Solving COVID: October 7, 2020
Researchers create a paper coronavirus test, study finds antibody cocktail shortens recovery time, and more
Researchers in India create paper coronavirus test
Scientists in India have developed a paper-based coronavirus test that uses CRISPR gene-editing tools to detect the virus. The new test, called Feluda after a famous fictional Indian detective, employs a nasal swab and can return results in less than an hour, making it faster than PCR tests. Its 96 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity rate means it will likely be more accurate than rapid antigen tests. It would also reportedly be more affordable than both. "The new test has the reliability of the PCR test, is quicker and can be done in smaller laboratories which don't have sophisticated machines," said Dr. Anurag Agarwal, the director of the Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, where Feluda was developed. Dr. Stephen Kissler, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School, told the BBC that if Feluda's "efficacy is demonstrated, it can have benefits that ripple around the world." The next step for the development team is to build a prototype of a similar test that can be done from home.
Coronavirus antibody cocktail shortens recovery time, new data shows
New data on Regeneron's coronavirus monoclonal antibody cocktail shows the drug is "moving in the right direction," Stat News reports. A high dose of the cocktail led viral levels to decrease more quickly in non-hospitalized patients. The drug also appeared to have a bigger effect in COVID-19 patients who had not created high levels of antibodies on their own, shortening their recovery time, even at a lower dose. Regeneron's chief scientific officer George Yancopoulos said "we are highly encouraged by the robust and consistent nature of these initial data," adding that the company is discussing its findings with regulatory authorities while trials continue. The data comes on the heels of other promising results from Eli Lilly's monoclonal antibody candidate, boosting hopes that these treatments could play a significant role in combating the virus.
Moderna sets its sights on spring 2021 for potential vaccine distribution
Moderna won't be able to seek emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate any sooner than late November, and the vaccine would likely not be available to the general public prior to March, its CEO Stéphane Bancel says. CBS News called this a "setback for Moderna" as well as a "blow to claims by" President Trump that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready prior to Election Day. But the news lines up with predictions from Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who told Congress last month that a vaccine might be "generally available to the American public" by "late second quarter, third quarter 2021." The Financial Times writes that the "most realistic hope of a pre-election vaccine" would be from Pfizer, as that company's CEO says it should know whether its vaccine works by the end of October. But that doesn't mean it will be ready for distribution just yet.
Children 17 and under contract and spread COVID-19 like adults, study finds
A study of 85,000 people with COVID-19 in two southern Indian states, and 575,000 people they came in contact with, found that children 17 and under contract and transmit the virus at rates similar to the rest of the population. Children age 5 to 17 passed the virus on to 18 percent of close contacts their same age, a team of U.S. and Indian researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Science. These findings are particularly important given "previous reports suggesting a minor role of children in the pandemic," Antonio Salas, a Spanish researcher who was not involved in the Indian study, told the Los Angeles Times. "National policies on how to proceed with children in schools and other social activities could change dramatically if the scientific evidence underpins the idea that children can infect as efficiently as adults, and even more, they could also behave as super-spreaders." While children 17 and under were found to be more efficient disease transmitters than previously understood, they had the lowest death rate of any age cohort.
Hydroxychloroquine didn't protect health-care workers from coronavirus, study shows
Despite being examined as an early COVID-19 treatment, studies have found the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine ineffective and even dangerous when used to fight the disease. A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine adds to that evidence, finding that the drug was ineffective in preventing health-care workers from contracting coronavirus. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania focused on 125 health-care workers. Some of them received hydroxychloroquine for eight weeks from April to July, while others got a placebo. Throughout that time, four of the 64 workers who got the drug ended up with COVID-19, while four of the 61 who got the placebo did as well. Six of those who tested positive developed coronavirus symptoms, but none needed to be hospitalized. As a result, the researchers said they "cannot recommend the routine use of hydroxychloroquine" to prevent infections among health-care workers.