In the race between science and SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus is still winning. Its relentless, exponential growth during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in at least 1.4 million infected and 83,600 killed, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
But the tide is turning. Scientific processes that normally take months or years now take a fraction of that time. Globally, researchers have made unprecedented early progress identifying the coronavirus, deciphering its structure, testing treatments, and trialing a vaccine.
And researchers now have an exponential curve of their own. Peer-reviewed journal articles and manuscripts known as preprints are piling up in the scientific literature. Research published on the new coronavirus is doubling every two weeks, says Sean Gourley, the founder of Primer.ai, a machine intelligence company that created a dashboard for coronavirus research. “I don’t think I can ever think of a scientific field where we’ve had a doubling time of 14 days,” says Gourley, who earned a PhD in physics from the University of Oxford.
On Jan. 21, scientists in Hong Kong published the first paper on “a new coronavirus which caused a pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China.” Since then, the number of papers has soared to 2,987, authored by more than 8,000 scientists.
It’s still not doubling as fast as coronavirus infections. Unchecked, Covid-19 has raced through human populations in cities such as New York, doubling every 48 hours. But public health measures have already begun to flatten that curve. Now scientists are gaining, too.