COVID-19: Harsh Impacts, Downward and Upward Trends, and Innovation

COVID-19 United States

Data coming in about the COVID-19 pandemic shows some promising overall trends, with other more disturbing ones, particularly in breakthrough infections of the fully vaccinated. However, researchers are continuing to innovate. Here’s a look.

1 in 500 Americans Have Died of COVID-19

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that 662,899 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S since the beginning of the pandemic. Based on the number of people who responded to the 2020 Census conducted near COVID-19’s onset, the 662,899th death equated to 0.2% of the American population. About half of those deaths occurred before December 25, 2020, which clearly underlines how inaccurate the sentiment was that the pandemic was about over leading into 2021. 

Much of the recent increase is related to the delta variant, which is significantly more infectious than the other variants, especially the original Wuhan wildtype strain and the alpha variant that originated in the UK.

In some of the states most affected by the Delta variant this summer, the rate has been declining - in Missouri, which saw a surge in cases starting in early July, cases are down 10% over the past week to an average of about 2,100 per day, a 29% drop from the latest peak in early August - though West Virginia and Kentucky are still seeing cases.

Kentucky is setting records with Gov. Andy Beshear stating that the state reported a record number of new cases from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, with 30,680 cases.

Despite the grim news, there’s a bright side. The seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases as of September 12 was about 144,300, down 12% from the previous week and down 14% from the most recent peak on September 1. There are also hints that COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates, which typically lag behind case counts, are dropping.

Breakthrough COVID-19 Cases Increasing in the Fully Vaccinated in the U.S.

Data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that 25% of COVID-19 infections in Los Angeles County from May through July 25 were in people who were fully vaccinated against the disease. Part of this data will be used to determine if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a third booster dose (or second, in the case of the Johnson & Johnson shot). The Biden administration has cited September 20 as the beginning of booster shots, but that depends on the FDA and the CDC’s determinations and data analysis.

The data does indicate that full vaccinations continue to protect from severe cases. According to the CDC study, 3.2% of fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections were hospitalized, only 0.05% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.25% were placed on a ventilator. That compares to the unvaccinated, where 7.5% were hospitalized, 1.5% were admitted to an ICU and 0.5% required ventilation.

As COVID Increases, China’s Economy Founders

China has the world’s second-largest economy, just behind the United States, and like much of the world, has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent report indicates that COVID-19 cases are rising again in the country while the economy struggled in August. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, retail sales increased only 2.5% year-on-year, lower than the 7% increases predicted. Industrial production rose by 5.3% in August, down from July’s 2 6.4%.

“The data highlights that China’s zero-tolerance stance toward COVID comes with economic costs, and in particular a sharp increase in consumer caution as mobility was restricted across several provinces,” said Mitul Kotecha, chief EM Asia and Europe strategist at TD Securities. “An increase in COVID cases in southeast China in Fujian over recent days suggests that such mobility restrictions will continue, likely impacting Golden Week travel and spending.”

Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for Severe COVID-19

The best prevention of COVID-19 is the very effective and safe vaccines, which in the U.S. are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Therapies include antibody treatments, Gilead Sciences’ antiviral remdesivir, and steroids such as dexamethasone. Many drugs have been tested, with few showing real efficacies in well-designed trials.

One possible treatment for the severe disease being evaluated is mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapies, which are believed to be safer. They have been successfully used to treat influenza in animals. A paper published in Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy looked at the approach, providing an overview of clinical trials. Unfortunately, the existing studies in humans are small, usually consisting of fewer than 100 patients. However, the authors note, “The findings indicate that MSC treatment not only significantly reduces lung damage, but also improves patient recovery with safety and good immune tolerance.”

Possible Innovative COVID-19 Therapy

Ethris GmBH, based in Munich, Germany, received the “Most Innovative Product Top 3” for its COVID-19 therapeutic candidate, ETH47. The award was given in the category of Leap Innovations at the Pharma Trend Image & Innovation Awards 2021.

ETH47 utilizes the mRNA code for type III interferon. It is developed to be dosed directly to the respiratory tract for early COVID-19 infection and its variants. The company has received a research grant from the State of Bavaria in Germany to develop the therapy.

“Receiving this prize in the Innovation Product category is a testament to the potential of Ethris’ science and RNA technology platform, and I am honored to accept it on behalf of the incredibly dedicated team at Ethris,” said Carsten Rudolph, chief executive officer of Ethris. “As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the need for therapeutics to treat the virus and its variants is more pronounced. ETH47, which is based on our proprietary and unique pulmonary SNIM RNA therapeutic platform, has the potential to treat SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses due to its broad applicability. We look forward to publishing preclinical results from our ETH47 program in the near term.”

Contributions From Big Pharma

Early this month, Pfizer and Merck & Co. each announced new trials of their experimental oral antiviral drugs for COVID-19 as the race to develop an easy-to-administer treatment for the potentially fatal illness heats up.

Pfizer’s pill is currently known as PF-07321332. The company announced that the medication has started phase II/III clinical trials and that the first patient has been dosed.  

Meanwhile, Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced that its pill is moving on to a phase III clinical trial. Molnupiravir is an 'investigational oral antiviral therapeutic' that is designed to prevent people from getting infected with COVID-19.

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