I’ve never been a competitive person. I remember picking flowers on the soccer field as my teammates raced past me, motivated to win. But as an adult, I’ve worked in two incredibly competitive fields: science and journalism.
To cover breaking news or publish a unique story, reporters must act fast. If reporters don’t get the scoop, then they find unique angles. How can journalists possibly provide a new perspective or more information on a topic as widely covered as the COVID-19 vaccines? The key is finding stories that someone overlooked.
I recently realized that I am not only competing with other journalists every day, but I’m often pitting scientists against each other in my stories. While I interview different researchers working to develop similar drugs targeting a common protein, disease, or etiology, I constantly think, “Who is doing this best? How can I frame my story to compare these different strategies?” Framing stories this way adds a dash of drama, but it often ignores the importance of ingenuity in scientific discovery.
Countless scientists study the same disease, and many even focus on the same disease mechanism. Researchers often describe those with shared research goals as competitors. But the researchers I interview in the same field describe their “competitors” as welcome colleagues approaching the same problem from a different perspective. There is room for more than one treatment for every disease.
For example, multiple antibody treatments for COVID-19 are now available, but some are less effective at treating certain viral variants than others. Some researchers, including those at companies like Twist Biosciences, are developing nanobodies, smaller versions of antibodies, that the researchers use to target more conserved areas in hard-to-reach places of the virus. These researchers compete to create a product that will tackle the same problem in a different way.
Aaron Sato, chief scientific officer of Twist Biosciences, said that nanobodies simply “give us more shots on goal to drug some of those difficult targets.” Those potential targets don’t end with SARS-CoV-2 variants.
“Nanobodies are really good at accessing nooks and crannies and crevices in a lot of difficult to drug targets. We're actively working on GPCRs, ion channels, and several other really difficult drug targets and finding that nanobodies are really great at drugging those as well,” he said.
Sato thinks that combining nanobodies with other therapeutics, particularly available antibody cocktails, will strengthen new and old treatments for COVID-19 and beyond.
The rapid development of COVID-19 therapeutics is only the most recent example of a lesson scientists and journalists alike know very well. There will always be space for new scientific ideas, unique angles for scientific stories, and even time to pick flowers on the soccer field.