• These Drugs Don’t Target the Coronavirus—They Target Us

    In another example of the blinding speed at which science is moving during the pandemic era, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark will start a clinical trial of a drug named camostat mesylate tomorrow—barely 1 month after Cell paper showed the compound can prevent the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, from entering human cells.
    Kai Kupferschmidt writes in Science that one reason the Danish researchers can act so fast is that camostat mesylate is already licensed in Japan and South Korea to treat pancreatitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas. Enough safety data were available to convince an ethical panel to greenlight the trial.
    The trial also illustrates a new approach to combatting the virus. Thousands of researchers around the world are investigating existing drugs as potential therapies for COVID-19, most of them looking at antivirals, such as remdesivir, developed to treat Ebola, or Kaletra, a combination drug against HIV. But Nevan Krogan, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, sees another opportunity: “The virus can’t live by itself, right? It needs our genes and proteins in order to live and to replicate.” Camostat mesylate is one of several candidate drugs that block those interactions. They don’t target the virus, but us, the host.

  • Tests of Potential Coronavirus Vaccine Spur Growth of Virus-Fighting Antibodies

    A potential vaccine for COVID-19 has been developed and tested successfully in mice, researchers reported Thursday. “We’d like to get this into patients as soon as possible,” said Andrea Gambotto, associate professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-author of a paper announcing the vaccine in the journal EBioMedicine.
    As far as reaching clinical trials, “we would like to think a month, give or take. Maybe two months. We just started the process,” said co-author Louis Falo, a professor and chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh.
    Mark Johnson writes in USA Today that vaccines often take years to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Yet on March 16, the first four healthy volunteers in Seattle received a different potential COVID-19 vaccine, made by a company called Moderna and administered in a small clinical trial at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.
    Though the vaccine being tested in Seattle uses a new, faster but untested technology, the one developed in Pittsburgh employs the same technique used in flu shots. The Pittsburgh vaccine uses lab-made viral protein to build a person’s immunity to the virus.

  • Don’t Believe the COVID-19 Models: That’s Not What They’re for.

    Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, governments, analysts, and health organizations have released different statistical models addressing the disease – and its numerical manifestations: the number of people likely to be infected; hospitalized; treated in the ICUs; or die. Different models offer different numbers and different trajectories. Which one of them is right? Zeynep Tufecki writes that “The answer is both difficult and simple. Here’s the difficult part: There is no right answer. But here’s the simple part: Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for.” The most important function of epidemiological models is as a simulation, a way to see our potential futures ahead of time, and how that interacts with the choices we make today. Thus, epidemiological models do not give us certainty – they give us something much more important: “agency to identify and calibrate our actions with the goal of shaping our future.”

  • An Antibody Test for the Novel Coronavirus Will Soon Be Available

    When a new virus invades the human body, the immune system leaps into action. First to the scene are antibody molecules of a type called immunoglobulin m (IGM). These bind with proteins on a virus’s surface, disabling it and marking it for destruction by cells called macrophages. A few days later the system produces a second type of antibody, immunoglobulin g (IGG), to continue the fight. IGMs are short-lived. They stick around in the bloodstream for three or four weeks before disappearing. The Economist writes that IGGs, however, are the basis for a much longer-term form of immunity. This can last for many years, or even a lifetime.
    Kits that test for these two types of antibodies when they have been raised specifically by sars-cov-2 should soon become available.

  • “Dunkirk” Effort to Boost Coronavirus Testing Begins

    A “Dunkirk” effort from smaller labs to meet the massive demand for coronavirus tests is finally under way after ministers lost patience with efforts by public health officials.
    Francis Elliott and Rhys Blakely write in The Times that the head of the respected Francis Crick Institute urged the government to move away from the cumbersome “big boats” of testing — Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS — towards smaller organizations like his to increase the level of testing of frontline staff, which stood at just 2,000 yesterday.
    Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Crick, said: “Institutes like ours are coming together with a Dunkirk spirit — small boats that collectively can have a huge impact on the national endeavor.”
    He added: “The government has put some big boats, destroyers in place. That’s a bit more cumbersome to get working and we wish them all the luck to do that, but we little boats can contribute as well.”
    The Crick and 300 of its staff, Europe’s biggest biomedical research facility, volunteered help two weeks ago but have been kept waiting ever since.
    It was also reported that employees at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) believe that PHE failed to utilize its capacity to deliver 40,000 tests a week two months after it was first identified.

  • British American Tobacco Working on Plant-Based Coronavirus Vaccine

    British American Tobacco, the maker of brands including Lucky Strike, Dunhill, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges, has said it has a potential coronavirus vaccine in development using tobacco plants. Mark Sweney writes in the Guardian that BAT has turned the vast resources usually focused on creating products that pose health risks to millions of smokers worldwide to battling the global pandemic.
    BAT said its US biotech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), has moved to pre-clinical testing and that it will work on the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.
    BAT said it had cloned a portion of the genetic sequence of the coronavirus and developed a potential antigen. The antigen was then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction and, once the plants were harvested, the antigen was purified. It is now undergoing pre-clinical testing.

  • InflaRx Starts Dosing COVID-19 Patients in Europe

    German biopharmaceutical firm InflaRx has enrolled and dosed the first patient in a clinical study of IFX-1 in Covid-19 patients with severe pneumonia in the Netherlands.
    Clinical Trials Arena reports thatIFX-1 is a monoclonal anti-human complement factor C5a antibody designed to inhibit the biological activity of C5a. The drug is not believed to impact the formation of the membrane attack complex (C5b-9).
    According to preclinical data, IFX-1 showed ability to control the inflammatory response-related tissue and organ damage via a selective blockade of C5a in the adaptive, randomized, controlled trial.
    The drug was found to be well tolerated in around 300 clinical trial participants, according to the company.
    IFX-1 is currently in development to treat inflammatory conditions such as hidradenitis suppurativa, ANCA-associated vasculitis, and pyoderma gangraenosum.

  • A Corona Test that Can Be Done Over the Phone

    Voice analysis can achieve amazing results, such as accurately guessing the shape of a speaker’s face, accurately guessing whether the speaker has been drinking tea or coffee, or diagnosing a variety of different diseases. While new, this field has already drawn the interest of academics, Israeli startups, and companies around the world.

    Shem Ur, a professional inventor, writes in the Times of Israel that he has decided to develop an over-the-phone coronavirus phone test. He writes:

    Right now, we are working to create software that can detect the coronavirus infection using only a person’s voice. For this, we need voice data from as many people as possible. Please help us by completing our voice questionnaire at Corona Voice Detect.

    If you know anybody who has tested positive, please ask them to complete the questionnaire as well. Their voice data is especially necessary for creating a program that can identify infections. If you think your friends, relatives, or anyone else might want to do this, please share it with them. The ability to identify infections is key to managing the situation and every piece of data will help us do this more effectively.

  • Coronavirus: As a Health Economist, I’m Not Convinced the Case for Mass Testing Stacks Up

    Health economists think in terms of benefits from a course of action: lives saved, years of life saved and something we call quality-adjusted life years saved or QALYs. Yet in the present crisis, the data to make such calculations is likely to come too late. In a situation with (perceived) high risks and an immediate impact, there is a “rule of rescue” that says you decide now, still using rational reasoning, and worry about the QALYs later. So here’s my perspective as a health economist about the best way forward.

  • A Multipronged Attack against a Shared Enemy

    Teams of medical researchers at Harvard have joined the frantic race to find a treatment for the novel coronavirus as the global pandemic intensifies. The approaches are varied and include designing small molecules that can inhibit proteins in the virus, harnessing the natural power of the human immune system by extracting antibodies from recovered patients, and repurposing existing antivirals made to fight other diseases.

  • Study Identifies Medications Safe to Use in COVID-19 Treatment

    A recent study has found that there is no evidence for or against the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for patients with COVID-19. The study, led by researchers at King’s College London, also found other types of drugs, such as TNF blockers and JAK inhibitors safe to use.
    89 existing studies on other coronavirus strains such as MERS and SARS, as well as the limited literature on COVID-19, were analyzed to find out if certain pain medications, steroids, and other drugs used in people already suffering from diseases should be avoided if they catch COVID-19.
    Kings College notes that there had been some speculation that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen might make things worse for some COVID-19 patients, but the researchers did not find evidence to support this statement. Other types of drugs such as TNF blockers and JAK inhibitors, used to treat arthritis or other forms of inflammation, were also found to be safe to use. Another class of drug known as anti-interleukin-6 agents is being investigated for helping to fight COVID-19, although there is no conclusive proof yet.
    The researchers found that low amounts of prednisolone or tacrolimus therapy may be helpful in treating COVID-19.

  • Antibodies in the Blood of COVID-19 Survivors Know How to Beat Coronavirus – and Researchers Are Already Testing New Treatments that Harness Them

    Amid the chaos of an epidemic, those who survive a disease like COVID-19 carry within their bodies the secrets of an effective immune response. “Virologists like me look to survivors for molecular clues that can provide a blueprint for the design of future treatments or even a vaccine,” Ann Sheehy writes in The Conversationt.
    Researchers are launching trials now that involve the transfusion of blood components from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to those who are sick or at high risk. Called “convalescent-plasma therapy,” this technique can work even without doctors knowing exactly what component of the blood may be beneficial.
    The extraordinary power of this passive immunization has traditionally been challenging to harness, primarily due to the difficulty of obtaining significant amounts of plasma from survivors. “Fast forward to the 21st century, and the passive immunization picture changes considerably, thanks to steady advances in molecular medicine and new technologies that allow scientists to quickly characterize and scale up the production of the protective molecules,” she writes.

  • Bellerophon Starts INOpulse Treatment in Coronavirus Patients

    Bellerophon Therapeutics has treated the first Covid-19 patient with its INOpulse at the University of Miami School of Medicine in the US.
    This comes after the company received emergency expanded access from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the inhaled nitric oxide system (iNO).
    Clinical Trials Arena reports that NO is a naturally produced molecule that plays a key role in the immune response against pathogens and infections.
    In-vitro studies found that NO blocks the replication of severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and improves the survival of infected cells.

  • Japan's Fujifilm Starts Avigan Trial to Treat Coronavirus

    Japan’s Fujifilm has begun clinical trials to test the effectiveness of its anti-flu drug Avigan in treating patients with the new coronavirus, after reports of promising results in China.
    The Bangkok Times reports that trials in China have suggested Avigan (generic name: favipiravir) could play a role in shortening the recovery time for patients infected with coronavirus.
    The drug will be administered for a maximum of 14 days to coronavirus patients between 20 and 74 years old with mild pneumonia, the spokesman said.
    The study excludes pregnant women due to side effects shown in animal testing, he added.

  • Pluristem Begins Dosing with Covid-19 Therapy in Israel

    Pluristem Therapeutics has started dosing Covid-19 patients in Israel with PLX cells under a compassionate use programme approved by the country’s health ministry.
    Dosing was performed in three patients at two hospitals. Pluristem intends to recruit more coronavirus patients in the coming days.
    Clinical Trials reports that PLX cells are off-the-shelf allogeneic mesenchymal-like cells with immunomodulatory properties that could trigger the immune system’s natural regulatory T-cells and M2 macrophages.
    This mechanism is expected to block the overactivation of the immune system, which leads to complications.
    It is hoped that the approach will potentially decrease the incidence and\or severity of pneumonia and pneumonitis associated with Covid-19 infection.