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Solving COVID: January 27, 2021


Our 'Solving COVID' newsletter is a weekly roundup of the latest scientific advancements being made against the coronavirus pandemic. It tracks developments in testing, treating, and vaccinating. To receive the newsletter every week, please enter your email below:




1. Biden administration orders another 200 million vaccine doses

The Biden administration has ordered another 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna, President Biden said Tuesday. Adding the new purchase to the 400 million doses already ordered, the U.S. should have enough vaccine to inoculate every American who wants a vaccine by the end of summer. "It will be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans to beat the pandemic," Biden said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 23.5 million doses had been administered in the U.S. as of Tuesday, with more than 3.4 million people fully vaccinated. Vaccine doses shipped to states are due to increase by 20 percent to 10 million per week, a Biden administration official said. Johnson & Johnson plans to release data on its single-dose vaccine, which soon could add to the supply. [NBC News, The Hill]

2. Inadequate immune responses force Merck to abandon COVID-19 vaccines

Merck is abandoning the development of its two COVID-19 vaccines after initial trials resulted in inadequate immune responses. Both vaccines produced lower levels of coronavirus antibodies than have been found in the blood of individuals who recovered from natural COVID-19 infections. In comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines produced antibody levels several times higher than natural infections. The unsuccessful trials are considered disappointing in large part because both Merck vaccines would have required just one dose. One of the two candidates, which uses the same virus as the one in Merck's successful Ebola vaccine, was being developed in partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which has said it will try to determine if using an oral or intranasal administration route will work better than the current intramuscular injection, though Merck has suggested it will turn its attention to COVID-19 therapeutics. [Stat News]

3. Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant

Moderna is working on a booster shot to ensure its vaccine is effective against the COVID-19 variant first found in South Africa. More transmissible variants of COVID-19 first appeared overseas last month, and have since been found in the U.S. While Moderna's vaccine was found effective against the more transmissible B117 variant first discovered in London, a study released Monday showed the vaccine saw a sixfold reduction in antibodies produced when used against the B1351 strain from South Africa. Moderna affirmed the antibodies produced with the vaccine "remain above levels that are expected to be protective" against either strain. But "as an insurance policy," the company is developing a booster shot for the South Africa-based strain, Moderna's chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks told The New York Times. [The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal]

4. Cancer drug is 27.5 times more effective at treating COVID-19 than remdesivir, study suggests

Researchers reported in the journal Science that a drug developed to fight multiple myeloma has proved 27.5 times more effective at treating COVID-19 than remdesivir in laboratory studies with infected human lung and kidney cells. The drug, Aplidin or Plitidepsin, was also effective at fighting COVID-19 in lab mice. Aplidin was developed in Spain from a tubular, plantlike marine animal called a sea squirt. It has gone through a Phase II trial against COVID-19 and is awaiting a Phase III trial. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, started exploring Aplidin's use as a treatment for COVID-19 in March. Instead of looking through databases of existing drugs to find one that targeted the virus, the UC San Francisco team sought out drugs that would protect key human proteins from being hijacked by the coronavirus. Experts not involved in the study said the research was promising but needed confirmation in human trials. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

5. Eli Lilly says trial showed its COVID-19 drug reduced hospitalizations

Eli Lilly announced Tuesday that its coronavirus drug bamlanivimab reduced hospitalizations for infected, high-risk patients by 70 percent in a large, late-stage trial. The drug was approved for emergency use last year by the Food and Drug Administration. It has been given to 125,000 high risk patients across the United States, including former President Donald Trump, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Trump's personal attorney. Eli Lilly said that 10 percent of the COVID-19 patients given a placebo in its trial wound up being hospitalized, compared to just 2 percent of those given bamlanivimab combined with another monoclonal antibody, etesevimab. None of the patients given the cocktail died, but eight given the placebo did. Patients given bamlanivimab alone also did well. [USA Today] Source: here I would also like to draw your attention to the Merck trial vaccine which has been halted due to a lack of efficacy. Merck is known for its vaccine production but it salient to remind everyone how difficult it is to produce a viable vaccine with efficacy and safety in mind. This is one of the first major candidate vaccines to be withdrawn from trials, a testament to the rigour to which this vaccine trial was subjected to. Fortunately, we have a choice of other effective and probably safe vaccines. The principal problems facing the World community is scaling up vaccine production already approved, and the logistics involved in trying to vaccinate as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. So it is important to have many vaccine candidates approved to allow accessibility. However, vaccine production is not without its own problems and glitches. Currently, there is an ongoing spat between the EU and AstraZeneca about their ‘perceived’ failure to deliver the number of vaccine doses ordered. The reasons for this are two fold: 1) in the first major vaccine roll out for the UK order, glitches in production needed to be rectified; this is normal in the production of any new drug or vaccine and 2) the bureaucracy of the EU delayed the ordering of the vaccine by 3 months after the UK.

My last comment in this section is to remind you that the world’s population has passed a grim mile stone of over 100 million recorded infections, and the UK has passed a mortality of COVID related deaths of 100,000.

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