Russian virologist about a secret biological laboratory, and how regret if coronavirus Russian: “We still have” (N Deník, Czech Republic)

At school and at the Institute he loved chemistry. Today his passion is viruses, and in recent months — one which affects almost the entire planet. Sergei Viktorovich Netesov knows that they can be insidious killers. For 17 years he worked in a secret research center “Vector”. During the cold war in the West believed that there is developed a biological weapon.

Deník N: How do you explain the fact that since the beginning of may Russia announced (at least until yesterday) about the steady increase of cases of ten thousand a day? Moreover, at a time when Europe was said about overcrowded hospitals, and many of the victims thought that you will be able to evade the impact of the pandemic. But then the situation began to deteriorate dramatically…

Netesov: First, our government was too calm. They say, we will not come, and we will protect you… Yes, the situation in China, we coped well and on time. Authorities stopped the plane and all aboard that returning from there, we carefully checked. But Europe did not happen.

We were sure that we will be isolated cases, but the epicenter is still in China, on which we focused. However, it turned out that the main danger for us is not China, and Europe. 90% of imported cases from us — from Italy, Spain and Germany.

First, we identified a few situations, and now we know that more than half of us infected have asymptomatic.

The reason for the sharp increase in the number of new infections is also the fact that the first testing policy was different, not like now. We took the tests only those people who had a high fever and pneumonia, and in addition, they came from countries such as Spain, Italy and China.

— And this is wrong?

— I first proposed to introduce immediate testing of all the so-called contact persons. But it simply was not possible to examine a number of people.

— And now the possibilities Russia has?

— For the past two weeks as a Yes.

Thus, the current large number of infected is because the test contact person. It is possible to get paid testing. It cost a maximum of $ 20. And sometimes even less.

— Scared of the Russians if the statistics on which you were in first place for the number infected in Europe? Did they behave now differently?

— An increase of ten thousand a day is a lot. And primarily because people do not believe in the danger of this disease. Many believe that if they do not get sick or their relatives, it is all nonsense. In fact, the mortality rate reaches one percent, and we are not even at the beginning of the pandemic, but not yet at the peak.

— The number of deaths from coronavirus in Russia is much smaller than, for example, in Italy, the UK and the USA. How do you explain this?

— We have just come to the peak of the pandemic. UK ahead of us for a month. The majority of people infected in the last three weeks. Start to die after a few days. So I’m not optimistic and think that the mortality rate will be the same as in other countries. We still only have. We need to tighten up for protection from the pandemic.

Second, in Russia, fewer people over 65 than in some European countries. It also affects the statistics. In addition, there are some things that in Russia the norm, and in other countries used to be wrong. Now it turns out that these steps are correct.

— For example?

For example, when in a Russian hospital patient connected to a ventilator, immediately give him a dose of antibiotic. Because together with a pipe, which he stuck in the trachea, there are bacteria present in the microflora of the mouth and throat. If you do not want to prescribe an antibiotic, five days the person may begin bacterial pneumonia.

This practice is not always supported abroad, could have a positive impact on mortality.

— Young guys usually want to be in the military or astronauts. But virologist? What you drew in viruses?

— No special prerequisites within the family this was not. Father — engineer, chief mechanic at one pharmaceutical plant. Me this company is very interested. And when the father wanted and I worked there as a mechanic, I was thinking about something else. At school I loved chemistry practical.

Then in Institute I have read the book “the Double helix” by James D. Watson, Nobel prize for medicine, one of the people who discovered the structure of DNA. That’s when I realized that in biology, the start of a whole new era.

— How did it differ from the one that ended?

She was descriptive. First of all in biology described: someone has four legs, two wings, a pair of fangs… With the discovery of DNA structure biology has become an exact science. Like chemistry. In fact, all discoveries in biology are border and are closely associated with chemistry and sometimes physics. It amazes me.

— Is there something specific that you think biology is particularly interesting?

For example, I was absolutely shocked when we learned that our vessels are not the usual tube, and have spiral structure, as if twisted. And it promotes much better blood flow. Brilliant detail.

And similar things in nature are myriad. When they started to produce artificial blood vessels, it turned out that nature has made some things much more intricate than physics up to that time could only guess.

Many components of technical products are produced according to sample living organisms. For example, the machine is lubricated in the same way as “lubricated” vessels. Because blood vessels is actually also promazyvaetsya.

When I entered the field of molecular biology, I immediately understood that this area conceals opportunities for chemical thinking. And I liked it.

— Do I understand correctly that you are interested in the human body, living organisms, but always from the point of view of a chemist? Maybe you should have become a doctor?

— Know who by profession was Louis Pasteur? He was not a doctor, and a chemist. His PhD was devoted to the isomers of urea. Urea at that time was a novelty, and which just opened its structure. Pasteur has applied his knowledge of chemistry in biology, and this led him to invent a vaccine.

If we turn to the list of Nobel laureates in medicine and physiology, the doctors there are less than 20%. Most of them chemists, biology and sometimes physics.

Biology is a combination of several Sciences. Much of biology is already possible to calculate mathematically. And chemistry? This is an absolute base, and everything from human thinking and to food processing, due to some chemical process.

— You studied and long worked in the Soviet Union. Your favorite science, which is not inherited from ideologues as well as a humanitarian, has completely avoided political influence?

— The science in the USSR was at a very high level. First of all, chemistry and physics. Some textbooks of the time are still relevant today. For example, the physics are still studying the textbooks of Landau and Lifshitz (the Soviet scientists Lev Davidovich Landau and Evgeny Mikhailovich Lifshitz — approx. ed.)! But biology had a hard time.

— Why did the Soviet Union with biology was bad?

— Because Stalin long refused to attribute to genetics a full-fledged scientific disciplines. She fell into the category of “undesirables.” Biology was taught by schematic: here is the flower, here are five stamens, But as soon as we started talking about chemical-biological relationships, all alert. Ideology very negative impact on the biology.

We suspected the Americans, and they have

— You worked in the scientific center “Vector”, which in Soviet times was one of the most protected places on earth. How did you get there?

My thesis was devoted to organic chemistry, and the topic was “Reaction adenozintrifosfata with the formation of the cyclic triphosphate”.

— Is it important to me, a simple mortal, to understand the title of your thesis?

— ATP is the primary energy element of the body, oil and gas for the human body. Once our scientist from Novosibirsk opened an interesting chemical reaction of ATP with different condensing agents. It turned out that this reaction occurs with the formation of the cyclic triphosphate. I started to research this cyclic phosphate. For example, how it interacts with different amines…

— This brings you to “Vector”?

— For two years I worked in the Russian Academy of Sciences. However, there is acute shortage of reagents, chemicals. So half the time I worked, and half changed that I didn’t need that I needed. It’s amazingly retarded and was not satisfied.

And then new Institute of molecular biology. This was the famous “Vector”. It all provided great. And there not only was a top-secret research, but also ordinary civilians.

In “Vector” I came in 1977, after the international ban on biological warfare research. In 1980 came the first of my scientific work and without any secrecy. Then I published openly each year. So in the “Vector” carried out an open study.

— However the military part, research in the field of biological weapons, formed the backbone of the Vector, isn’t it?

— This is because there was suspicion and very serious about what the United States is developing biological weapons. In 1972, when the development of biological weapons was banned at the international level, army Institute at Fort Detrick was expanded by a new ultra-modern part. For Soviet scholars, this Institute was completely inaccessible. Therefore, we suspected the Americans that they are officially banning biological weapons, in fact it was created.

But you also knew… Justified?

— The suspicion is always mutual. I will answer you this: to find an antidote, you must first get the poison. This applies to snake poison, and biological weapons.

I needed something else. In 1989, the Director of “Vector” declared that we must go to viruses, the study of which is of great importance for health development.

— But you had worked with viruses…

— Of course. Mainly with the influenza virus. But in the late 80’s we in the “Vector” focused on HIV, herpes, and hepatitis. In 1989 we participated in the open international scientific conference.

A year later came foreign colleagues. For the first time in the history of the “Vector”. Since then it has become the norm. But even after that “Vector” was accused of all sins.

— You personally, what were you working on?

— On vaccines. Since 1982, I researched the influenza virus. The first great work on this I published in 1984.

— The flu virus as a biological weapon is not considered?

— What are you. Why not! How many times this poor virus came under suspicion that it was turned into a biological weapon. By the way, he is on the list of biological weapons.

— But is effectively a weapon that dies a small percentage of infected?

— From the influenza virus every year in the USA die from 35 to 70 million Americans. That’s a lot. (In the Czech Republic — approximately fifteen thousand deaths a year — approx. ed.)

— And in Russia?

— In Russia we have no such statistics. In the US, these things are required to fix by law. It turned out that the elderly and children under three years of age die within one month after he had been ill with flu — more frequently than others. Now we already know that the consequences of a flu epidemic, although it was not necessarily some outstanding. Enough ordinary, annual.

In Russia and without statistics, we observe that after a flu epidemic kills more people. Clearly this was evident in 2010, when walking swine flu.

— You have studied the influenza virus in great detail. And when you started to “dissect” the coronavirus, have you found similar at first glance features?

— Not a lot. The coronavirus is similar to the flu virus, but not too much. In the end, all viruses consist of nucleic acids and proteins. Some also have a lipid shell, so in principle they are similar. Influenza virus has a lipid envelope, like coronavirus. But that’s it. In other respects they differ.

— We manage the virus, or rather, they — us?

— Influenza viruses are known to us for a very long time. They opened in the early twentieth century. The first epidemic of the so-called Spanish flu was imprinted not only in our heads, but in our genes. After all, then killed about 50 million people.

But then why mortality was so high? Not because of the destructiveness of the virus itself. For four years the war continued. The people are very malnourished. Many were starving. Diet was very poor, and, primarily, in Europe, people lived in very crowded conditions in large urban areas. But the flu virus is only right. In such an environment, any epidemic is rapidly spreading.

At that time flourished and other infections. For example, typhoid fever. At some point, it was supplemented by the flu, and this has led to a large number of casualties.

© RIA Novosti, Grigory Sysoev | go to photovacation Russians for the presence of antibodies to COVID-19 in Moscow, But Europe is now eats well, and yet the mortality rate from coronavirus compared to influenza above…

Yes. Ten times.

But that’s not why he paid a lot of attention. Note that this virus takes the lives of a large number of older people. All presidents, with rare exceptions, people age. Therefore, the threat to them personally, of course, higher.

— But, probably, is not the only reason for such exceptional attention that humanity pays coronavirus…

— It has a different characteristic interesting properties: it is very easily and quickly transmitted from person to person. Only a few viruses known to us, are transmitted easier than this. Only measles and smallpox. Coronavirus with its high contagiousness and mortality is indeed a cause for serious concern.

Tell the relatives that it would be better to donate them…

— Some experts in the Czech Republic argue that instead of trying to destroy the economy, it’s better to allow people to recover, to live a normal life and wait until we get herd immunity.

— Can do so, but you need to accept the fact that 30% of elderly people will die. Although not just the elderly. Someone will get sick and recover, and someone will die.

I have a simple recommendation. I say to everyone: look around and count all the elderly relatives, friends and all those who have a chronic disease. High enough pressure. Write these names on paper, and next to put a cross. With 50% confidence. Then go and tell these people that it would be better to donate the rest to win immunity.

If we cease to comply with all existing measures, and the state determines that everything is in order, and cancel them, to these people it is thereby told that they will probably die.

Another problem concerns the workload of hospitals. You have in Czech Republic shortage of beds there. But what happened in Italy? Ten people on one bed, and patients died before they had time to help in the hospital.

You have a much better situation than us. You peaked in early April and coped with the epidemic. In a month you will end. But when fully open borders, for you there is a threat of the second wave.

— Summer is coming soon. The heat helps in fighting the virus?

Is the entrenched myth that the flu virus is afraid of warm weather. Really sick a lot throughout the year, and many, especially grafted, do not even notice the disease. They have no symptoms. The virus enters in their bodies, but not propagated, support their immune system and leaves. There is, as we say, “herd immunity”.

In the spring, flu season subsides, because many of those who had been ill, and so acquired immunity. The prevalence is reduced. Only flu it is 1.4, and this virus (SARS-CoV-2 — approx. ed.) four. The person with the flu infects two people, and with this coronavirus or four. Thus, the “herd immunity” from the coronavirus we get when pereboleet 70% of the population.

In the case of Russia, millions and millions of people. Will the vaccine?

Yes. Only it is not.

— And when will be?

Even in the United States do not expect that it will appear sooner than the fourth quarter of this year. In Russia we are also working on it. At the end of may we are going to test it on volunteers. But to predict where it will end in the United States, Russia or China, now nobody can.

And none of us are sure that the vaccine really will protect the vaccinated person. This will only clinical tests on the second and third stage development of the vaccine.

And then we can feel safe?

— The flu virus mutates very quickly. Its evolution is instantaneous. Coronavirus from this point of view more slowly. But somehow we’ve got to prepare a vaccine from a single component, but of two or three, to protect long.

My guess is that the first generation vaccines will protect only against the coronavirus that we face today. The next generation of vaccines will be able to protect from other coronaviruses.

Earlier among the people circulating four types of coronaviruses. Mostly they were causing the light of the disease, and only in some cases are old and chronic sick people were led to pneumonia.

It is not artificial. But leakage is possible. It wouldn’t be the first time

Someone we have it and representatives of the scientific community finds this virus is something strange. They believe that he was a changed man, or at least it was a leak from a Chinese lab.

— We in Russia, too, there have been discussions on this matter. In General, however, this conspiracy theory supported by people who do not belong to science. First of all, on television we are shown these “experts”: linguists, scientists, scholars… and not a single virologist.

As soon as this new coronavirus appeared, I started to search in databases. We have a database of genomes, where you can compare the coronavirus genome with the genomes of other viruses. For example, the genomes of viruses of bats, which it is very similar. There are a number of signs that will tell you, artificial is a virus or not.

This coronavirus, I have not found absolutely no signs of artificial origin. And I’m not alone in my opinion. This is clearly stated for over 20 virologists from around the world.

— So you believe that it all started with bats, and that this virus has nothing to do with research and poorly protected Chinese labs?

— Wait a minute. Some concern is justified. Could really leak a coronavirus from the lab due to human error. But this version is hard to prove or disprove. In my opinion, one thing is clear: it was an accident and not intentional. Because in the end, the greatest losses due to the pandemic suffered China.

— In the USSR also there was an incident, which became seriously ill and even killed Soviet citizens. In laboratory leaked anthrax bacteria.

Yes, if a mistake was made. Leaked from the lab. But it was the cold war, and the Soviet Union in no way confessed. Although the error of the people there were there.

On the globe there are tens of thousands of burial grounds, where the presence of the bacterium anthrax. Basically it is the place where the killed the cattle. People were burned and buried. But anthrax spores can remain in soil for over a hundred years.

Only in the US places like a few thousand. We have in Novosibirsk region, only one region of Russia, six of these burial grounds. They fenced, but it happens that in the fence there is a gap there and climb animals. Then the disease returns. Every four to five years we register such cases.

— What is your prediction of the epidemic?

As we get closer to the peak. But anti-epidemic measures should be extended for at least another three weeks (this did not happen; on the contrary, may 11, President Putin made mode days — approx. ed.). This is to ensure that the peak is not too sharp and were distributed on a larger period of time. So we can more efficiently treat patients and avoid the queue for a bed. Then you can start to operate the enterprises, but people must continue to wear masks.

— How popular masks in Russia? Are their people on the street?

— With the fourth of may, the wearing of masks we have to, but if not, the penalty is not threatened. In my opinion, it is wrong. We, Russian, undisciplined, and, in my opinion, this is the reason that we have a huge increase in the number of infected.

The ninth of may in Novosibirsk, I, too, celebrated the Day of Victory in the great Patriotic war and went to one event. Of course, the mask. There were seven or eight people. To a public event I would not go, even if it was allowed.

I’m a man prudent, and took with him ten masks. The majority of the participants came without masks, so I immediately gave away. And they told me once: “Today we celebrate the Victory Day and can’t catch it”. I had to convince them, and in the end, I almost gave a lecture. People do not believe in the danger of the situation.

— We will win the virus, or they defeat us?

— We won smallpox, plague and almost won the children’s polio. We almost won and over with hepatitis b through vaccination. The number of viruses we relaxed. You remember the family of the famous people of the XIX century. For example, our Leo Tolstoy. His wife gave birth to 13 children, and only half of them reached 20 years. The other children died from some infection. And today? In this respect I am an optimist.

— Can you name the most important discovery that helped us beat the infection?

— All is banal. We managed to improve water quality, and today we drink almost sterile water. The second is a vaccine. These two “inventions” increased life expectancy by almost two times.

— What’s the biggest success you have achieved in a scientific career?

— I failed a few things. But most of all I am proud to have opened the causes of viral hepatitis in us in Western Siberia. I worked on this research for five years. From 2001 to 2005. Importantly, unable to open, what should we do to change the situation.

— The situation of hepatitis in Western Siberia somehow different from the rest of the world?

— It’s kind of funny. In Russia we have always believed that we have something wrong, that we are not like other we have some specifics. No one is interested in the real causes.

We proved that in fact all the same as in Western countries, with only one exception. We drank untreated water. I wrote a number of scientific and popular science articles. I recommended to vaccinate adolescents. People began to make increasing use of Central facilities for water treatment. Where this is not possible, have started to buy packaged water, and the number of infections is many times decreased.

Everything was just. But for me this is perhaps the most important study.