Swiss professor aids vaccine development efforts

July 2020 Coronavirus crisis

Top virologist Volker Thiel relies on BINDER freezers


Swiss virologist Professor Volker Thiel is a man in high demand – and his name is now known around the world following his success in creating the first synthetic coronavirus clone at the end of March.


During that month, Professor Thiel and his team at Mittelhäusern high-security laboratory in Switzerland worked with genuine coronavirus samples virtually non-stop. Their efforts were assisted by BINDER freezers with the ability to establish conditions of minus 80°C – the perfect temperature for storing the samples. Supplied by Tuttlingen-based global market leader BINDER, the equipment has been a stalwart of Thiel’s work to date.


Thiel has been focusing on coronaviruses for a number of years now – but his work had been viewed in some circles as an unusual choice due to the lesser significance that these viruses were thought to have. The situations surrounding SARS and MERS, also types of coronavirus, led the general public to begin shifting their opinions, however.


Viruses of the coronavirus kind are extremely small – to quote Thiel, “A milliliter of sea water contains a million viruses.” He adds that viruses have their own unique structure and require the support of the cells they infect in order to multiply. As for the name “coronavirus”, he explains that the term “corona” refers to a crown shape, reflecting the appearance of the virus when it is placed under the microscope.


Thiel and his research group are currently working with pharmaceutical companies with the aim of bringing a vaccine to market as quickly as possible. He explains what is involved in this fundamental research: “We create mucous membranes, infect them with the virus, and try to determine the temperatures at which it multiplies.”


While Thiel and his team are making good progress, they do not envisage a vaccine becoming available to the population at large before 2021. Thiel also believes that vaccination is the best way forward in the current crisis: “Without it, the situation as it stands just isn’t going to change.” These are views that are shared by virologist and frequent collaborator Christian Drosten from Charité university hospital in Berlin.



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