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AstraZeneca opens research center as UK builds science hub

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Prince Charles will be on hand Tuesday when pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca opens a 1 billion-pound ($1.34 billion) research center near the University of Cambridge, hoping to build on work in developing one of the first COVID-19 vaccines.

The 19,000 square-meter (more than 200,000 square-foot) complex will house more than 2,200 research scientists. It joins a cluster of businesses seeking to make Cambridge a hub for life sciences research similar to what California’s Silicon Valley is for the technology industry.

“Our ambition today is to not only unveil a building, but to also drive the next wave of scientific innovation,” CEO Pascal Soriot said in a statement.

The Cambridge life sciences cluster includes 631 companies that employ almost 21,000 people and generate annual revenue of 7 billion pounds, according to Cambridge Ahead, which promotes business development in the city.

AstraZeneca worked with Oxford University to develop one of the first COVID-19 vaccines approved by regulators in the U.K., European Union and other countries. The vaccine is widely used in developing nations because AstraZeneca has pledged to keep costs down by selling it to low- and middle-income countries on a non-profit basis.

AstraZeneca also plans to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the vaccine.


LONDON (AP)

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Why BioTech is important

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Biotechnology has many advantages including helping improve food quality, quantity, and processing, as well as also has having functions in manufacturing, where simple cells and proteins can be manipulated to produce chemicals.

The source of biotechnology comes from the fact that technology aims to create tools to empower humans, aiming to change humans themselves to better fit them to the world. Also, Biotechnology is the application of advances made in the biological sciences, especially involving the science of genetics and its application.

Its implications in health and medicine gives the importance of Biotechnology, by having scientists being able through genetic engineering, which is the controlled alteration of genetic material, to create new medicines, including interferon for cancer patients, synthetic human growth hormone and synthetic insulin, among others.

As such, the significance of biotechnology is shown by having scientists use the tools of biotechnology to manipulate cells with increasing control, from precision editing of DNA to synthesizing entire genomes from their basic chemical building blocks. These cells could go on to become bomb-sniffing plants, miracle cancer drugs, or ‘de-extinct’ wooly mammoths, and biotechnology may be a crucial ally in the fight against climate change according to the Future of Life Institute.

“The impact of biotech is huge on people’s lives, having the majority of the food we eat coming from engineered plants, which are modified – either via modern technology or by more traditional artificial selection – to grow without pesticides, to require fewer nutrients, or to withstand the rapidly changing climate,” the institute added.

“Manufacturers have substituted petroleum-based ingredients with biomaterials in many consumer goods, such as plastics, cosmetics, and fuels. Your laundry detergent? It almost certainly contains biotechnology. So do nearly all of your cotton clothes,” it noted.

Even so, biotech is present in our detailed lives, helping us in every way possible, such as the assistance to prenatal screening and home pregnancy test, in addition to immunizations and antibiotics, which improved life expectancy. Also, biotechnology is the main reason for many drugs that heal diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

On the other hand, biotechnology has its own disadvantages and consequences for the fact that microbes are tiny and difficult to detect, however the dangers are enormous. Further, engineered cells could divide on their own and spread in the wild, with the possibility of far-reaching consequences.

The unintended consequences of benign research or the purposeful manipulation of biology to cause harm, are factors that prove that biotechnology can be harmful.

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iSTAR gains European approval for implant for glaucoma surgery

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While glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness affecting around 100 million people worldwide, iSTAR Medical, a Belgium-based medtech company pioneering novel minimally-invasive implants for glaucoma surgery (MIGS), announced Wednesday, that its breakthrough MIGS device, MINIject™, has been approved in Europe for open-angle glaucoma patients.

As such, MINIject enables more patients to be effectively treated with MIGS because of its powerful and sustained performance combined with an excellent safety profile.

In addition, it represents the most promising and fastest-growing glaucoma therapy, due to its enhanced safety profile compared to traditional surgery. Studies by iSTAR Medical across four trials in over 150 patients, show that MINIject demonstrates a balance of powerful and sustained intra-ocular pressure (IOP) reduction with a positive safety profile.

“With today’s European approval, MINIject becomes the only commercially available MIGS device targeting the supraciliary space as a natural outflow pathway for IOP reduction,” Michel Vanbrabant, CEO of iSTAR Medical, said.

“This is a major milestone for iSTAR Medical and our mission to bring truly next-generation MIGS devices to the glaucoma community,” he noted. “I want to thank our team, our investors, and our medical partners for their continued belief in a safer and better way to manage glaucoma by targeting the supraciliary space, with an implant powered by our proprietary STAR material,” the CEO added.

Professor Dr. Burkhard Dick, head of the Department of Ophthalmology at University Eye Hospital Bochum, Germany, and one of the MINIject STAR-II trial investigators, treated the first patient with MINIject after European approval.

 Moreover, MINIject is being investigated in iSTAR Medical’s pivotal STAR-V study, which was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2021, the results of which will be instrumental to gain commercial access for MINIject in the U.S. market.

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EU regulator authorizes Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for kids 5-11

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The European Union’s drug regulator on Thursday authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use on children from 5 to 11 years old, clearing the way for shots to be administered to millions of elementary school pupils amid a new wave of infections sweeping across the continent.

It is the first time the European Medicines Agency has cleared a COVID-19 vaccine for use in young children.

The agency said it “recommended granting an extension of indication for the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11.”

After evaluating a study of the vaccine in more than 2,000 children, the EMA estimated that the vaccine was about 90% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in young children and said the most common side effects were pain at the injection site, headaches, muscle pain and chills. The agency said the two-dose regimen should be given to children three weeks apart.

At least one country facing spiking infections didn’t wait for the EMA approval. Authorities in the Austrian capital, Vienna, already have begun vaccinating the 5 to 11 age group. Europe is currently at the epicenter of the pandemic and the World Health Organization has warned the continent could see deaths top 2 million by the spring unless urgent measures are taken.

The EMA green light for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech has to be rubber-stamped by the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, before health authorities in member states can begin administering shots.

Earlier this week, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said shipping of vaccines for younger children in the EU would begin on Dec. 20.

The United States signed off on Pfizer’s kids-sized shots earlier this month, followed by other countries including Canada.

Pfizer tested a dose that is a third of the amount given to adults for elementary school-age children. Even with the smaller shot, children who are 5 to 11 years old developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength shots, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president, told The Associated Press in September.

But the studies done on Pfizer’s vaccine in children haven’t been big enough to detect any rare side effects from the second dose, like the chest and heart inflammation that has been seen in mostly male older teens and young adults.

American officials noted that COVID-19 has caused more deaths in children in the 5 to 11 age group than some other diseases, such as chickenpox, did before children were routinely vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the EMA said it began evaluating the use of Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 to 11; it estimated that a decision would be made within two months.

Although children mostly only get mild symptoms of COVID-19, some public health experts believe immunizing them should be a priority to reduce the virus’ continued spread, which could theoretically lead to the emergence of a dangerous new variant.

Researchers disagree on how much kids have influenced the course of the pandemic. Early research suggested they didn’t contribute much to viral spread. But some experts say children played a significant role this year spreading contagious variants such as alpha and delta.

In a statement this week, WHO said that because children and teens tend to have milder COVID-19 disease than adults, “it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers.”

It has appealed to rich countries to stop immunizing children and asked them to donate their doses immediately to poor countries who have yet to give a first vaccine dose to their health workers and vulnerable populations.

Still, WHO acknowledged that there are benefits to vaccinating children and adolescents that go beyond the immediate health benefits.

“Vaccination that decreases COVID transmission in this age group may reduce transmission from children and adolescents to older adults, and may help reduce the need for mitigation measures in schools,” WHO said.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP)

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