• 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.

  • Potential Drug Treatment Starts U.K. Trials

    A drug that could help treat coronavirus is to be trialed on a small number of patients in England and Scotland.
    The studies, which have been fast-tracked by the government, will initially involve 15 NHS centers.
    The BBC reports that in the absence of a known treatment for the virus, a handful of experimental drugs are being tested globally.
    The drug, known as remdesivir, is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Gilead.
    Two studies are to be carried out in the UK - one on patients with moderate symptoms, and one on those who are in a serious condition.
    Trials are already underway in China and the US, with the first results expected in the coming weeks.
    The UK trials will be based in England and Scotland and overseen by Dr. Andrew Ustianowski, a consultant in infectious diseases.

  • COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator Awards $20 Million to Fund Clinical Trials

    The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a global initiative launched in March by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard, has announced three grants totaling $20 million in support of efforts to identify repurposed drugs and immunotherapies for COVID-19.

  • Uncertainty about Facts Can Be Reported Without Damaging Public Trust in News: Study

    The numbers that drive headlines – those on Covid-19 infections, for example – contain significant levels of uncertainty: assumptions, limitations, extrapolations, and so on. Experts and journalists have long assumed that revealing the ‘noise’ inherent in data confuses audiences and undermines trust. A series of experiments – including one on the BBC News website – finds the use of numerical ranges in news reports helps us grasp the uncertainty of stats while maintaining trust in data and its sources.

  • Coronavirus: 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.

  • Labs 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.

  • A 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.”

  • The 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.

  • How 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 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.

  • Just 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 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.”