Since then, work at his lab has been virtually nonstop. Each scientist puts in from one to six hours inside two different clean rooms equipped to handle the virus. The lab’s workday begins at 6 a.m. and often goes until 11 p.m. Individual sessions are short for safety and practical reasons — researchers aren’t permitted to eat, drink or visit the bathroom once inside the lab. Everyone has to pass an FBI background check and undergo months of safety training.

Scrubbing up and gowning takes 15 minutes, a laborious process that includes putting on multiple layers of Tyvek suits, nitrile gloves and booties, along with an air-purifying respirator powered by a battery that belts around the waist. Exiting the lab is just as exacting and involves researchers spraying themselves down repeatedly with 70% alcohol as they take off each layer of protective clothing to kill any stray viral particles.

The workload, Baric says, is “overwhelming” as companies and researchers around the globe turn to his lab for help. He’s narrowed down the search to about 100 drugs that are likely to show promise against coronaviruses. Even if the Gilead drug works — a big if — it would have drawbacks: It can’t be offered in pill form, for instance, but must be infused in a hospital or doctor’s office.

More crucially, other drugs may need to supplant it to fight even newer coronaviruses. So Baric is moving forward to find yet other treatments that could succeed against the numerous coronaviruses now lurking in bats and other mammals, poised to jump to humans at any moment.

“The goal of our program is to find broad-based inhibitors that work against everything in the virus family,” Baric says . That makes the challenge sound matter of fact, but Baric knows the road ahead will be long and hard. “I have a lot people who are really tired,” he says. “They are working really hard.”

--With assistance from Michelle Cortez.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

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