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July 8, 2022

Covid-19 roundup: Here's what may cause long Covid 'brain fog'

Daily Briefing

    Researchers have developed a rapid Covid-19 test that can quickly identify variants, millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses are now being discarded, and more in this week's roundup of Covid-19 news.

    Case study: Recovery clinics for Covid-19 long-haulers

    • Millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses worldwide are now being discarded as demand continues to lag. According to the Wall Street Journal, Moderna recently discarded roughly 30 million vaccine doses after failing to find any purchasers. "We are now throwing doses in the garbage," said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel. "It's sad to say." In the United States, around 90.6 million, or 11.9% of all the vaccine doses delivered in the country, have been wasted, CDC data shows, with 12 million doses discarded since May. (Loftus, Wall Street Journal, 7/6)
    • Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a rapid Covid-19 test that can detect the specific variant an individual has been infected with in a matter of hours, Becker's Hospital Review reports. The test, which is called CoVarScan, analyzes eight regions of the coronavirus to detect small mutations that can differentiate the various variants. To evaluate the effectiveness of the test, the researchers ran it on more than 4,000 positive samples collected at UT Southwestern between April 2021 and February 2022 before validating the results with whole genome sequencing. Overall, they found the CoVarScan test returned similar accuracy to the gold standard process for identifying variant type. In the future, the researchers said they hope the test can be used to match treatments to specific variants, as well as help determine which variants are circulating in an area and if a new variant is emerging. Currently, Jeffrey SoRelle, a pathologist at UT Southwestern who helped develop the test, said he has a pending patent application for the test and plans to expand it to the commercial market at some point in the future. (Carbajal, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/6)
    • The World Health Organization (WHO) program for accelerating the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics will likely end in the fall, Politico reports. The program, which is called the ACT-Accelerator (ACT-A), was a joint project with WHO, global governments, and health organizations that aimed to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 supplies. One of the most prominent components of the ACT-A program was COVAX, and initiative that worked to distribute Covid-19 vaccines equitably worldwide. Now, with Covid-19 cases declining, ACT-A has only been able to secure funding from a few countries, including Canada, Germany, Norway, and Sweden, for the year, and representatives say that the program will likely fold in September. However, an ACT-A spokesperson said the support provided by the program will continue, albeit in a different form. "As the pandemic isn't over, ACT-A's work to enhance equitable access to COVID-19 tools will continue. As countries are moving from managing COVID-19 as an acute emergency to integration into longer-term disease control programs," the spokesperson said, noting that ACT-A was always expected to end in September. "In this context … work is underway to develop a plan to manage this transition." (Banco/Furlong, Politico, 7/6)
    • The presence of cytotoxic aggregated amyloid protein or peptides, which have been shown to contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, may also be behind "brain fog" and other neurological symptoms seen in long Covid, according to a new study published in Nature Communications. In the study, researchers found that protein fragments from the coronavirus built up and formed clumps in the brains, similar to what occurs with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's patients. These clumps were also found to be highly toxic to brain cells and could be the cause of the neurological symptoms associated with long Covid. According to Mirren Charnley, a postdoctoral researcher at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia and the study's lead author, these findings may help scientists develop new treatment plans for long Covid. "[I]f further studies are able to prove that the formation of these amyloids is causing long-COVID, then anti-amyloid drugs developed to treat Alzheimer's might be used to treat some of the neurological symptoms of long-COVID," Charnley said. (Jerusalem Post, 7/5; Charnley et al., Nature Communications, 6/13)
    • An experimental drug, sabizabulin, which was initially developed to treat cancer, was able to halve the risk of death for hospitalized Covid-19 patients according to a new study published in NEJM Evidence. Sabizabulin works by preventing cells from building microtubules, which help cells move materials between each other. In 2020, researchers at Veru, the company that developed the drug, tested it on the coronavirus, believing it could help prevent viral replication and potentially reduce life-threatening lung inflammation. For the study, 134 volunteers received sabizabulin while 70 volunteers received a placebo. All volunteers were hospitalized Covid-19 patients who were receiving oxygen or on a ventilator and had a high risk of dying from the disease. Overall, 45.1% of the placebo group died over the next 60 days while only 20.2% in the treatment did—a 55.2% reduction in the risk of death. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta who was not involved in the study, said the study's results look "super impressive," but cautioned that the trial was relatively small and larger studies should confirm the results. According to the New York Times, Veru has applied to FDA for emergency use authorization of sabizabulin in hospitalized Covid-19 patients. (Zimmer, New York Times, 7/6; Barnette et al., NEJM Evidence, 7/6)
    • Pfizer last week announced that it applied for full approval of its Covid-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid in high-risk individuals to FDA. According to The Hill, FDA initially granted emergency use authorization for the drug to treat mild-to-moderate Covid-19 in individuals over the age of 12 who are at high risk of severe illness. "As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and be highly unpredictable, we must remain vigilant in protecting those who are at greatest risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, as they remain vulnerable to potential hospitalization or even death," said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. According to Bourla, recent data on Paxlovid has "reinforced" the drug's importance as an oral treatment for Covid-19. Previously, data from Pfizer's Phase 2/3 studies found that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 88% among high-risk patients. (Choi, The Hill, 6/30)


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