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July 31, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: NIH is planning a 'flurry' of trials for potential Covid-19 treatments

Daily Briefing
    • Mass General Brigham (MGB) has developed a visualized data dashboard to help the health system understand the role of racial disparities in America's coronavirus epidemic. MGB focused on five key strategies to develop the dashboard: ensuring the dashboard considered patients' geographic location, gender, and socioeconomic status in addition to their race; focusing on actionable measures, including ICU availability, deaths, and discharges; and more (Adams, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/22).

    • Jewish General Hospital (JGH) has started using Microsoft's HoloLens virtual reality (VR) headset to help clinicians care for patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, while reducing their physical contact with such patients. The headset has sensors and a camera that allow a clinician using the headset to share their view of a patient with other, remote clinicians through a live video feed. Remote clinicians who are watching the feed can upload charts and X-rays to the HoloLens' field of view, allowing them to communicate with the clinician using the headset. JGH is one of the first health care organizations in North America to employ VR to treat Covid-19 patients, Becker's Hospital Review reports (Drees, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/22).

    • Meanwhile, George Washington University Hospital is broadening its own VR project to develop 27 models of Covid-19 patients' lungs, which would allow clinicians to observe a 360-degree view of the damaged organs. The hospital in March first used the method to recreate a patient's CT scans to assess damage due to Covid-19. Keith Mortman, chief of thoracic surgery at the hospital, said the model allowed clinicians to "quantify how much lung tissue is affected by the virus" (Drees, Becker's Health IT, 7/22).

    • NIH is planning a "flurry" of clinical trials to test potential Covid-19 treatments, NIH Director Francis Collins said last week. Collins said the "well-powered, rigorously designed clinical trials" will include studies of antiviral monoclonal antibodies, blood thinners, and more (Herper, STAT News, 7/23).
    • Engineers and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a reusable face mask that filters virus-containing particles as well as an N95 respirator. The mask is made of silicone and has slots for two disks made out of the same material used for N95 respirators. The disks serve as disposable filters, and the mask can be cleaned and reused. The mask, called the iMASC, was developed to address nationwide shortages of personal protective equipment, but the organizations haven't yet announced a timeline for when the mask will be available to the public (Stieg, CNBC, 7/21).

    • study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine did not improve health outcomes among hospitalized Covid-19 patients with mild to moderate cases of the disease. The study, which included 504 patients, found the drug did not improve conditions when administered alone or in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin. The study also found unusual heart rhythms and elevated liver-enzyme levels were more common among patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine when compared with patients who did not receive the drug (Howard, CNN, 7/23; Hellmann, The Hill, 7/23).

    • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) last week rejected Moderna's claim that a patent held by Canadian firm Arbutus that covers technology used to deliver messenger RNA treatments is invalid. USPTO's decision allows Arbutus to file for an injunction to stop Moderna from using the technology, which could block Moderna from selling its Covid-19 vaccine candidate that uses the technology or force Moderna to pay royalties to Arbutus for the technology's use. Separately, Moderna on Sunday said it received an additional $472 million from HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for coronavirus vaccine development. The company said it will use the award to fund late-stage clinical development, including a Phase 3 study of its vaccine candidate that launched this month. The drugmaker also announced that it is planning to price its potential coronavirus vaccine between $50 and $60 for a full course. Moderna said the vaccine likely will come in two doses, with the projected price of the first vial priced at $25 and the second vial priced at $30 (Garde, STAT+, 7/23 [subscription required]; Ponnezhath, Reuters, 7/26; Roubein, Politico, 7/26; Anderson, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/29).

    • Humana last week said it will send more than one million at-home cancer and diabetic management screening kits to its Medicare Advantage and Medicaid members in an effort to expand access to preventive care amid America's coronavirus epidemic. The move comes after health care providers in most states have had to delay many non-urgent procedures and appointments to help ensure the U.S. health care system has the capacity and supplies needed to address surges in Covid-19 patients. Humana said the testing kits also will help the insurer maintain its scores on certain performance and quality measures, such as metrics related to colorectal cancer screening and diabetes care (Livingston, Modern Healthcare, 7/23).

    • Pfizer and BioNTech have announced that they've selected a coronavirus vaccine candidate to advance to a Phase 3 clinical trial that will aim to recruit 30,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 85 at 120 sites in different countries around the world. The companies picked one candidate out of four they had under development, all of which rely on messenger RNA to possibly prevent infection from the coronavirus (Herper/Garde, STAT News, 7/27; BioNTech release, 7/27; Bowden, The Hill, 7/27).

    • Google has announced that nearly all of the 200,000 full-time and contract employees across its parent company, Alphabet, are permitted to work from home until July 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Google previously told employees they should expect to return to their offices in January 2021, but the company decided to extend its work-from-home policy amid the recent resurgence of America's epidemic (Copeland/Grant, Wall Street Journal, 7/27).

    • Emergent BioSolutions on Monday announced that it has signed a $174 million deal to develop AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine candidate. AstraZeneca last month chose Emergent to produce 300 million doses of its potential vaccine, which is one of the first to move into mid-stage trials. AstraZeneca has signed multiple manufacturing deals to make a target of two billion doses of the potential vaccine (Roy, Reuters, 7/27).

    • Amazon has begun selling its own face shields on for $66.25 for a pack for 25 shields, which is one-third of the price of other reusable shields, the company claims. Amazon on Tuesday said it's also donated 60,000 face shields and plans to donate another 150,000 by the end of 2020 (Rubin, CNET, 7/28).

    • FDA has reissued an emergency use authorization for a LabCorp coronavirus test that now allows providers to use the test to screen people with no symptoms of Covid-19. The agency said it decided to authorize expanded use of the test "after the [LabCorp] provided scientific data showing the test's ability to detect [the coronavirus] in a general, asymptomatic population." A spokesperson for LabCorp said the test itself has not changed (Syal, NBC News, 7/28).

    • Roche on Wednesday announced that its rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra failed as a Covid-19 treatment during a late-stage trial. The 452-patient trial tested the drug's potential effectiveness in patients hospitalized with severe Covid-19-related pneumonia and found that the medication "did not meet its primary end-point of improved clinical status in patients with Covid-19 … or the key secondary end-point of reduced patient mortality" (Revill, Reuters, 7/29).

    • Young children infected with the coronavirus may have anywhere from 10 to 100 times the amount of viral RNA in their nose and throat as do infected adults, according to a small new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Taylor Heald-Sargent, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children's and lead researcher on the study, said the findings "suppor[t] the idea that children are able to get infected and replicate virus and therefore shed and transmit the virus just as much as older children and adults," although she said further research was needed. Nonetheless, the researchers said the findings should factor in to any discussions about reopening schools in the fall (Mandavilli, New York Times, 7/31; Edwards, NBC, 7/31).

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