Solving COVID: May 6, 2020

Pfizer launches a human vaccine trial, the FDA approves a new antibody test, and more

A scientist.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

1. Pfizer launches human trials for coronavirus vaccine, aims for emergency use in September

Pfizer launched human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine Monday, in partnership with German pharmaceutical company BioNTech. The companies are using a genetic material known as messenger RNA to develop a vaccine that could possibly train cells to create a protein the coronavirus latches onto without making a person sick. A person's immune system could then theoretically produce antibodies ready to fight off a future infection. This technology is reportedly more stable than traditional vaccines, which use weakened virus strains, and it's faster to produce. The catch is that no RNA messenger vaccine has ever reached the market before. Pfizer and BioNTech hope this COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for emergency use in September.

2. Coronavirus antibody test cleared by FDA for emergency use

The Food and Drug Administration has cleared a coronavirus antibody test produced by Swiss diagnostics giant Roche for emergency use. The test could determine whether a person has been infected with the virus in the past, even if the infection has since subsided. Roche says the test has proven 100 percent accurate at detecting antibodies in blood and 99.8 percent accurate at ruling out the presence of those antibodies. There are questions about the accuracy of many available commercial antibody tests, but Thom Schinecker, who leads the company's diagnostics business, said they tested 6,000 blood samples, many more than those tested by smaller competitors. Roche can increase production of the test quickly, and its kits are also designed to run on Roche automated machines, which are already installed in more than 100 U.S. labs. The company is determined to dispense test kits in the "high double-digit millions" by June, and double that by the end of the year.

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The Wall Street Journal

3. Abu Dhabi testing stem cell inhaler to ease COVID-19 symptoms

Researchers in the United Arab Emirates said Monday they have seen "promising" results in a stem cell treatment for COVID-19 symptoms they have tested on 73 patients. The "minimally invasive" treatment, developed at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Center, involves extracting blood from patients, isolating stem cells, activating them, and turning them into a fine mist that the patient would inhale through a nebulizer or similar device to alleviate coughing and other pulmonary symptoms. All 73 patients, with moderate to severe symptoms, were "successfully treated and cured," the UAE's health ministry said. If everything "went well and it worked well," Dr. Fatima al-Kaabi, head of hematology and oncology at the UAE's Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, told CNBC, the treatment could be ready for market in "three months' time."


4. Scientists discover 5 FDA-approved drugs effective at stopping coronavirus' spread in the body

Five existing drugs and a range of other drug compounds are effective at blocking COVID-19 from infecting human cells, researchers revealed in a study published in the scientific journal Nature. While the lab study doesn't take into account the drugs' effects on other parts of the body, it "could lead to a therapeutic regimen to treat COVID-19," the study says. To examine how certain drugs affect the coronavirus, the scientists first broke down what human proteins the virus manipulates. They then looked for known drugs and experimental compounds that affect those proteins, and tested 47 of them. Five existing drugs that are already FDA-approved to treat other diseases proved effective at blocking COVID-19's spread, including the much-discussed malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. Several experimental compounds, most developed as potential cancer treatments, also proved effective. The paper notes that these tests happened outside of the human body, so no one should try taking the tested drugs unless it's in a controlled study.

Nature San Francisco Chronicle

5. Chan Zuckerberg Initiative donates $13.6 million to coronavirus antibody testing

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's charitable organization is dedicating $13.6 million toward understanding out how COVID-19 spreads. The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, along with Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco, will conduct two antibody studies using the new funding. The first will test 4,000 Bay Area residents monthly for both COVID-19 and antibodies that indicate they've had the disease in the past. It will examine where new coronavirus cases are coming from, and ultimately aims to inform a safe reopening of the area. The second study will test 3,500 frontline health-care workers weekly for antibodies to determine how quickly nurses and doctors get infected. It will also look to see if the antibodies workers develop after recovery keep them from contracting the disease again, and if so, for how long. Both studies are meant to learn more about how the virus is traveling in the Bay Area, but could inform the worldwide response.

Mark Zuckerberg

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