• Coronavirus and Cancer Hijack the Same Parts in Human Cells to Spread – and Our Team Identified Existing Cancer Drugs that Could Fight COVID-19

    Most antivirals in use today target parts of an invading virus itself. Unfortunately, SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – has proven hard to kill. But viruses rely on cellular mechanisms in human cells to help them spread, so it should be possible to change an aspect of a person’s body to prevent that and slow down the virus enough to allow the immune system to fight the invader off. Nevan Krogan writes in The Conversation, “I am a quantitative biologist, and my lab built a map of how the coronavirus uses human cells. We used that map to find already existing drugs that could be repurposed to fight COVID-19 and have been working with an international group of researchers called the QBI Coronavirus Research Group to see if the drugs we identified showed any promiseMany have.

  • Gilead Sets Price of Coronavirus Drug Remdesivir at $3,120 as Trump Administration Secures Supply for 500,000 Patients

    Gilead Sciences, the maker of the first covid-19 treatment found to have worked in clinical trials, remdesivir, said Monday it will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for the typical patient with private insurance. Hannah Denham, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Christopher Rowland write in the Washington Post that sSoon after the announcement, the Trump administration said it had secured nearly all of the company’s supply of the drug for use in U.S. hospitals through September, with a contract for 500,000 treatment courses, which it will make available to hospitals at Gilead’s price.

  • This Coronavirus Mutation Has Taken over the World. Scientists Are Trying to Understand Why.

    When the first coronavirus cases in Chicago appeared in January, they bore the same genetic signatures as a germ that emerged in China weeks before. Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach write in the Washington Post that as Egon Ozer, an infectious-disease specialist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, examined the genetic structure of virus samples from local patients, he noticed something different. At a glance, the mutation seemed trivial. About 1,300 amino acids serve as building blocks for a protein on the surface of the virus. In the mutant virus, the genetic instructions for just one of those amino acids — number 614 — switched in the new variant from a “D” (shorthand for aspartic acid) to a “G” (short for glycine). But the location was significant, because the switch occurred in the part of the genome that codes for the all-important “spike protein” — the protruding structure that gives the coronavirus its crownlike profile and allows it to enter human cells the way a burglar picks a lock.

  • The Danger of Drug Research in a Hurry

    The number of studies on COVID-19 is increasing just as rapidly as the number of infections at the beginning of the pandemic. Felicitas Witte writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [in German] that in mid-March there were still 84, today there are more than 2,200. Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, chairman of the drug commission of the German medical profession and an oncologist in Berlin, is concerned about the number. “This is more mass than class,” he says. “Many of the ongoing studies are so badly planned that it is already clear that a reliable result will not come out.” The corona crisis culminated in what he had been criticizing for a number of years: Medicines should come onto the market faster and faster, but the quality of the studies and ultimately the patient suffered as a result.

  • Lab-Grown ‘Mini-Brains’ Suggest COVID-19 Virus Can Infect Human Brain Cells

    A multidisciplinary team from two Johns Hopkins University institutions, including neurotoxicologists and virologists from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and infectious disease specialists from the School of Medicine, has found that organoids (tiny tissue cultures that simulate whole organs) made from human cells (known as “mini-brains”) can be infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The results were published online today, June 26, in the journal ALTEX: Alternatives to Animal Experimentation. Johns Hopkins notes that Early reports from Wuhan, China, have suggested that 36% of COVID-19 patients show neurological symptoms, but until now it was not clear whether the virus infects human brain cells. The Johns Hopkins researchers have now demonstrated that certain human neurons express a receptor, ACE2, that the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses for entering the lungs — and possibly the brain.

  • Decisions: Relying on the Correct Information, Finding the Right Balance

    The reopening of the economies and the resulting – and expected – increase in the number of reported infections, have intensified, and deepened, the discussion over the economic and social lockdowns of the past three months, and the right approach in the face of more infections, let alone a second wave later in the year.

    Juliet Samuel writes that the enormous costs of the lockdown so far do not mean that lockdowns will not be re-imposed – especially if a better approach to containing the more serious effects of the virus is not offered. Sweden has offered a better, “light touch” alternative, but has now come under criticism for having a higher deaths-per-million ratio relative to its Scandinavian neighbors, which opted for strict lockdowns. Carl-Johan Karlsson writes that a close examination of the Swedish case shows that it was not that the “light touch” approach was wrong, but rather that its architects have overlooked a major problem: changes made to the Swedish senior care system in the last decade left Swedish elderly exposed (3,200 of Sweden’s 5,000 deaths are over 70 years old).

    There are terminological issues (does “infection” equal “sickness”?) and measurement issues (How do you find, with precision, what the R0 is?), and Ross Clark (also see here) addresses these issues.

    Have political leaders got the balance right between listening to scientists and medical experts, and respectfully taking additional issues – say, the economic, social, psychological, and medical consequences of a lockdown — into account when formulating a response to the epidemic, issues beyond the scientists’ and medical experts’ remit? Because if these leaders have not done so, then they have abdicated their leadership responsibility. Alistair Haimes and Greg Weiner discuss these issues (note: keeping scientific advice and expertise in the proper perspective does not mean boorishly dismissing science and denigrating experts, as Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro has been in the habit of doing, with grave consequences for his country).

    Finally, this question: Are governments and societies set up properly to deal with overlapping crises and costly catastrophes, both the low-probability, high-impact events (say, a meteorite hitting Earth; a new virus), or the slower moving but predictable (say, climate change). Arnold Kling, Philip Wallach, and the Economist argue that governments must fundamentally change the way they assess risks, prepare for them, and fashion policies to cope with and recover from them.

  • Chinese, Russian COVID-19 Disinformation More Influential than Domestic European News Sources

    Chinese, Russia, Turkish, and Iranian state-backed propaganda outlets disseminate COVID-19-related disinformation throughout Europe in French, German, and Spanish, and this professionally presented disinformation is generating greater engagement across Facebook and Twitter than prominent domestic news media such as Le Monde in France or El Pais in Spain. Russian outlets producing fake coronavirus content in French and German consistently emphasized weak democratic institutions and civil disorder in Europe.

  • America's COVID Spike Shows How a Second Wave Could Bring a Second Lockdown

    So far, we have found only two ways to contain fresh outbreaks.The first, and by far the least costly, is contact-tracing and isolation. It can be done manually without a tracing app, but it requires lightning-fast reactions and extreme efficiency. The second containment method: lockdowns. But lockdowns are destructive for the economy, and they carry with them an exceedingly high cost in personal, social, and medical terms. Juliet Samuel write in The Telegraphthat in the face of a possible second wave, “the stage is set for the great experiment. The top priority must be to get the tracing system working. But even if our Government is somehow incapable of that, it may yet find a set of distancing policies that keeps virus deaths at a low enough level without shutting everything down. Perhaps there is a balance to be struck, involving a mix of mask-wearing, better care-home procedures, loosening rules for the young before the old, keeping people outdoors and planning ways to do so in winter.”

  • 43% of U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Are Linked to Nursing Homes

    At least 54,000 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States, according to a New York Times database. As of June 26, the virus has infected more than 282,000 people at some 12,000 facilities. While 11 percent of the country’s cases have occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths related to Covid-19 in these facilities account for more than 43 percent of the country’s pandemic fatalities.

  • Crisis Government

    Henry Kissinger once quipped: “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” That was back in the 1960s, when it appeared that responding to crises required the government to take a break from its ongoing work. Philip Wallach writes in National Affairs that when we step back and regard 21st-century American politics, we ought to see that the crisis responses are not “anomalous,” but rather that they vastly exceed the “normal” actions of the government in terms of importance. “This change of perspective compels us to reject the idea that polarization is the defining feature of our era, and we must reassess our understanding of the American political system’s capacities and infirmities accordingly. The overall picture is still a negative one, of course, but for reasons that differ from those we are used to hearing about.”

  • Politicians Ignore Far-Out Risks: They Need to Up Their Game

    Asteroid strikes are an extreme example of the world’s willful ignorance of the need to prepare for catastrophes — but not an atypical one. Low-probability, high-impact events are a fact of life. Individual humans look for protection from them to governments and, if they can afford it, insurers. Humanity, at least as represented by the world’s governments, reveals instead a preference to ignore them until forced to react—even when foresight’s price-tag is small. It is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of the future. The Economist writes that COVID-19 offers a tragic example. Virologists, epidemiologists and ecologists have warned for decades of the dangers of a flu-like disease spilling over from wild animals. But when sars-cov-2 began to spread very few countries had the winning combination of practical plans, the kit those plans required in place and the bureaucratic capacity to enact them. Those that did benefited greatly. Taiwan has, to date, seen just seven COVID-19 deaths; its economy has suffered correspondingly less. Pandemics are disasters that governments have experience of. What therefore of truly novel threats?

  • Sweden’s Coronavirus Failure Started Long Before the Pandemic

    Many countries have criticized the Swedish government’s lax lockdown, but the deadly mistakes of defunding elder care and decentralizing public health oversight were made before anyone had heard of COVID-19. Carl-Johan Karlsson writes in Foreign Policy that Sweden has become a global outlier in ignoring calls for coronavirus lockdowns, with the government’s public health agency issuing recommendations rather than mandating certain behaviors, what’s considered a “light-touch strategy.” Critics of the Swedish approach point to the fact that Sweden has a higher death rate relative to its Scandinavian strict-lockdown neighbors (Denmark, Norway, and Finland). But Karlsson notes that a closer look reveals a more complex reality: the overwhelming majority of Swedish COVID-19-related deaths occurred in senior citizens care centers, so some criticisms of the Swedish COVID-19 response may still be premature, and others should rather be directed at mistakes made long before the current health crisis—namely the decline of central government oversight and, especially, a decadelong neglect of Sweden’s elderly population.

  • Coronavirus opens door to company surveillance of workers

    Employers are rushing to use digital tracking technology to reduce virus transmission in the workplace. Mohana Ravindranath writes in Politico that privacy experts worry that businesses will start using their newfound surveillance capabilities for purposes far beyond public health. The data could be used to evaluate workers’ productivity, see which colleagues are holding meetings or even flag an employee who unexpectedly ducks out of the office during work hours.

  • How the Coronavirus Short-Circuits the Immune System

    At the beginning of the pandemic, the coronavirus looked to be another respiratory illness. But the virus has turned out to affect not just the lungs, but the kidneys, the heart and the circulatory system — even, somehow, our senses of smell and taste. Gina Kolata writes in the New York Times that now researchers have discovered yet another unpleasant surprise. In many patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, the immune system is threatened by a depletion of certain essential cells, suggesting eerie parallels with HIV. The findings suggest that a popular treatment to tamp down the immune system in severely ill patients may help a few, but could harm many others.

  • A Coronavirus Vaccine Is Still Months Away, but an Antibody Treatment Could Be Closer

    Vaccines have gotten all the attention in the race to fight Covid-19, but there is a major push in the United States to develop antibody therapies to treat coronavirus. Jen Christensen writes for CNN that there’s so much of a push that some scientists think these treatments may be available this year, even before a vaccine.