A recent pre-print non-peer reviewed study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology discussing a highly transmissible coronavirus strain called NeoCoV have compounded fears of the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. However, the study only talks about a rare possibility of this virus found in bats in South Africa transmitting to humans.
The researchers also highlighted that unlike the SARS-CoV-2, NeoCoV is not a new virus. It mutated from the MERS-CoV virus, which was first detected in outbreaks in 2012 and 2015 in the Middle East. Currently, the NeoCoV virus is only present in bats. The NeoCoV was first detected in 2013 in bats.
This non-peer reviewed study published in the journal bioRxiv warns about the existence and possibility of a single mutation in the NeoCoV genome could possibly infiltrate human cells. The researchers at Wuhan University and the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have stated that NeoCoV and its close relative PDF-2180-CoV can affect humans. Along with the single mutation in a particular protein, the researchers also mentioned that the two viruses do not efficiently interact with the human ACE 2 receptor without the specific mutation.
According to the study, this coronavirus strain binds to angiotensin converting enzymes (ACE) receptors that assist the pathogen to enter the human cell in a different manner than the SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. As it is a completely different strain, the scientists mention that all the currently used antibodies, protein molecules, steroids, and other treatments, along with vaccines will be futile against NeoCoV.
Along with it being a completely different coronavirus, the researchers have stated that this virus shows a combination of the high mortality rate of the MERS-CoV virus (one in three infected people die) and the high transmissibility of the currently transmitting SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.
Russian newspaper Sputnik reported that scientists at the Russian State Virology and Biotechnology Research Center took heed of the Chinese study. ""Experts at the Vector research center are aware of the data that Chinese researchers have obtained on the NeoCoV coronavirus. At the moment, the issue is not about the emergence of a new coronavirus that can actively spread among humans," read the statement as reported by Sputnik.
The Chinese researchers have stated that their findings warrant more reliable studies to be conducted in this area. They have also highlighted that human transmission of this zoonotic virus is only a possibility. In the introductory paragraph, the scientists mention that NeoCoV and its close relative, PDF-2180-CoV can less favorably use the human ACE-2 receptor for entry.
According to the researchers, their study is a warning bell to monitor all the different viruses present in hosts that could give rise to future pandemics. They believe that their study facilitates better understanding of how different coronaviruses bind to animal and human receptor enzymes. This knowledge will help in designing more robust surveillance and research techniques, the pre-print paper says.
Wuhan Institute of Virology has found itself in several controversies owing to the theory that the SARS-CoV-2 leaked from the laboratory and the pandemic is a man-made disease. The World Health Organisation has stated that it has not found any evidence supporting the lab leak theory.