• CoronavirusFDA OKs Use of Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19

    By Stephanie Soucheray

    On Sunday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it has approved plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to be used as a hospital-based treatment for the novel coronavirus under an emergency use authorization (EUA). In a White House press conference, President Trump and FDA director Stephen Hahn both claimed that treatment with convalescent plasma “reduced mortality in hospitalized patients by 35%,” but the FDA’s own press release was much more circumspect. Many scientists pointed out that the Mayo Clinic study cited by both Trump and Hahn clearly stated that 3.2 people out of 100—not 35—would be saved by the administration of convalescent plasma, and that even to achieve this result, the plasma must be administered within three days of infection. Still, even without the hype, and subject to additional controlled, randomized clinical trials, scientists say, this is welcome news.

  • AnthraxFirst Oral Anthrax Vaccine for Livestock, Wildlife

    Anthrax, a disease caused by a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis, contaminates surface soil and grasses, where it may be ingested or inhaled by livestock or grazing wildlife. This is especially common in the western Texas Hill Country, where each year the disease kills livestock and wildlife. There may soon be a new weapon in the centuries-old battle against anthrax in wildlife.

  • Designer pathogensHow Do We Know Whether a Virus Is Bioengineered?

    Since the onset of the pandemic, theories – or, rather, conspiracy theories – and no-evidence assertions argued that the coronavirus was intentionally engineered by Chinese scientists as a potential bioweapon, despite the consensus of scientists and intelligence experts that the virus’s genetics indicate that it is most likely a zoonotic pathogen. The scientists relied on a Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) analysis to reach their conclusion, but there are other detection tools – trouble is, these other tools may be used to engineer viruses for bioattacks.

  • Cybersecurity$26 million NSF initiative to establish new Center for Quantum Networks

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a major new initiative to establish and lead the Center for Quantum Networks, or CQN. The new center is funded through an initial $26 million, 5-year grant awarded to the University of Arizona, with an additional five-year $24.6 million renewal option.

  • PoisonPoison: Chasing the Antidote

    While targeted chemical attacks on civilians tend to make headlines, the most common poisoning reports in the United States are from accidental exposure to household chemicals such as insect sprays, cleaning solutions or improperly washed fruit or vegetables. In any case, the remedy is a fast-acting, poison-chasing drug compound, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory says it is on the forefront developing a new generation of life-saving antidotes.

  • Black swansPredicting Unprecedented Events

    Yogi Berra said that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” but scientists have not given up on trying to do so. Researchers combined avalanche physics with ecosystem data to create a computational method for predicting extreme ecological events. The method may also have applications in economics and politics.

  • HydroxychloroquineTouting Criticized Study, White House Presses FDA to Authorize Hydroxychloroquine — Again

    In March, the FDA, on scant evidence, initially gave emergency use authorization to hydroxychloroquine. The agency in April issued a safety warning about potential cardiac problems before withdrawing its approval last month. The reason for the FDA authorization withdrawal was the results of several large-scale, randomized, double-blind trials, all of which showed that not only does hydroxychloroquine offer no benefits to COVID-19-infetced patients, but that it substantially increases the risk of serious heart problems and heart-related deaths. Laurie McGinley and Josh Dawsey write in the Washington Post that earlier this month, a Henry Ford Health System study found death rates were 50 percent lower among the patients treated with hydroxychloroquine, the authors said. They also said the drug posed no safety problems. The study has been criticized by scientists, but the White House and Trump supporters in the media have urged the FDA to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine for emergency use.

  • Cancer drugsCoronavirus 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.

  • Hurried researchThe 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.

  • AntibodiesA 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.

  • Messy scienceControversy on COVID-19 Mask Study Spotlights Messiness of Science during a Pandemic

    Late last week, a group of researchers posted a letter that they had sent to the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNASrequesting the retraction of a study published the week before that purportedly showed mask use was the most effective intervention in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in New York City. Stephanie Soucheray writes for CIDRAP that though PNAS editors have yet to respond to the request, scientists have roundly criticized the study’s methodology, and the entire kerfuffle has highlighted the difficulty of “doing science” amid a full-blown pandemic.

  • TreatmentsCommon Drug Reduces Coronavirus Deaths, Scientists Report

    In an unexpected glimmer of hope amid an expanding pandemic, scientists at the University of Oxford said on Tuesday that an inexpensive and commonly available drug reduced deaths in patients with severe Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Benjamin Mueller and Roni Caryn Rabin write in the New York Times that if the finding is borne out, the drug, a steroid called dexamethasone, would be the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in the sickest patients and may save hundreds of thousands of lives, eventually even millions, altering the course of the pandemic.

  • Llamas’ antibodiesHow Antibodies from Llamas May Lead to COVID-19 Treatment

    Scientists hope the special antibodies that llamas make can be directed against SARS-CoV-2 to help find our way out of the pandemic. Rockefeller University says that humans, too, make antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, and many groups are working on developing treatments based on them. Llama antibodies, however, come in a simpler design than their human counterparts. “For reasons that we don’t really understand, these animals make this variant of antibody that just has fantastic properties,” says Michael P. Rout, a structural biologist at Rockefeller. “It contains the good disease-recognizing parts of a human antibody, packed into a condensed warhead.”

  • Public healthResearch Integrity: Why We Should Trust Registered Clinical Trials

    In a time when we have to rely on clinical trials for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, a new study brings good news about the credibility of registered clinical trials.

  • Food securityBreakthrough for Foot-and-Mouth Disease Vaccine

    When it comes to livestock, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is probably the most devastating picornavirus on the planet. FMD is a serious and economically devastating livestock disease. Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), the virus causing FMD, is extremely contagious and afflicts animals with cloven hooves like cows, pigs, sheep and deer.