2021 Biopharma Update on the Novel Coronavirus: January 26
News information is not all-inclusive and updates are published once a week on Tuesdays.
A Belgian initiative, icovid, has grown into a multicenter European project. The initiative supports radiologists in the assessment of CT scans of the lungs in COVID-19 patients. Earlier stage detection and the extent of lung lesions can be supported with icolung.
Testing Therapies, Antivirals and Vaccines
Industry-leading biotech CSL is leveraging its integrated global portfolio to bring urgently needed therapeutic COVID-19 treatments to patients around the world. Read more information here.
Moderna reported yesterday that its COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against variants of the virus that are being reported. Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their COVID-19 vaccine was probably just as effective against the variant strain of the virus, B.1.1.7, found in the U.K. The variant was believed to have emerged in the U.K. in September 2020 and is noted to be more infectious, and possibly more deadly. British scientists suggested last week that the U.K. variant may be approximately 30% more lethal than the most common strain that came out of China. But they’re not completely sure of this yet. Click here for more information.
“Children are our future,” goes the oft-repeated refrain, and though the severity of COVID-19 tends to be lower in these cases, the primary vaccine players have shifted at least part of their focus to developing a vaccine for this demographic.
With the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. and being distributed and dosed, some of the attention is shifting to Johnson & Johnson’s efforts for its one-shot vaccine. Given what has turned out to be a slower-than-expected rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, it is hoped that another vaccine, particularly one that probably only requires a single dose, would help mitigate some of the distribution problems. It looks like the J&J Phase III trial of its vaccine may be ready for a data readout in a week or so.
The jury is still out on whether Roche’s arthritis drug, Actemra/RoActemra (tocilizumab), is helpful for the most severe cases of COVID-19. Researchers out of Brazil published a small study in the British Medical Journal that did not find the addition of Actemra to standard of care helped the most severe cases. This is a different finding than in several previous trials, including a larger, 800-patient study that found significant benefit. Click here for more information.
Merck announced that it is going to stop developing its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, dubbed V590 and V591, after poor responses in Phase I trials. They are shifting their attention to advancing two therapeutic drugs for COVID-19, MK-4482 and MK-7110.
According to Bloomberg, the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, says the company plans to ramp up the supply of its COVID-19 vaccine and will be able to provide the 200 million doses two months earlier.
Other Industry News
Excess mortality rates in the U.S. remain high, despite a steady decline since mid-December. The excess deaths are attributed to COVID-19 and its new variants, which have pushed the reported weekly mortality rates well above the pre-pandemic numbers. Click here for more information.
A study from researchers at Monash University in Melbourne has identified two molecules in the gut microbiome that can protect against asthma and may possibly reduce the severity of an asthma attack. The study, published in Nature Immunology, found that L-tyrosine, an amino acid commonly sold as a dietary supplement, and gut bacteria byproduct p-cresol sulfate (PCS) has been previously shown to affect asthma outcomes. Additionally, some animal models have suggested they may play a role in treating respiratory illness in severe cases of COVID-19.
A year of COVID-19 provides lessons for the future. One year and more than 410,000 deaths later, the United States is still firmly in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are now two authorized vaccines in the United States, newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden has warned that the next few months could be grim ones for the nation. Click here for more information.
Americans are still hesitant to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to just-released research from Invisibly. The online survey of 5,537 Americans conducted between December 4 and 14, 2020 shows Americans nearly equally divided on their willingness to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Only 53% said they were willing to get the vaccine.
Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases reported across the globe, rates of influenza have virtually flatlined across the Northern Hemisphere, leading many doctors and researchers to wonder how this could be replicated in non-pandemic times. Click here for more information.