• VaccinesCoronavirus: A New Type of Vaccine Using RNA Could Help Defeat COVID-19

    Scientists had already identified the polio virus in 1916, but it took 50 more years to develop a vaccine. That vaccine eradicated polio in the U.S. in less than a decade. Vaccines are one of the most effective modern disease-fighting tools.
    Sanjay Mishra and Robert Carnahan write in The Conversation that as of this writing, the fast-spreading COVID-19 has already infected almost half a million worldwide, and has killed over 22,000 patients. There is an urgent need for a vaccine to prevent it from infecting and killing millions more. But traditional vaccine development takes, on average, 16 years.
    So how can scientists quickly develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2?
    As immunologistswe are trying to expedite development of vaccines and antibody therapeutics,” Mishra and Carnahan write, noting that the Pandemic Protection Platform Program run by the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense uses fast-track “sprints” to help us identify and deploy protective antibody treatments against viral outbreaks, such as SARS-CoV-2. Now other colleagues of ours are working on expediting a new type of vaccine for COVID-19.

  • VaccinesLabs Are Experimenting with New – but Unproven – Methods to Create a Coronavirus Vaccine Fast

    This is the idea behind vaccines: give the body an opportunity to build defenses against a virus it may encounter in the future.Jean Peccoud writes in The Conversation that with the coronavirus literally making time a matter of life and death, nearly 50 public and private labs are turning to newer, safer and faster methods to develop a coronavirus vaccine. There are three categories of vaccines:
    Protein-based vaccines: Rather than injecting the whole virus, it is possible to vaccinate a person with a single virus component. The pieces most commonly used are proteins from the surface of a virus.Two companies, Sanofi and Novawax, are both developing protein vaccines based on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the tower-shaped structures on the surface of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
    Gene-based vaccines: Theoretically, the simplest and fastest way to make a vaccine would be to have a person’s own cells produce minute quantities of the viral protein that trigger an immune response. To do that researchers are turning to genetics.As of yet, there are no DNA vaccines currently approved by the FDA for human use and the success of this method has been limited. But there is promise. In 2016, several groups developed candidate Zika vaccines using this technology and at least one company, INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is developing INO-4800, a DNA vaccine candidate for the coronavirus. Notable in the U.S. is Moderna, and on March 16, the National Institutes of Health started a clinical trial of Moderna’s lead coronavirus vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273.
    Friendly virus vaccines: The main issue with gene-based vaccines is getting the DNA or RNA to where it needs to be. One elegant way to solve this challenge is to use a harmless virus as a delivery system. This technique is being pursued by a few companies around the world. For example, Hong Kong-based CanSino Biologics is inserting the coronavirus gene that codes for the spike protein into an adenovirus. They used this strategy to produce the first government-approved Ebola vaccine, and clinical trials of an engineered adenovirus that would protect against the coronavirus have already started in China.

  • TreatmentsA Guide to the Vaccines and Drugs that Could Fight Coronavirus

    The global race to make a vaccine and treatment for the Covid-19 coronavirus is well underway as the epicenter of the pandemic is now shifting toward the United States.
    The virus has already shown it has the potential to kill — particularly vulnerable groups, like older adults and people with underlying health conditions. But people of all ages are at risk of severe illness and death.
    Julia Belluz, Umair Irfan, and Brian Resnick write in Vox that the virus is also highly contagious. And there’s a lot we don’t know about it since it was only discovered mere months ago. For these reasons, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global public health emergency back in January (and later said it had become a pandemic).
    “As this new virus makes its way around the globe, the public health tools we have to control its spread are blunt, often not implemented correctly or fast enough,” they write. “They’re already having big economic and social side effects. Health officials are relying on tactics like quarantines and social distancing while hospitals (which fear equipment shortages) are using oxygen and fever reducers, like ibuprofen, to treat people.”
    The good news is that the world is in better shape to come up with a medical solution — a coronavirus drug or vaccine — than it’s ever been. “Within a couple of weeks of discovering the outbreak, Chinese scientists sequenced the virus’s genome and shared it with the world. The structure of the virus was revealed shortly thereafter. These developments now hold the key to creating what could end this outbreak for good: vaccines and pharmaceutical treatments.”

  • TestingThe Next Frontier in Coronavirus Testing: Identifying the Full Scope of the Pandemic, Not Just Individual Infections

    Scientists are starting to roll out new blood tests for the coronavirus, a key development that, unlike the current diagnostic tests, will help pinpoint people who are immune and reveal the full scope of the pandemic.
    Andrew Joseph writes in STAT that tThe “serological” tests — which rely on drawn blood, not a nasal or throat swab — can identify people who were infected and have already recovered from Covid-19, including those who were never diagnosed, either because they didn’t feel particularly sick or they couldn’t get an initial test. Scientists expect those individuals will be safe from another infection for at least some time — so the tests could signal who could be prioritized to return to work or serve as a frontline health worker.

  • AntibodiesHow Monoclonal Antibodies Might Prove Useful Against the Coronavirus

    When our bodies are invaded by a virus, our immune systems make particular proteins called antibodies to help fight off infection.
    NPR reports that scientists working to quell the COVID-19 pandemic think it will be possible to figure out which antibodies are most potent in quashing a coronavirus infection, and then make vast quantities of identical copies of these proteins synthetically.
    This approach — using infusions of what are known as monoclonal antibodies – has already proved to be effective in fighting a variety of diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and some cancers.
    Several efforts are underway to turn this approach on the coronavirus, with hopes of getting something ready for human testing within the next few months.

  • Blood plasmaBlood Plasma from Survivors Will Be Given to Coronavirus Patients

    In people who have recovered, plasma is teeming with antibodies that may fight the virus. But the treatment beginning in New York is experimental.
    Denise Grady writes in the New York Times that doctors in New York will soon be testing the idea that blood from coronavirus survivors help other people fight the illness? The tests will be made with hospitalized patients who are seriously ill.
    Blood from people who have recovered can be a rich source of antibodies, proteins made by the immune system to attack the virus. The part of the blood that contains antibodies, so-called convalescent plasma, has been used for decades to treat infectious diseases, including Ebola and influenza.

  • NumbersJust How Many of Us Have Actually Had Coronavirus? Far More Than the Official Figures Suggest

    Uncertainty over asymptomatic or mild cases means true number of those who have, or have had, COVID-19, likely to be much higher.
    Amid the uniquely unsettling novelty the coronavirus epidemic has brought, one thing is more uncertain than any other: how many of us have, or have had, the virus? Harry de Quetteville writes in the Telegraph that on Tuesday, for example, Italy’s civil protection chief, Dr. Angelo Borrelli, briefed reporters with the latest statistics: cases up 3,612 to 54,030. The problem was that, earlier in the day, he had suggested there might be as many as 600,000. Asked to account for the difference, he said his earlier answer had taken into account asymptomatic cases. So what is it? 54,000 or 600,000?
    Italy is not alone. Earlier this week, the Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital in Tokyo published a report into the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in February with more than 800 of the 3,711 people on board eventually diagnosed with COVID-19. 
    According to the report, cited by the Japan Times, four-fifths of those infected showed no symptoms or just mild symptoms. Scans showed their lungs had suffered some physical consequences from the virus, but the patients had not been led by their symptoms to believe they were infected. Quite the reverse.
    “One way or another, it is clear that far more of us have, or have had, Covid-19, than the official figures tell us. But how many more? Only mass testing will give us a real picture of what is happening,” de Quetteville writes.

  • COVID-19 DeniersCOVID Deniers: How Shadowy Social Media Groups Are Spreading Myths and Conspiracy about Coronavirus

    Conspiracies and fake news about Covid-19 are spreading across millions of users’ timelines.
    Two weeks ago an anti-vaccine Facebook group called ‘We Brought Vaxxed to the UK’ started to disseminate a new and dangerous contagion: misinformation about Covid-19.
    Paul Nuki writes in the Telegraph that its posts promote xenophobia, conspiracy theories and erroneous medical information about the disease and how it might be treated.
    One post claimed China was using the outbreak to cull the elderly, another suggested hand sanitiser causes cancer and a “probiotic yogurt suppository” was recommended as a cure.
    The group is just one of some 50 social media accounts being tracked by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a charity dedicated to preventing false and divisive lies and myths spreading across the web.
    “I took our file on these groups to Facebook executives to express our deep concern”, said CCDH chief executive Imran Ahmed. “But nearly two weeks later, they have still not taken action to enforce their own policies and remove them.”

  • Disease & cureThe Debate over Ending Social Distancing to Save the Economy, Explained

    “America will again, and soon, be open for business,” President Donald Trump said on Monday. “Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. A lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
    Ezra Klein writes in Vox that the cure, in this case, is social distancing, and the mass economic stoppage it forces. The problem is Covid-19, and the millions of deaths it could cause. On Tuesday, Trump accelerated his timeline. He said he’d like to see normalcy return by Easter Sunday, which is 12 April. “Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?” he asked. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country.”
    Public health experts reacted with horror. “But the question Trump is posing needs to be taken seriously,” Klein writes. “The costs of social distancing are tremendous. The economic forecasts now predict a GDP drop and an unemployment rate of Great Depression-level proportions. The human suffering that will be unleashed is real, and it is vicious.”

  • ExplainerChloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine: No Proof These Anti-Malarial Drugs Prevent Novel Coronavirus in Humans

    By Parastou Donyai

    There’s worrying news around the world of people self-medicating at home with the drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. Chloroquine is not yet proven to work against COVID-19, though news reports originating in China have speculated otherwise. But theories about chloroquine and COVID-19 have spread around the world, despite a lack of hard evidence about the value of chloroquine in preventing or treating COVID-19. No one should be self-treating with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 as there is currently no proof they can cure the infection – and accidental harm is more likely if they are used in this way.

  • COVID-19: ModelingHow to Model a Pandemic

    By Christian Yates

    There is, however, a little known but highly successful field of science working in the background to unpick the mysteries of infectious disease. As I explore in The Maths of Life and Death, mathematical epidemiology is playing a crucial role in the fight against large-scale infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

  • TreatmentsWhich Covid-19 Drugs Work Best?

    Results are in from the first organized trials of drugs to treat Covid-19, but so far, there’s no cure.
    Antonio Regalado writes in MIT Technology Review that as the new respiratory disease spread widely starting in January, doctors—first in China and then in the US, Italy, and France—all moved to test readily available drugs that are used for other purposes and are fairly safe. Now, just three months into the pandemic, the first medical results from organized trials—studies structured to measure whether a drug actually helps—are becoming public. We count three so far, all involving drugs with antiviral properties. He offers a detailed report on the facts about the drug studies published so far.

  • DrugsHIV Drug to Be Trialed on Coronavirus Patients to See If It Can Fight COVID-19

    Coronavirus patients will be treated with an HIV drug or steroid as part of trial to see if existing medications can beat the deadly infection. Sarah Knapton reports in The Telegraph that researchers from the University of Oxford enrolled the first patient last week, and want hospitals to sign up thousands more people in the coming weeks. The trial – which has been expedited by the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty – would usually have taken around 18 months to organize, but red tape has been removed and researchers have worked round the clock to get the experiment up and running within just nine days.

  • SymptomsThere's a New Symptom of Coronavirus, Doctors Say: Sudden Loss of Smell or Taste

    A loss of a sense of smell or taste may be a symptom of COVID-19, medical groups representing ear, nose and throat specialists have warned. Ryan W. Miller reports in USA Today that the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and ENT UK, citing a growing number of cases around the globe, each issued warnings about patients who tested positive for the new coronavirus with the only symptom being a lost or altered sense of smell or taste. 

  • Self-testingFDA Updates COVID-19 Testing Guidelines to Allow Self-Swab Tests

    The FDA has updated its guidelines for COVID-19 testing procedures to make the process easier and less uncomfortable for patients, as well as to help limit the impact of testing on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by healthcare workers, including protective masks, face shields, gloves and gowns. Darrell Etherington reports in Techcrunch that the change means that people taking a test will be able to conduct their own swab, which will involve swabbing shallowly in their nose.