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Coronavirus vaccine trials underway but outcome remains unclear

Mounir Jamil

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Coronavirus vaccine trials underway but outcome remains unclear

As coronavirus vaccine trials take place all over the world, scientists gather data to help maximize research potential and to ensure a more efficient, effective and ethical study design. Despite rigorous vaccine efforts however, the picture remains unclear.

In mid-May, Moderna a US biotech firm exposed the first data from a trial. Its coronavirus vaccine triggered an immune response in individuals, and has protected mice from the lung infections caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The results, which were announced in a press release, were translated as widely positive and caused stock prices to go up.

Other fast-tracked test for coronavirus vaccines indicate that they have prevented infections in the lungs of monkeys that were exposed to SARS-CoV-2, but not in other parts of the body. A vaccine that is being developed at the University of Oxford, has protected six monkeys from pneumonia, however, the animals’ noses fostered as much virus as those of unvaccinated monkeys.

Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, co-developed with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Maryland, began safety testing on humans at the beginning of March. The vaccine is constituted of mRNA instructions that build on the coronavirus’s spike protein, it causes human cells to churn out the foreign protein, and alters the immune system. Even though such RNA-based vaccines can be easily developed, none have been licensed anywhere in the world yet.

In a press release, Moderna also reported that 45 participants in the study that have received one or two doses of their vaccine have developed a strong immune response to the virus. Researchers have measured virus recognizing antibodies in 25 of the participants and have successfully detected levels close to or even higher than those that were found in the blood of individuals that fully recovered from the virus.

However, it is still not clear if their responses are enough to protect people from the virus, due to the fact Moderna hasn’t shared its data, claims Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine and says that he is not sure if this is actually a positive result. He refers to an earlier May 15 bioRxiv preprint3 showing that most who actually recovered from the virus without need for hospitalization did not produce high levels of the neutralizing antibody that prevents the virus from infecting cells. Moderna has measured the potent antibodies in eight different trial participants and revealed that their levels were similar to the patients who recovered.

Hotez also expressed his doubts regarding initial results of the Oxford study, that found that monkeys produced modest levels of neutralizing antibodies after being administered only one dose of the coronavirus vaccines. He says it seems that those numbers need to be significantly higher to afford protection. The vaccine is composed from a chimpanzee virus that has been genetically modified to produce a protein for the coronavirus. Hotez added that the coronavirus vaccines being developed by Sinovac Biotech in Beijing seem to have shown a more promising antibody response in macaque monkeys after they were administered three doses.

Sarah Gilbert, an Oxford vaccinologist has co-led the study alongside Vincent Munster, a virologist at NIAD’s labs in Hamilton Montana. Gilbert mentioned that the Oxford monkeys were administered a really high dose of the virus after receiving the vaccine. This could be reason why the vaccinated animals had just as much SARS-CoV-2 genetic materials located in their noses as the control animals, although the vaccinated monkeys didn’t develop any sign of pneumonia. By administering high doses, the test ensures that the animals will be infected with the virus, however it might not replicate natural infections.

Even though assessing the efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine is challenging, the most recent data focuses on safety, according to researchers. The monkeys vaccinated at Oxford and Sinovac did not develop an exacerbated disease post-infection, which was a key fear because an inactivated vaccine that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) manifested signs in macaques.

Moderna is set to begin phase II of the trial soon, which will involve 600 participants. It aims at beginning a phase III efficacy trial in July, to determine if Coronavirus vaccines are able to prevent disease in high-risk groups such as healthcare workers with underlying problems.

The team at Oxford have already enrolled over 1,000 participants for their UK trial. Some of the volunteers have received a placebo, allowing researchers to determine if the vaccine works in humans over the coming months. Gilbert says that the lack of problems present in the monkey study was very reassuring.

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MedTech

The future of virtual events post-pandemic

Adnan Kayyali

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future of virtual events

From virtual conferences hosting up to 10,000 people, to weekly meetups on a company or team level, the virtual communication space has seen a surge during the pandemic. What could the adoption and evolution of online communication tools mean for the future of virtual events?

The short answer? They will be there. Virtual events boast several advantages which companies and marketers will want to get hold of. In contrast, face-to-face events hold the same status. They are too different experiences, and as we will see, both have their place long after the virus subsides.

Let’s start with the advantages of hosting virtual events. Virtual events are incredibly versatile experiences, the kind of content you choose to show is limited only by the data transfer limit. Event planners can call speakers from halfway across the world to give a talk or attend a discussion.

Virtual events are also cheaper to organize, as no physical avenues are needed. Viewers can essentially browse the event content while listening to a discussion in another tab.

Companies with enough funds can supply their speakers with the equipment needed to hold a much higher production session or talk, including a microphone, face camera, and even a new modem. If not, most basic equipment will generally be good, and planners can test communications with the speakers beforehand.

The educational potential for such technology is pivotal in the 21st century and has so far contributed immensely to knowledge transfer during the pandemic and will likely continue to define the future of virtual events.

Medical professionals from all over the globe attended conferences and discussions to better understand COVID-19, and its lifesaving treatments. Virtual conferences and meetups were perhaps a key to maintaining communications and research initiatives across all industries in the past year.

In doing so, they have revealed their tools of greater influence.

One important aspect to consider in all fields is the data being acquired; with proper data gathering and customer journey tracking tools, companies can gain a substantial amount of quality insight into consumer behavior in any given industry; where the mouse curser goes, where the viewer’s attention is, and how much time they spend on a specific landing page.

Nevertheless, the human element of events will never be forgotten, and most business leaders predict that while virtual events take a new-found importance, physical gatherings have the ultimate advantage of human connection and relationship building.

Thus, the future of virtual events is certainly bright when employed properly.

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MedTech

The pandemic’s hidden digital divide

Mounir Jamil

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Digital Divide

The current pandemic has really opened our eyes to the importance of interconnectivity. Lockdowns, curfews, and quarantines helped us realize how our progress and prosperity is a function dependent upon one other, and we can clearly see this on an individual-micro level and on a group-macro level (companies, groups, governments).

The larger the company, the more complex the ecosystem of partners and their interdependence. Studies show that this is particularly true in developing countries where brewing beer sustains millions of livelihoods dependent on a fragmented and traditional trade such as corner shops, grocery stores and small retail.

Naturally, as a company grows larger, a more complex ecosystem of partners is required, but what about smaller micro retailers? The current pandemic has shed light on a critical weakness for small retailers. In most developed countries, the general consensus is that citizens enjoy high speed internet access therefore transitioning a business from brick-and-mortar to online seems relatively straightforward (with some training and practice). However, when we look at other countries where Wi-Fi is not as readily available, or when citizens have to walk lengthy distances to access Wi-Fi, that’s when you understand the daily impact of the digital divide.

As the pandemic continues, access to technology becomes another source of vulnerability and inequality as smaller retailers struggle to make the shift to digital, which only makes it harder for them to deliver across their value chain. Businesses that played vital roles in their communities are now unable to meet the growing demands online.

The pandemic has forced us to face the issue of the digital divide; while some might think we are all moving toward a digitally enabled future, the reality is that there are many communities across the world still falling behind. The issue of what needs to be done rests in the hands of governments and leaders worldwide to ensure that digital inclusion is extended to all citizens and disadvantaged groups.

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MedTech

UK to rollout first-round of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

Mounir Jamil

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Pfizer BioNtech

The British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recently gave the green light to rollout the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for commercial use in the UK.

The first batch of vaccines are already making their way to the UK, with 800,000 units expected in the coming days. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that the NHS will do its part in contacting people for the vaccine shot.

Based on vaccine storage requirements (-70°C), hospitals will be the first to receive supplies since they already have the correct storage facilities; the first round will likely take place in hospitals for care home staff, NHS staff and patients.

While the typical vaccine usually takes 10 years to be fully accepted, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was developed and introduced in just 10 months.

The UK has ordered enough units to vaccinate 20 million people – around 40 million doses in total. These doses will be given out as soon as they are made available by Pfizer in Belgium. The first round is expected next week, and “several millions” will be made available throughout December said Hancock. He also added that the majority of the rollout will take place next year.

The vaccine will be free, and it will not be mandatory. In addition, there are 3 ways of vaccinating citizens in the UK

  • Vaccination Centers
  • Hospitals
  • In the community, with general practitioners and pharmacists

As we speak, 50 hospitals are on stand-by and vaccination centers in venues like conference centers or sport stadiums are now being set up. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will hopefully mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

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