May 7, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: Pfizer begins human trials for potential coronavirus vaccine

Daily Briefing

    NIH announces study to determine the Covid-19 rate among children, CDC launches a federal initiative to study the new coronavirus' genome, and more.

    • Saliva samples are just as effective for detecting the novel coronavirus as samples taken from nose swabs, according to a study by a team of Yale University researchers published last week via medRxiv. The researchers started testing saliva samples for the new coronavirus when the U.S. supply of nasopharyngeal swabs, which are the most common tool currently used for collecting specimens for coronavirus tests, started to run low. The researchers said the study found that, not only were the saliva samples just as effective as samples collected with nasopharyngeal swabs, but some data indicated the saliva samples could be better at detecting the virus. The study has not yet been peer reviewed (Cohen et al., Wall Street Journal, 5/1).
    • CDC on Thursday announced a federal initiative to research the new coronavirus' genome in order to better track the virus' spread, support efforts to develop vaccines against the virus, and help to identify treatments for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Under the initiative, 75 U.S. institutions will collaborate to study the virus' genome and publicly share information on their findings (Fink, New York Times, 4/30; Pitofsky, The Hill, 5/1).
    • Roche on Sunday announced that it received an emergency use authorization (EAU) from FDA for its coronavirus antibody test. Roche said the test has a 100% accuracy rate for detecting antibodies for the new coronavirus and a .2% false-positive rate, meaning the test is more than 99% accurate at identifying the antibodies' presence. Thomas Schinecker, who heads Roche's diagnostics business, said the test can reliably detect the antibodies from a blood sample drawn at least 14 days after a person was infected with the new coronavirus (Roland, Wall Street Journal, 5/3).
    • Researchers have developed an antibody that can neutralize the new coronavirus in a lab setting, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers said the antibody, called 47D11, attacks a protein that gives the new coronavirus its crown shape—which is what helps the virus enter human cells. The researchers said additional studies are needed to determine whether their experiment would show the same results in a clinical setting, but they added that the antibody could potentially be used to prevent or treat Covid-19 in the future (Loh, Bloomberg, 5/4).
    • Global leaders on Monday contributed to an initiative to raise $8 billion to fund laboratories that are developing a vaccine against the new coronavirus. During an online fundraising conference, leaders from countries around the world—including Australia, Canada, and Japan—offered a contribution on their nation's behalf. The European Commission, which spearheaded the effort, said it will donate the money to labs around the world over the next two years. The United States did not contribute to the fund (Gridneff/Jakes, New York Times, 5/4; Emmott/Guarascio, Reuters, 5/4).
    • NIH on Monday announced it is starting a study to determine the Covid-19 rate among children in the United States. The study seeks to identify how many children infected with the new coronavirus go on to develop symptoms of Covid-19. The study also will seek to detect differences in the rates of infection between children with asthma and allergic conditions and children who do not have such conditions. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the study will help researchers determine if the low rate of Covid-19 cases among children stems from children being less likely to develop Covid-19 or from children being resistant to the virus (Chander, Reuters, 5/4).
    • A team of researchers on Tuesday announced that they have developed a test that uses the gene-editing tool CRISPR to detect coronavirus particles in a saliva sample or nose swab. The researchers—led by Feng Zhang, a biologist at the McGovern Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Broad Institute—said the test can accurately detect as few as 100 particles of the virus within about one hour. The testing technique also requires only one test tube and does not use any chemicals or reagents, which are currently in low supply in the United States. The researchers hope to receive an EAU from FDA for the test (Begley, STAT News, 5/2; Zimmer, New York Times, 5/5).
    • Pfizer on Monday started a U.S. trial to test its experimental vaccine against the new coronavirus vaccine. Pfizer developed the vaccine, known as the mRNA vaccine, in partnership with BioNTech. The vaccine is meant to produce proteins in the body that can trigger an immune response to combat the new coronavirus in people who contract the virus. The trial will involve 360 volunteers, some of whom have already received the vaccine. Pfizer also will conduct a trial in Germany, which will involve about 200 participants. The drugmaker said it is testing multiple versions of the vaccine and will move forward with the version that produces the safest and strongest immune response (Palca, NPR, 5/5; Sheikh, New York Times, 5/5).
    • Humana on Tuesday announced it will waive the patients' shares of costs for primary care, telehealth, and behavioral health services for its 4.5 million Medicare Advantage members from May 1 through the end of 2020. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said the move will help members who delayed care because of financial strain caused by the country's Covid-19 epidemic, as well as medical practices that are struggling financially due to canceled patient visits (Tozzi, Bloomberg, 5/5; Murphy, Associated Press, 5/5).

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