• TestsCoronavirus Antigen Tests: Quick and Cheap, but Too Often Wrong?

    After a painfully slow rollout of diagnostic testing for active coronavirus infections across the country, some 400,000 people a day in the United States may now receive such a test, estimates suggest. Yet a few public health experts say sending people back to work and school safely and identifying new outbreaks before they spread out of control could require testing much of the U.S. population of 330 million every day. Others suggest checking roughly 900,000 people per day would be enough. Robert F. Service writes in Science that either way, nearly all the current tests to diagnose infections work by identifying the genetic material of the virus, a technology that will be difficult to scale up much further.

  • Warp SpeedDoubts greet $1.2 billion bet by United States on a coronavirus vaccine by October

    Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s bid to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine faster than any previous vaccine, is both turning heads and raising eyebrows with a major new investment that promises to shave weeks off its already ambitious timeline. Jon Cohen writes in Science that much of Warp Speed’s inner workings, including how it chooses vaccine candidates, takes place behind closed doors. But the compressed timeline and the scale of the investment—more than twice the size of commitments the United States made earlier to Johnson & Johnson and Moderna to develop other vaccine candidates—is leading to questions about both the candidate vaccine and the plans for its clinical trials. 

  • VaccinesCoronavirus Vaccine Shows Promising Early Results in China

    A vaccine developed in China appears to be safe and may protect people from the new coronavirus, researchers reported on Friday. Apoorva Mandavilli writes in the New York Times that the early-stage trial, published in The Lancet, was conducted by researchers at several laboratories and included 108 participants aged 18 to 60. Those who received a single dose of the vaccine produced certain immune cells, called T cells, within two weeks. Antibodies needed for immunity peaked at 28 days after the inoculation.

  • HydroxychloroquineNo Evidence of Benefit for Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 Patients, Study Finds

    A large observational study suggests that treatment with the antimalarial drug chloroquine or its analogue hydroxychloroquine (taken with or without the antibiotics azithromycin or clarithromycin) offers no benefit for patients with COVID-19. Prof. Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra, lead author of the study, which was published in The Lancet, said: “This is the first large scale study to find statistically robust evidence that treatment with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine does not benefit patients with COVID-19. Instead, our findings suggest it may be associated with an increased risk of serious heart problems and increased risk of death.” Writing in a linked The Lancet “Comment” article, Professor Christian Funck-Brentano, of the Sorbonne University in Paris (who was not involved in the study), said: “This well-conducted observational study adds to preliminary reports suggesting that chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, alone or with azithromycin is not useful and may be harmful in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.”

  • RemdesivirFederal Scientists Finally Publish Remdesivir Data

    A clinical trial led to the authorization of the only drug shown to work in Covid-19 patients. But until now, few experts had seen the numbers. Gina Kolata writes in the New York Times that nearly a month after federal scientists claimed that an experimental drug had helped patients severely ill with the coronavirus, the research has been published. The drug, remdesivir, was quickly authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of coronavirus patients, and hospitals rushed to obtain supplies. But until now, researchers and physicians had not seen the actual data. The long-awaited study confirms the essence of the government’s assertions. The trial was rigorous, randomly assigning 1,063 seriously ill patients to receive either remdesivir or a placebo, and remdesivir shortened recovery time from 15 days to 11 days in hospitalized patients. Those who received the drug not only recovered faster but also did not have serious adverse events more often than those who were given the placebo.

  • TreatmentsBlood from SARS Survivor Yields an Antibody that Neutralizes New Coronavirus

    An antibody that scientists first identified in a blood sample from a person who recovered from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) strongly inhibits the virus that causes COVID-19. The scientists who discovered the antibody are racing to bring it to clinical trials. James Kingsland writes in Medical News Today that there are currently no proven treatments for COVID-19, the respiratory illness that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causes, and nobody can say with any certainty when a safe, effective vaccine will be ready. News of the development of a monoclonal antibody that neutralizes the virus and could, in theory, be ready to treat patients in clinical trials within 5–6 months is, therefore, very welcome.

  • TreatmentsResearchers Urge Clinical Trial of Blood Pressure Drug to Prevent Complication of COVID-19

    Researchers in the Ludwig Center at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center report they have identified a drug treatment that could—if given early enough—potentially reduce the risk of death from the most serious complication of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), also known as SARS-CoV-2 infection. Phys.org reports that prazosin, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved alpha blocker that relaxes blood vessels, may specifically target an extreme inflammatory process often referred to as cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) that disproportionately affects older adults with underlying health conditions, and is associated with disease severity and increased risk of death in COVID-19 infection. Using it pre-emptively to address COVID-19-associated hyperinflammation of the lungs and other organs has the potential to reduce deaths in the most vulnerable populations, they say.

  • AntibodiesTeam Finds Effective SARS-CoV-2 Neutralizing Antibodies

    Researchers at Peking University (PKU) has successfully identified multiple highly potent neutralizing antibodies against the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus of the respiratory disease COVID-19, from convalescent plasma by high-throughput single-cell sequencing. Phys.org notes that neutralizing antibodies, generated by human immune system, can effectively prevent viruses from infecting cells. New results from animal studies showed that their neutralizing antibody provides a potential cure for COVID-19 as well as means for short-term prevention. This marks a major milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

  • HydroxychloroquineFurther Evidence Does Not Support Hydroxychloroquine for Patients with COVID-19

    More randomized, double-blind clinical trials of the use of hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19-infected patients find what earlier studies have found: hydroxychloroquine offers no benefits to trial subjects relative to the placebos given to the control group – but hydroxychloroquine significantly increase the risks of serious side-effects. Promoters of hydroxychloroquine argue that the drug is more effective in the early stages of infections, but in these two recent trials the drug was given to people in the early infection stage and showing only mild symptoms, with the same disappointing results. BMJ says that while further work is needed to confirm these results, the authors say that their findings do not support the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat patients with persistent mild to moderate COVID-19.

  • TreatmentsNo “Miracle Cure” for Coronavirus Until Clinical Trials Prove Madagascar’s Herbal Medicine

    Scientists are putting an herbal remedy from Madagascar, purported to cure COVID-19, to the test. Salem Solomon writes in VOA News that researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, in Potsdam, are collaborating with a U.S. company, ArtemiLife, to test an extract from the plant Artemisia annua to determine its effectiveness in speeding recovery from the virus.

  • Vaccines“A lot of hope”: Experimental Seattle Coronavirus Vaccine Study Shows Promise

    An experimental vaccine against the coronavirus being tested in Seattle showed encouraging results in very early testing, triggering hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers, its maker announced Monday. King5 reports that study volunteers given either a low or medium dose of the vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. had antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19. The study was run out of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute In the next phase of the study, led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers will try to determine which dose is best for a definitive experiment that they aim to start in July.

  • VaccinesCoronavirus Vaccine: First Evidence Jab Can Train Immune System

    The first hints that a vaccine can train people’s immune system to fight coronavirus have been reported by a company in the U.S. James Gallagher writes for the BBC that Moderna said neutralizing antibodies were found in the first eight people who took part in their safety trials. It also said the immune response was similar to that in people infected with the actual virus. Larger trials to see whether the jab protects against infection are expected to start in July. Work on a coronavirus vaccine has been taking place at unprecedented speed, with around 80 groups around the world working on them. Moderna was the first to test an experimental vaccine, called mRNA-1273, in people. The vaccine is a small snippet of the coronavirus’s genetic code, which is injected into the patient. It is not capable of causing an infection or the symptoms of COVID-19, but is enough to provoke a response from the immune system.

  • TreatmentsStudy Shows Treatment with Antiviral Drug Interferon(IFN)- α2b Can Speed Up Recovery of COVID-19 Patients

    An international team of researchers led by Dr. Eleanor Fish, Scientist Emeritus at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, UHN, and professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Immunology, has shown for the first time that an antiviral drug can help speed up the recovery of COVID-19 patients. UHN reports that according to the new study, published Friday in Frontiers in Immunology, treatment with interferon(IFN)- α2b may significantly accelerate virus clearance and reduce levels of inflammatory proteins in COVID-19 patients. The research team found that treatment with this drug, which has been used clinically for many years, significantly reduced the duration of detectable virus in the upper respiratory tract, on average by about seven days. It also reduced blood levels of interleukin(IL)-6 and C-reactive protein (CRP), two inflammatory proteins found in COVID-19 patients.

  • PerspectiveSome Synthetic Biology May Not be Covered by the Biological Weapons Convention

    The study of viruses once challenged the world’s notion of what is “biological,” and for a time it was not clear whether viruses were regulated by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Durward Johnson and James Kraska write that “SynBio and its convergence with emerging technologies may create weapons not currently banned by universal disarmament obligations or customary international law, and this legal gap raises the prospect of weaponization of nonbiological threat agents tailor-made to create targeted effects. These tactical biotechnological capabilities could have potentially strategic consequences and yet may fall outside the existing regime.”

  • VaccinesExperts: We Must Cooperate to Develop, Deploy COVID-19 Vaccines

    Development of vaccines against COVID-19 hinges on “unprecedented” and transparent cooperation among industry, government, and academia, according to a commentary by Anthony Fauci and other U.S. vaccine experts published yesterday in Science. Mary Van Beusekom writes in CIDRAP that the authors, noting that all vaccine platforms have advantages and disadvantages and underscoring the need for speed and flexibility of manufacture, safety, long-term efficacy, scale, affordability, vaccine stability, and a temperature-controlled supply chain, said that “no single vaccine or vaccine platform alone is likely to meet the global need, and so a strategic approach to the multi-pronged endeavor is absolutely critical.”