May 4, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: NIH announces 'national Covid-19 testing challenge'

Daily Briefing

    A potential vaccine against the new coronavirus moves closer to development, Cleveland Clinic and Epic launch an at-home monitoring program for Covid-19 patients, and more.

    Covid-19 weekly webinar: What health care leaders need to know

    • AstraZeneca has announced that it will manufacture and distribute an experimental vaccine for the new coronavirus developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, if it's proven effective in humans. In tests conducted at NIH's Rocky Mountain Laboratory last month, six monkeys inoculated with the vaccine and then infected with the new coronavirus did not develop symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, more than 28 days later. Researchers late last month began testing the experimental vaccine in humans, and expect to determine whether the product is effective in humans by late May. If the tests are successful, scientists at Oxford said the first few million doses of the vaccine could be available by September (Roland, Wall Street Journal, 4/30; Kirkpatrick, New York Times, 4/30).

    • A group of tech entrepreneurs called the C19 Coalition has raised $30 million in interest-free loans that it will use to help hospitals purchase supplies amid the Covid-19 epidemic. So far, the coalition—which includes Volkswagen AG, Cardinal Health, HP, and other companies—has delivered 100 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals nationwide and intends to use the $30 million "to temporarily cover costs that come with purchasing [PPE] in bulk at a discounted price," according to Peter Pham, one of the coalition's leaders (Levy, Wall Street Journal, 4/30).

    • Cleveland Clinic and Epic worked together to develop a home monitoring program for Covid-19 patients that is available to any health care organization. The program is designed to help hospitals monitor Covid-19 patients' symptoms and provide patients with information about self-isolating, as well as connect patients with additional care if needed (Coutre, Crain's Cleveland Business/Modern Healthcare, 4/30).

    • FDA on Wednesday announced that it has set up an "umbrella" pathway to allow developers of Covid-19 serology tests to qualify for an emergency use authorization if their tests are validated by a designated government agency such as the National Cancer Institute and meet certain requirements for performance metrics. Timothy Stenzel, head of FDA's Office of Health Technology, said FDA will soon release a template detailing the requirements developers will have to meet to qualify for an emergency use authorization under the new pathway (Wang, Inside Health Policy, 4/29[subscription required]).

    • Gilead Sciences on Thursday announced it will partner with other drugmakers throughout the world to expand manufacturing of its drug remdesivir, which FDA currently is evaluating as a potential emergency treatment for Covid-19. Gilead said it plans to have more than one million courses of remdesivir made by December, "with plans to be able to produce several million treatment courses in 2021" (Beasley, Reuters, 4/30; Walker/Maidenberg, Wall Street Journal, 4/30).

    • NIH on Wednesday said it's launching a "national Covid-19 testing challenge" for scientists to compete for part of a $500 million funding pool that will be awarded to those who submit the most promising ideas. An NIH panel will review submitted ideas and approve some to receive funding and be matched with experts who can help to develop and test the proposals (Facher, STAT News, 4/29; Sullivan, The Hill, 4/29).

    • Oklahoma and New Jersey are now offering tests for the new coronavirus that are based on saliva samples collected by having patients spit into a cup. Experts say the tests could be easier for patients than standard tests, which require swabs of the nose and throat, and safer for health care providers (Mandavilli, New York Times, 4/29; Cunningham et al., "PowerPost," Washington Post, 4/28).

    • Stanford University has developed Pneumask, a reusable protective mask for health care workers that combines a scuba diving mask with a medical-grade filter. FDA has approved the mask, which costs $40 to make, to be labeled as a face shield or surgical mask. The mask's creators last week shipped 1,500 Pneumasks to clinicians in five states, and they plan on shipping an additional 7,000 masks to providers in the coming weeks (Amenabar, Washington Post, 4/29).

    • University Hospitals last week announced that it will test 10,000 employees, first responders, and frontline workers to see whether they have developed antibodies for the new coronavirus—which would indicate whether the workers were previously infected with the virus and may have developed potential immunity to reinfection. The health system said the tests will help to provide a better understanding of antibody testing and aide the system in determining how many employees have contracted the new coronavirus. University Hospitals said it will not use the test results to determine whether employees should return to work or for decisions related to distributing PPE (Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 4/30).

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