• Antibody Tests May Hold Clues to COVID-19 Exposure, Immunity—but It's Complicated

    As the nation looks for ways to emerge from the shelter-in-place orders instituted across the country, there’s growing hope that our blood might hold clues for how we move forward. Chris Dall writes in CIDRAP that late last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIHannounced that it has begun recruiting volunteers for a study to determine how many Americans without a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, based on the presence of antibodies in their blood. Antibody tests, while not useful for diagnostic purposes because of the time it takes to produce an antibody response, could indicate those who’ve had the illness at some point but never received official confirmation of infection, and those who’ve had very mild or even asymptomatic (symptom-free) infections. But experts say there remains a numbers of unknowns that need to be addressed.

  • U.K. Coronavirus Antibody Test Validated – but Results Show under-40s May Not Be Immune

    Tests aimed at determining whether Britons have recovered from coronavirus may not be useful because younger people do not produce sufficient quantities of antibodies to the virus, early research suggests. Sarah Knapton writes in The Telegraph that it was hoped that antibody tests could help kickstart the economy by allowing those who are immune out of lockdown. The government had been hoping to roll out millions of tests in the coming weeks in the belief that some kind of “immunity certificate” might be possible for those testing positive, but supplies from China have so far failed to pass sensitivity and specificity tests. Professor Karol Sikora, a private oncologist and Dean of Medicine at the University of Buckingham, this week validated a test kit using samples from staff at his clinics, which were then verified by a private lab. Around six per cent of staff were found to have had the virus but, crucially, under-40s who had tested positive came back negative, suggesting the test may not be useful for the wider population. 

  • Vanda Pharmaceuticals Starts Phase III COVID-19 Trial of Tradipitant

    Vanda Pharmaceuticals has partnered with The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research’s arm Northwell Health to conduct a Phase III clinical trial of tradipitant to treat severe Covid-19 pneumonia. Clinical Trials Arena reports that enrolment for the trial, called ODYSSEY, has begun. The first patient was enrolled on 15 March at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City. Tradipitant is a neurokinin-1 receptor (NK-1R) antagonist licensed by the company from Eli Lilly. The drug is being developed to treat gastroparesis, motion sickness, and atopic dermatitis. The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised ODYSSEY trial will assess the safety and efficacy of oral, 85mg twice-daily dose of the drug in treating neurogenic inflammation of the lung caused by Covid-19.

  • Studies: Hand Sanitizers Kill COVID-19 Virus, E-Consults Appropriate

    In a study yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Swiss and German researchers found that alcohol-based hand sanitizers recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) are effective in killing the novel coronavirus. The authors noted that while 30 seconds is the recommended time to rub hand sanitizers into the skin and was the time used in this study, most people don’t use them for that long. And a study yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine with important COVID-19 ramifications found that 70.2 percent of 6,512 electronic consultations (e-consults) made by 1,096 referring clinicians to 121 specialists were appropriate. While e-consults can increase patient access to specialists, minimize travel, reduce the time between referral and specialist feedback, and lower unnecessary in-person clinic visits—which is essential during the COVID-19 pandemic—data on their appropriateness and utility have been limited.

  • Head Lice Drug Ivermectin Being Studied as Possible Coronavirus Treatment

    An antiparasitic drug sometimes used to treat head lice has undergone preliminary studies for use in the fight against the coronavirus — and has shown promising results, according to reports. Yaron Steinbuch writes in the New York Post that while recent reports have focused on the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as a possible miracle treatment, experts have expressed cautious optimism that ivermectin also could be used for COVID-19, ABC News reported. Ivermectin — which was developed in the 1970s and 1980s — was first used to treat tiny roundworms called nematodes in cattle, then for river blindness in humans, and most recently to rid people of head lice, ABC News reported. The drug’s antiparasitic prowess has landed it on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines. And recently, a team of Australian scientists has studied ivermectin in vitro in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Coronavirus Cases: Mathematical Modeling Draws More Accurate Picture

    Mathematical modeling can take what information is reported about the coronavirus, including the clearly underreported numbers of cases, factor in knowns like the density and age distribution of the population in an area, and compute a more realistic picture of the virus’ infection rate, numbers that will enable better prevention and preparation, modelers say. “Actual pandemic preparedness depends on true cases in the population whether or not they have been identified,” says one researcher. “With better numbers we can better assess how long the virus will persist and how bad it will get. Without these numbers, how can health care systems and workers prepare for what is needed?”

  • The Coronavirus Crisis: A Catalyst for Entrepreneurship

    Throughout human history, crises have been pivotal in developing our societies. Pandemics have helped advance health-care systems, wars have fueled technological innovations and the global financial crisis helped advance tech companies like Uber and Airbnb. The present coronavirus pandemic will arguably not be an exception; entrepreneurs can be expected to rise to the challenge. Businesses play a key role both in helping society get through an economic crisis and in creating innovations that shape society after a crisis. So one key question is: how will the ongoing crisis influence future society? While it’s hard to predict the future, we can develop an understanding of what is ahead by analyzing current trends. It’s clear the post-pandemic future will be different. What’s happening during the crisis will have a lasting impact on society. Current signs of entrepreneurial initiative and goodwill give us some cause for optimism. In the words of Stanford economist Paul Romer: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

  • Putin’s Long War Against American Science

    A decade of health disinformation promoted by President Vladimir Putin of Russia has sown wide confusion, hurt major institutions and encouraged the spread of deadly illnesses. The Putin regime mandates vaccination at home, but has launched a broad and sophisticated disinformation campaign in an effort to lower vaccine rates in Western countries, with two goals in mind: discredit Western science and medicine, and weaken Western societies by facilitating the re-emergence of diseases such as measles, long thought to have been eradicated. The COPVID-19 epidemic has not escaped the notice of the Kremlin’s disinformation and propaganda specialists. “As the pandemic has swept the globe, it has been accompanied by a dangerous surge of false information,” William Broad writes. “Analysts say that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has played a principal role in the spread of false information as part of his wider effort to discredit the West and destroy his enemies from within.”

  • Coronavirus Research Done Too Fast Is Testing Publishing Safeguards, Bad Science Is Getting Through

    It has been barely a few weeks since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The pace at which the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread across the globe is jolting, but equally impressive is the speed at which scientists and clinicians have been fighting back.
    Irving Steinberg writes in The Conversation that he is a pharmacotherapy specialist and has consulted on infectious disease treatments for decades. “I am both exhilarated and worried as I watch the unprecedented pace and implementation of medical research currently being done. Speed is, of course, important when a crisis such as COVID-19 is at hand. But speed – in research, the interpretation and the implementation of science – is a risky endeavor,” he writes.
    The faster science is published and implemented, the greater the chances it is unsound. Mix in the panic and stress of the current pandemic and it becomes harder to make sure the right information is communicated and adopted correctly. Finally, governing bodies such as the World Health Organization, politicians and the media act as sources of trustworthy messaging and policy making. Each step – research, interpretation, policy – has safeguards in place to make sure the right information is acquired, interpreted and implemented. But pace and panic are testing these safety measures like never before.

  • Point-of-Care Tests for Respiratory Infections Could Save U.K. Millions, Study Finds

    Comprehensive use of currently available point-of-care tests (POCTs) to diagnose respiratory infections could save England’s National Health Service (NHS) up to £89 million ($110 million US) a year, according to a cost analysis published yesterday in the Journal of Medical Economics. Chris Dall writes in CIDRAP that the savings would result from fewer antibiotics being prescribed for the type of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) that are most likely caused by viruses, fewer return trips to the doctor, and fewer antibiotic-related adverse events (AEs). And the savings could rise significantly if more accurate diagnostic tests were available, the authors of the analysis suggest.

  • In the Rush to Innovate for COVID-19 Drugs, Sound Science Is Still Essential

    Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have been at the center of debate in recent weeks over which drugs should be used to treat COVID-19. Neither product has strong evidence to support use for this purpose, and small studies reported to date have either had significant flaws or failed to demonstrate effect. Nonetheless, the president can’t seem to stop pushing them, arguing that patients have nothing to lose. As physicians, bioethicists and drug law experts, we have a responsibility to inject caution here. As public officials and scientists rush to innovate, no one should overlook the critical role of strong regulatory protections in supporting our ability to actually figure out which drugs work against COVID-19. Weakening commitment to science and evidence during this crisis truly would be “a cure worse” than the disease.

  • The Best Hopes for a Coronavirus Drug

    If there is a way to stop COVID-19, it will be by blocking its proteins from hijacking, suppressing, and evading humans’ cellular machinery.
    Sarah Zhang writes in The Atlantic that the new coronavirus has, at most, twenty-nine proteins in its arsenal to attack human cells. That’s 29 proteins to go up against upwards of tens of thousands of proteins comprising the vastly more complex and sophisticated human body. Twenty-nine proteins that have taken over enough cells in enough bodies to kill more than 80,000 people and grind the world to a halt.
    If there is a way—a vaccine, therapy, or drug—to stop the coronavirus, it will be by blocking these proteins from hijacking, suppressing, and evading humans’ cellular machinery.

  • Rethinking Biosecurity Governance

    Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the current coronavirus pandemic is how to learn future lessons without having to experience a pandemic, whether natural in origin or made by humans. We must rethink and test assumptions about relationships between biological research, security, and society to plan for biosecurity threats.

  • Coronavirus: There’s No One Perfect Model of the Disease

    The world is gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the spread of a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Since the emergence of this new virus, mathematical modelling has been at the forefront of policy decision-making around the disease. Different models depict different scenarios. Do these seemingly differing findings mean that one model is more accurate than the other? And if so, which one is correct? In truth, credible models developed by respectable research teams are mathematically sound and elegantly answer their posed questions using appropriate data. So more importantly than answering the question “which one is correct?” — we need to understand the differences between the different models and discuss why they come to seemingly different conclusions.

  • 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.)