Solving COVID: September 16, 2020

The Week Staff
Illustrated | iStock
Our 'Solving COVID' newsletter is a weekly roundup of the latest scientific advancements being made against the coronavirus pandemic. It tracks developments in testing, treating, and vaccinating. To receive the newsletter every week, please enter your email below:


AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trials resume in U.K.

AstraZeneca announced Saturday that it received confirmation from the United Kingdom's Medicines Health Regulatory Authority that it was safe to resume clinical trials for the company's coronavirus vaccine in the U.K. after they were paused over safety concerns. The vaccine candidate, which was developed in partnership between AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, is considered one of the world's most promising, but phase three of its trials was temporarily halted after a woman in the U.K. reportedly displayed neurological symptoms consistent with a spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis after receiving the vaccine. The World Health Organization's Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said there was no reason to be "overly discouraged" by the pause since "there are ups and downs in research."


Trial suggests antibody drug could reduce patients' hospitalization odds

Eli Lilly's monoclonal coronavirus antibody drug is off to a "good start" after the pharmaceutical giant completed a small clinical trial, Stat News reports. Only about 450 patients were enrolled in the trial, so there's a long way to go before Lilly finds anything definitive, but Stat reports the medicine — a manufactured version of the naturally-occurring antibodies the body produces to fend off the virus — appeared to reduce patients' hospitalization odds. Only 1.7 percent of the patients who received the drug went to the emergency room or were hospitalized, compared to 6 percent who took a placebo. Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly's chief scientific officer, said the early data are "extremely exciting" and "should give us confidence that neutralizing antibodies are going to be an important part of the solution" to the pandemic. Skovronsky said the company will discuss additional clinical trials with regulators, as well as options like an emergency use authorization. [Stat News]


Google searches for gastrointestinal problems could identify coronavirus outbreaks

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found Google searches for gastrointestinal problems could be a potential warning system for the location of coronavirus outbreaks, Bloomberg reports. COVID-19 patients often report gastrointestinal issues, like abdominal pain and diarrhea. Using the Google Trends tool, the researchers determined that the volume of searches for those symptoms between Jan. 20 and April 20 correlated strongly with coronavirus cases in hot spots like New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois, three to four weeks later. Going forward, health officials could monitor those searches to try to pin down upcoming hot spots. "Our data underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential harbinger of COVID-19 infection and suggests Google Trends may be a valuable tool for predictions of pandemics with GI manifestations," the study says. [Bloomberg]


The CDC wants to create a COVID-19 wastewater surveillance system

Universities have had great success monitoring for COVID-19 flare-ups by testing wastewater, or "all the dirty stuff from the toilets, showers, sinks, washing machines, dishwashers, you name it," Politico reports. And now "the CDC and HHS are working on a national wastewater surveillance system and data portal" for willing states and local governments. People shed the coronavirus in their waste days before they show signs of illness, so finding COVID-19 in wastewater can give authorities "seven precious days for intervention," said Ian Pepper at the University of Arizona. Testing every U.S. ZIP code twice a week would cost about $3 billion a year, estimates David Larsen, an epidemiologist and public health expert at Syracuse University. "It's really not much. The cost per person monitored is like $10, if that, a year." The payoff, he said, is it "would be huge to get us back to work" before a vaccine becomes widely available. [Politico, CDC]


Cardiac MRI can identify coronavirus-linked heart inflammation, study reveals

Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, is a rare disease that can cause heart failure. Typically, it's caused by a viral infection, and it has been seen in recovered COVID-19 patients. A recent study from Ohio State University has identified a new diagnostic method. The study found that cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging, which provides detailed images of the heart, can identify inflammation caused by myocarditis, even if other methods, like blood tests or ultrasounds, fail to do so. Dr. Curt Daniels, a co-author of the study, said CMR imaging was able to differentiate between the patients who had signs of myocarditis and those who did not "with the highest sensitivity" of the available diagnostic tools. The study was small, but Daniels said having that extra diagnostic method should "provide increased safety." [The Columbus Dispatch]