• Understanding SARS-CoV-2 and the Drugs that Might Lessen Its Power

    The interconnectedness of the modern world has been a boon for SARS-CoV-2. Without planes, trains and automobiles the virus would never have got this far, this fast. Just a few months ago it took its first steps into a human host somewhere in or around Wuhan, in the Chinese province of Hubei. As of this week it had caused over 120,000 diagnosed cases of covid-19, from Tromsø to Buenos Aires, Alberta to Auckland, with most infections continuing to go undiagnosed.
    But interconnectedness may be its downfall, too, the Economist writes. Scientists around the world are focusing their attention on its genome and the 27 proteins that it is known to produce, seeking to deepen their understanding and find ways to stop it in its tracks. The resulting plethora of activity has resulted in the posting of over 300 papers on Medrxiv, a repository for medical-research work that has not yet been formally peer-reviewed and published, since February 1st, and the depositing of hundreds of genome sequences in public databases. (For more coverage of covid-19 see our coronavirus hub.)

  • Tiger at Bronx Zoo Tests Positive for COVID-19

    A four-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the coronavirus.
    The tiger, named Nadia, is believed to be the first known case of an animal infected with COVID-19 in the United States.
    The BBC reports that the Bronx Zoo, in New York City, says the test result was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.
    Nadia, along with six other big cats, is thought to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo keeper. The cats started showing symptoms, including a dry cough, late last month after exposure to the employee, who has not been identified.
    The pandemic has been driven by human-to-human transmission, but the infection of Nadia raises new questions about human-to-animal transmission.

  • When What-If Scenarios Turn Real: COVID-19 Insights from Pandemic Modelers

    As a Yale University postdoctoral researcher, economist Jude Bayham studied the potential consequences of a global pandemic that could shutter schools, close businesses, and strain hospitals. That was back in 2013. Now, as the world grapples with the coronavirus, the Colorado State University economist and a multi-institutional team are turning those prescient modeling exercises into real insights for policymakers.

  • Trial Drug Can Significantly Block Early Stages of COVID-19 in Engineered Human Tissues

    An international team led by University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Josef Penninger has found a trial drug that effectively blocks the cellular door SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect its hosts.
    UBC says that the findings, published today in Cell, hold promise as a treatment capable of stopping early infection of the novel coronavirus that, as of April 2, has affected more than 981,000 people and claimed the lives of 50,000 people worldwide.
    The study provides new insights into key aspects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and its interactions on a cellular level, as well as how the virus can infect blood vessels and kidneys.

  • BARDA, Department of Defense, and SAb Biotherapeutics to Partner to Develop a Novel COVID-19 Therapeutic

    A therapeutic to treat novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is moving forward in development through a partnership between the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the Department of Defense Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense (JPEO - CBRND), and SAb Biotherapeutics, Inc. (SAb), of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
    Using an interagency agreement with JPEO’s Medical CBRN Defense Consortium, BARDA transferred approximately $7.2 million in funding to (JPEO - CBRND) to support SAb to complete manufacturing and preclinical studies, with an option to conduct a Phase 1 clinical trial.
    The therapeutic, called SAB-185, is part of a new class of immunotherapies that relies on SAb’s platform technology to produce fully human polyclonal antibodies as the basis for the drug. This technology produces the antibodies without the need for blood donations from people who have recovered from the virus; this approach produces greater quantities of the drug than the traditional human antibody donor methods.

  • Resilient Teams: How Harvard Innovation Labs Ventures Are Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

    During a time when the world faces unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to share the stories of the innovators and entrepreneurs who are working tirelessly to keep people healthy and connected to each other.  Harvard says that many startups in the Harvard Innovation Labs Spring Venture Program are creating products and services that have the potential to reduce the spread of the virus, improve patient care, and create community when in person gatherings are not possible. We’ve also recently seen numerous examples of former ventures re-focusing their efforts on inspiring initiatives related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we’ve highlighted a few of the products and services that current and former Harvard Innovation Labs ventures are working on. In the coming weeks, we will update this post regularly as our ventures continue to respond and adapt to this global challenge. 

  • GSK, AstraZeneca in Talks to Help U.K. Government on Virus Tests

    U.K. pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline Plc and AstraZeneca Plc are in talks to set up a lab to explore new ways of testing for the coronavirus to help overcome shortages of diagnostic materials, according to a person with knowledge of the plans.
    Suzi Ring and James Paton write in Bloomberg that the drugmakers will evaluate the use of different raw materials needed to carry out the tests and use their know-how and resources to help other companies or the U.K.’s National Health Service increase production, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the details of the discussions aren’t yet public.
    U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged Thursday to increase coronavirus testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April. 


  • 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.