Covid-19 roundup: Fauci says multibillion-dollar program could curb future pandemics; Japanese drugmaker spices up coronavirus pill race
When the Covid-19 pandemic swept in, drugmakers were able to spin years worth of research into the fastest turnaround time for vaccine development the world has ever seen. In anticipation of the next potential global health threat, NIAID director Anthony Fauci has been promoting a multibillion-dollar plan that could create “prototype vaccines” in preparation of what comes next.
And if the US can find funding, Fauci thinks that the research can start as early as next year.
An ambitious plan that the New York Times reports could cost a few billion dollars a year for at least five years would research and uncover the molecular structure of viruses, learn where the antibody must enter and discover how to make the antibodies.
The NIAID would be responsible for much of the funding, the Times reported. But some of the scope would require money allocated by Congress.
In a New Yorker profile from 2016, Fauci said the country will have to be flexible in the future to prevent and fight against future pandemics.
“I have been saying for eight, 10 years that we should make a list of microbes and try to develop a basic platform vaccine,” he said. “We keep trying to develop a vaccine for one thing—usually the last one—and it’s a waste of time. Every time we get hit, it is always something we didn’t expect. So, instead of predetermining what it is you’re going to prepare for, make universal platforms.”
In theory, Fauci said, you could insert the gene of the protein you want to express into a pre-made chassis, create doses — he told Spector roughly “a gazillion” — and send it to trials. But all this would take a new system to manufacture vaccines before the next pandemic arrives. Because of the hefty, multi-billion dollar price tag, politicians and companies have been hesitant to get the ball rolling.
Japanese drugmaker spices up race for Covid-19 pill
A once-a-day pill designed to provide more convenient dosing for Covid-19 patients is now being tested in human trials.
Shionogi, a Japanese company known for its cholesterol drug Crestor, said it started trials this month, which will continue until 2022. It’s an announcement that’s added a spark to the race that also features Pfizer and Merck.
Pfizer and Merck are months ahead of Shionogi, The Wall Street Journal reported. Pfizer said its twice-daily pill could be ready to go to market this year, and will enroll 2,000 patients in a trial that combines a booster drug and the pill against a placebo.
Fauci warns that US is headed in wrong direction, recommends booster
A combination of unvaccinated Americans and the Delta variant has led a frustrated Anthony Fauci to say the US is headed in the wrong direction, he said on CNN’s show “State of the Union.”
Booster shots may be required for those with suppressed immune systems and public health officials are considering a mask recommendation for those who are already vaccinated, the Associated Press reported. More than 163 million people are vaccinated, but that number is less than half of the US population. And 57% of those who are eligible for the vaccine have been inoculated.
Americans who are among the most vulnerable population, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, will be most likely recommended a booster.
“What I would really like to see is more and more of the leaders in those areas that are not vaccinating to get out and speak out and encourage people to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.
AstraZeneca-Pfizer combo proves effective in South Korea
A South Korean study involving nearly 500 medical workers showed a mixed vaccination of first AstraZeneca’s jab then a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot boosted antibody levels by at least six times, Reuters reported Monday.
The shots were up against a double dose of AstraZeneca in the study. Of the 499 medical workers, 100 received mixed doses and 200 received just the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Last month, a study out of the UK showed similar results: An AstraZeneca shot followed by Pfizer showed the best T cell responses and a higher antibody response than Pfizer followed by AstraZeneca’s.
Volunteers that received a mixed duo of doses showed neutralizing antibodies, which stop the virus from entering cells. Some countries are looking to switch to alternatives after reports of rare but fatal blood clots were linked to the AstraZeneca jab.
The study analyzed activity against variants, and saw that neutralization was decreased against the Beta, Gamma and Delta variants. All three groups maintained the same neutralizing activity against the Alpha variant.
BioNTech CEO not calling for booster just yet
Those who received Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine in January are less protected from the Covid-19 Delta variant, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said to the Wall Street Journal last week, but a booster shot is not called for just yet.
Data from Israel have emerged showing those who received the jab in January are three times more likely to become infected than those who were just inoculated in May. Governments now need to decide whether they want to offer boosters, or decide whether to let infections go on knowing that patients will be protected from serious injury and death, the German company’s CEO said.
Israel’s Health Ministry published data that said after two shots, the vaccine was 39% effective at lowering risk of infection and 40% effective at reducing symptomatic disease when the Delta variant made up the majority of cases, the WSJ said.
In April, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in an interview with CNBC that a third shot will be needed within 12 months of inoculation. Sahin said that he won’t give public advice on a third shot until data from real-life studies rolls in.
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