WHO Director – a ‘silver (magic) bullet’ for COVID-19 is most likely elusive

WHO Director – a ‘silver (magic) bullet’ for COVID-19 is most likely elusive

Reuters, BBC and other major media reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday that, despite strong hopes for a vaccine, there might never be a ‘silver bullet’ for COVID-19. In addition, the WHO stated that the road to normality would be long with some countries requiring a reset of their current strategies.

Briefing from the U.N. body’s headquarters in Geneva, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said face masks should become a symbol of solidarity around the world. Also, “a number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection. However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment – and there might never be.”

The World Health Organization also announced that it had completed the groundwork in China to probe the origins of the new coronavirus. Epidemiological studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection in the early cases. A larger, WHO-led team of Chinese and international experts is planned next, although the timing and composition of that was unclear.


‘Magic bullet’ or ‘silver bullet’

A silver bullet is a perfect drug to cure a disease with no danger of side effects.  Although not originating from medicine, the term ‘silver bullet’ has been around for a long time and has been used much in the medical field.

A ‘silver bullet’ has long been a metaphor for a simple, seemingly magical, solution to a difficult problem. The metaphor appears to be derived from 18th century folklore legends in that bullets cast from silver were the only way that a werewolf could be killed.

In 1809, Washington Irving wrote in his “History of New York” that there was even a story told with great mystery, and under the rose of Peter Stuyvesant’s “having shot the devil with a silver bullet one dark stormy night, as he was sailing in a canoe through Hell-gate.”

In medicine, the term ‘silver bullet’ was particularly applied to the cure of untreatable contagious diseases, and was subsequently applied to dramatic breakthroughs in infectious diseases, even when the treatment did not involve silver. However, as time has passed, the definitions of silver bullet and magic bullet have grown closer in meaning.

At the beginning of 20th century, Paul Ehrlich, a Nobel prize-winning German physician and scientist, envisioned the creation of ‘magic bullets’, compounds that would specifically target disease-causing microorganisms. Thus, it could be possible to kill microbes without harming the body itself. He named the hypothetical agent as Zauberkugel, the magic bullet.

Although he used the German word zauberkugel in his earlier writings, the first time he introduced the English term “magic bullet” was at a Harben Lecture in London in 1908. Zauberkugel was translated into English as magic bullet in 1938 and by 1940, the term was common in American newspapers.

More about ‘magic or silver bullet’

The Berlin immunologist Paul Ehrlich and the Cambridge physiologist John Newport Langley Paul Ehrlich are the two founders of the receptor concept in medicine – mentioning the idea first in 1878 and developing the concept in the earliest part of the 20th century. In 1900, Paul Ehrlich introduced the term ‘receptor’ as a replacement for the term ‘side chain’.

Paul Ehrlich reasoned that, if certain dyes could stain bacteria, perhaps certain chemicals could kill them. By 1914 Paul Ehrlich and his team discovered several ‘magic bullets’ – compounds that would have a specific attraction to disease-causing microorganisms in the body, and that would target and kill them. These were methylene blue (for malaria), trypan red (for sleeping sickness) and Salvarsan (for syphilis). Ehrlich’s first magic bullet was Salvarsan, developed in 1909, together with his student Sahachiro Hata, which provided the only cure for syphilis until it was later superseded and replaced by penicillin.

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