Royal Society of Chemistry – Written evidence (COV0031)


This document presents a summary of where the chemical sciences are contributing to the science of COVID-19. Contributions are described in relation to the problem they address and for each topic, some examples of research groups and companies who could speak to the science in more detail have been suggested. Our aim with submitting this overview is to ensure that these contributions are considered and appropriately covered in the inquiry. Note that this overview is not exhaustive.


Understanding the virus

To be able to effectively target a virus, with drugs or a vaccine, understanding is needed of properties that lend themselves to intervention and disruption of the virus’ action. Such properties include the genetic profile of the virus, its structural properties, and the way in which the virus interacts with cells in the human body. Areas of chemistry that contribute to understanding of such viral properties include analytical tools, principles of organic, biophysical and biomolecular chemistry, and molecular dynamics simulations.



Treatments & vaccines

Development of drugs and vaccines requires a series of consecutive steps and chemistry plays an important role in many of these. Identification of promising candidate molecules for a treatment or vaccine relies on drug design methodologies that predict which candidates will be most effective. Once a candidate is identified, organic chemistry is relied on to develop the best route to produce the candidate (molecule) and after candidates are produced, analytical tools are deployed to test predictions of their effectiveness. Identification of an effective candidate is just the beginning of the process, where other disciplines take over, moving through clinical trials. Finally, materials chemistry tools support development of the drug delivery system to the human body.


Detection & diagnostics

To be able to understand where a virus is present in the environment (air, surfaces) and who is infected with the virus, we need to be able to detect it. Sensor development and analytical chemistry tools are used to detect the virus in the environment and in patients, respectively. Analytical tools can further be used for prognostic diagnosis, or in other words, the study and prediction of how different patients are expected to respond to the disease, which can support the facilitation of public health efforts. Chemical researchers also are working to improve existing diagnostic tests so they are more accurate, faster, easier to use and, ultimately, allow for point-of-care testing.

Transmission & containment

Alongside research for virus detection and development of effective treatments, efforts are ongoing to better protect ourselves from the virus. Here as well, chemistry makes its contribution. Materials chemists are developing new PPE materials, new surface coatings and new filtration materials with better antiviral, viral droplet capture or other desirable properties. A better understanding of viral spread, that can inform how to effectively mitigate infection, is achieved through studying airborne droplet and aerosol behaviour in different environments.


About us

With about 50,000 members in over 100 countries and a knowledge business that spans the globe, the Royal Society of Chemistry is the UK’s professional body for chemical scientists, supporting and representing our members and bringing together chemical scientists from all over the world.


29 June 2020