

Could Politicians Do More To Address Covid-19?

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:25:18] What do you think can be done at a political level that is not currently being done? Maybe you could point some fingers, if you would like to do so?

Dr. William Haseltine. Credit: Dr. William Haseltine.

Collaboration For Moonshots and Global Challenges

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme: [00:31:31] The focus of this interview is the how Covid-19 has changed science and that this is this hopeful. It’s hopeful for science in general, but it’s also hopeful for other aspects of human existence, businesses, institutions, entities, how we work together as human beings. Can you take us through how this type of collaboration could help with addressing world challenges?

Science Can Change The World

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:35:36] One mind in science can change the world. And I think Covid has given the whole world, a new respect for science. You know, a lot of young people were headed, especially the brightest were headed toward financial markets, men and women both. I think that is changing somewhat. That people see the value in what they can contribute. The sum total of human knowledge to make our life better in whatever area and what I show in my book about my own life, it doesn’t mean you have to slave away in a laboratory for all of your life. You can create companies, you can hobnob with the rich and famous. You can travel the world. You can help influence world leaders to do things better for their people. You can use your passport of knowledge in many, many different ways. And I think the Covid is changing our global appreciation of the value of scientific inquiry and its values.

Science And Technology To Improve Life

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:37:18] It’s the same thing as trying to say Covid doesn’t exist and it’s not going to kill you. It’s going to do what it does. It’s a force of nature. We have to realize that there are forces that affect our life, which humans can control but can’t really change their fundamental nature. They’re there. We live in nature. And our best tool for making that life as pleasant as possible is science and technology. To understand what’s happening around us, to prepare for what’s coming and deal with what is not what we want to be. A lot of these fact free discussions of Covid are based on hope. They’re based on desire. They’re not based on reality. Albert Camus wrote a book called The Plague. And in that book he said: In times of plague, those who define the world in terms of human values are the enemy because they will miss the implacable enemy they face and will underestimate the force of what’s bearing down upon them.

A Co-operative Competition

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:39:24] Well, let me begin by saying that scientists are human and we’re as competitive as any top athlete. OK, we’re competitive, but is a kind of cooperative competition where you’re on a football team and for you to do well, do you have to have your other teammates do well, too. So it’s a coopetition. I think it is the right word. I don’t want to say we’re all altruistic. We’re not, we’re all competitive like every other human being. But within that, you can compete toward a greater good. The triumph of your team in this case, humanity is your team. And that’s what you’re all trying to do. And I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have mentors who have taught me some of the values of cooperation. One of my very first mentors was an undergraduate. He was looking for bright kids and he picked me out of a class of three thousand, along with 15 others. And we spent the summer meeting Nobel Prize winners. And what does that teach you? It teaches you each one’s very different, but they have a common goal. They’re able to identify a really important problem that can be solved with the technologies that exist. That’s a gift to know what the problem is and to know that it could be solved. James D Watson, as a young man, understood the technologies exist to solve a question everybody always asked, how is inherited? How does like beget like? Why did my kids have blue eyes? Why might they get this disease? Why am I tall or short? Nobody has the answer. But he understood the question and the technology. Melvin Calvin was interested in how sunlight makes the tree. When I showed my grandchildren a leaf or a tree, I said, this came from the air. You think there’s something in that air, feel how solid this tree is, you can’t move it all that stuff with a little bit of exception came from the roots, 90 percent of it came from the air.

Good Hearted Minds Trying To Solve The Same Problem

William A.Haseltine PhD. President ACCESS Health International: [00:41:26] Well, how did that happen? He figured it out. OK, when you have that kind of person helping you along your route, you have like a golden world that opens up to you. And what you realize is there is people all over the world that are interested in what you’re interested in and are willing to help you, even if we compete sometimes, ultimately we help each other. You know, when I was at my most competitive, I sat down and wrote a book to help other people understand what the AIDS virus was. And when I did that, I came to realize that the people I saw as my most fierce competitors were really serious, good hearted minds trying to solve the same problem. Yeah, they might try to beat me, but they were doing something that was really valuable. And I understood when I read not just one of their papers, their whole trail of research, how they got to where they got. And that was really important for me to understand that no matter how competitive you might be, pay attention to everybody and I would say even the honor of their intellectual integrity. Understand that they are trying to solve the same problems you are, even if they’re trying to beat you. And in the end, it’s a cooperative enterprise. I think that is one of the most valuable things that I saw. And by the way, each of those Nobel Prize scientists were as competitive as an Olympic champion. They really wanted to win, but they wanted to solve important problems and help others follow and train generations of people to follow in their footsteps.

Andrea Macdonald, founder of ideaXme.

For all those who love big ideas and great stories. #movethehumanstoryforward #science #futurism #quantumai #technology #spaceexploration #climatechange

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ideaXme: Move the human story forward!™

ideaXme: Move the human story forward!™

For all those who love big ideas and great stories. #movethehumanstoryforward #science #futurism #quantumai #technology #spaceexploration #climatechange

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