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Pfizer and BioNTech develop vaccine candidate against COVID-19

Mounir Jamil

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U.S.-based biopharmaceutical company Pfizer announced Monday the initial analysis of their early Covid-19 vaccine trials that showed more than a 90 percent efficiency in preventing the disease among participants that had no evidence of prior infection.

The Pfizer vaccine has been tested on a pool of 43,500 people across six different countries, while not raising any safety concerns. Notably, many have highlighted the swiftness of the vaccine’s journey in development.

The candidate vaccine, which was developed by Pfizer and German drug-maker BioNTech, was the first to share data from their final third phase trials, as the pair disclosed a finite amount of information in a joint statement.

In attempts to rally up public confidence, following criticism from other researchers in the field, Pfizer and other companies took a step forward and released their trial blueprints, also known as protocols, that reveal confidential details about how they are evaluating the vaccine. 

The pharma giant is aiming to manufacture enough doses to immunize 15 million to 20 million people, with plans of roll-out as early as the end of 2020. According to numbers provided by the joint statement, the pair will supply 50 million doses by end of the year and approximately 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.

Every individual requires two doses spread out over a course of three weeks. 

Pfizer is looking to seek urgent Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval for emergency authorization of their two-dose vaccine later this month, after they have collected sufficient data from the two months safety period. 

The vaccine works by injecting part of coronavirus genetic code directly into the body to train the immune system. 

However, independent scientists warned against early excitement of the results before long-term safety and efficacy data have been collected. However, uncertainty looms over the length of the vaccine’s protection from COVID-19 over time.

Surprisingly, the data released by Pfizer earlier this week was done via press release, and not the traditional peer-reviewed medical journal which deemed it inconclusive in terms of safety and efficiency, while the initial findings of more than 90 percent efficacy may most probably change as the trial progresses.

Most experts say the world will need many treatments and vaccines to bring the pandemic to a halt.

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MedTech

Telemedicine to save healthcare industry $21 billion by 2025

Inside Telecom Staff

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telemedicine

It is without a shadow of a doubt that telemedicine was the champion of the health technology sector during the pandemic, allowing patients the ability to receive consultations and treatments by their doctors without the need for in-person appointments.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a tidal wave of technological acceleration across all forms of the tech sphere, with telemedicine leading the line from 2020’s $14.8 billion investments in digital health fundraising, according to a report by Mercom Capital Group.

The report highlighted that while equity investments in telemedicine rose 139 percent to $4.3 billion, other areas like data analytics and mobile health apps also earned strong support from investors.

But while news over MedTech investments took over headlines – telemedicine was also categorized as one of the most cost-effective technologies for the healthcare industry as it is set to save $21 billion globally by 2025, driven by teleconsultation services and rising from $11 billion in 2021, a new report by Juniper Research stressed.

This represents a growth rate of over 80 percent in the next four years. The concept of telemedicine involves the remote provision of healthcare services and includes technologies such as teleconsultations, remote patient monitoring and chatbots.

The research identified teleconsultations, a service that enables patients and physicians to interact remotely, as a key service that will enable these significant savings. “However, it cautioned that savings would be restricted to developed nations where access to required devices and Internet connectivity is prevalent,” the report noted.

As a result, it predicted that over 80 percent of savings will be attributable to North America and Europe by 2025.

Deregulation of telemedicine

The new report, Telemedicine: Emerging Technologies, Regional Readiness & Market Forecasts 2021 2025, estimated that over 280 million teleconsultations were performed in 2019. However, this rose to 348 million in 2020, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It anticipated that the activities of third-party healthcare service developers will be crucial in accelerating the deployment of emerging telemedicine services and increasing the uptake amongst healthcare providers.

However, the report predicted that the significant investment into integrating telemedicine services, and the requirement of data protection, such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in the US, will discourage adoption amongst smaller healthcare providers.

To foster the adoption of telemedicine services, the report recommended that healthcare regulatory bodies continue to deregulate telemedicine services to minimize any remaining barriers to entry for smaller healthcare providers.

“Any deregulation must ensure that patient confidentiality is not undermined. Additionally, we recommend that innovative and emerging teleconsultation services are integrated into existing healthcare technologies, such as electronic health records, to maximize their benefits to healthcare providers,” research author, Adam Wears, remarked.

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Panel suggests WHO should have more power to stop pandemics

Associated Press

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A panel of independent experts who reviewed the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic says the U.N. health agency should be granted “guaranteed rights of access” in countries to investigate emerging outbreaks, a contentious idea that would give it more powers and require member states to give up some of theirs.

In a report released Wednesday, the panel faulted countries worldwide for their sluggish response to COVID-19, saying most waited to see how the virus was spreading until it was too late to contain it, leading to catastrophic results. The group also slammed the lack of global leadership and restrictive international health laws that “hindered” WHO’s response to the pandemic.

Some experts criticized the panel for failing to hold WHO and others accountable for their actions during COVID-19, describing that as “an abdication of responsibility.”

Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University said the panel “fails to call out bad actors like China, perpetuating the dysfunctional WHO tradition of diplomacy over frankness, transparency and accountability.”

The panel was led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who were tapped by WHO last year to examine the U.N. agency’s response to COVID-19 after bowing to a request from member countries.

“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” Johnson Sirleaf said.

Beyond the call to boost WHO’s ability to investigate outbreaks, the panel made an array of recommendations, such as urging the health agency and the World Trade Organization to convene a meeting of vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to quickly reach deals about voluntary licensing and technology transfer, in an effort to boost the world’s global supply of coronavirus shots.

The panel also suggested that WHO’s director-general — currently Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia — should be limited to a single seven-year term. As it stands, the WHO chief is elected to a five-year term that can be renewed once.

The suggestion to limit the tenure of WHO’s top leader appeared in part designed to ease the intense political pressure that WHO director-generals can face. Last year, the Trump administration repeatedly inveighed against the agency’s handling of the pandemic — taking aim at WHO’s alleged collusion with China.

An Associated Press investigation in June found WHO repeatedly lauded China in public while officials privately complained that Chinese officials stalled on sharing critical epidemic information with them, including the new virus’ genetic sequence.

Clark said the global diseases surveillance system needed to be overhauled — with WHO’s role strengthened.

“WHO should have the powers necessary to investigate outbreaks of concern, speedily guaranteed rights of access, and with the ability to publish information without waiting for member state approval,” she said.

Sophie Harman, a professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London, said the panel’s recommendations were unlikely to be entirely welcomed by WHO’s member countries, and thus, unlikely to be implemented.

“Which states would actually allow WHO in to investigate an outbreak without their permission?” she asked.

Many doctors fatigued after treating COVID-19 patients said any reform of WHO should include an evaluation of its ability to properly assess the science of an emerging health threat.

David Tomlinson, a British physician who has been campaigning for health workers during the pandemic in the U.K., said WHO “failed on the most fundamental aspect” in its scientific leadership of COVID-19. He said WHO’s failure to acknowledge that much coronavirus transmission happens in the air has “amplified the pandemic.”

WHO has said coronavirus spread can happen in limited circumstances in the air but recommended against mask-wearing for the general public until last June.

Clare Wenham, a professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, said the report overall was good, but questioned its support for the U.N.-backed program for coronavirus vaccines called COVAX, which relies on a “donation” model. Of the millions of COVID-19 vaccines administered to date, developing countries have received just 7%, WHO said this week.

“(COVAX) is not addressing one of the main problems, which is we need to rapidly ramp up production of the vaccines and distribution of vaccines,” she said. “And it’s still working on the model of a finite number that’s only able be produced by a certain few manufacturing locations.”

Overall, she suggested politicians needed to budge more than technical institutions like WHO.

“The problems aren’t technical. The problems are political. The problems are about like: How do you get governments to behave and think about things beyond their own borders?” Wenham said. “I don’t think that has been resolved.”


GENEVA (AP) — By MARIA CHENG and JAMEY KEATEN Associated Press.

AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng reported from London.

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AI-powered tech offers music for anxiety and pain

Karim Husami

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AI-powered tech

British health tech start-up MediMusic has created an app and a streaming device called the MediBeat that dispenses personalized playlists to reduce anxiety and pain in patients using a ‘digital drip’ to administer the most calming music.

As such, patients could soon be prescribed soothing music selected by artificial intelligence (AI) to ease anxiety and pain, after an encouraging trial of a Hull health tech start-up’s new app.

The AI-powered tech could be used in treatment of dementia, pre/post operation, chronic pain, dentistry, and Alzheimer’s Disease through to improving motor response as part of a physical rehabilitation program.

Initial clinical NHS trials at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, found the use of MediMusic saw an up to 22 percent reduction in heart rate in patients with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can also be used in hospitals, care homes and dentist surgeries.

So how does the app work?

According to a nationwide NHS Staff Survey with nearly 600,000 responses, almost half of NHS staff in England (44 percent) have reported feeling unwell from work related stress during 2020, the highest rate recorded in the past five years.

The MediMusic app works with the patient’s age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity and based on sociological and psychological science, it then compiles in seconds the 20-minute playlist of soothing music to calm them.

Playlist running order is designed to reduce heart rate and stress hormones like cortisol and promotes relaxation through hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. The music is played through earphones and the MediBeat streaming device and a heart rate monitor worn on the wrist.

Dr Jacqueline Twamley, academic research and innovation manager at the Centre for Health Research & Innovation at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “The results have been very impressive. We used MediMusic on 25 patients suffering from dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. One 75-year-old patient had vascular dementia and was known to have sundowning behaviour, which presents as agitation.”

“The initial findings are so positive that we’re now looking at how it can help ease anxiety and stress in doctors and nurses working in critical care on the frontline of caring for COVID patients,” he added.

Music therapy has already been proven in several previous studies to reduce anxiety by 44 percent and pain by 28 percent. This has resulted in a reduction in the need for relevant medication by 24 percent.

The brain responds to music more than any other stimulus. MediMusic’s algorithms extract the relevant features from the digital DNA of a piece of music, resulting in a fingerprint for healthcare use.

Using AI, machine learning (ML) and the data about the patient, the AI-powered tech then automatically creates playlists from music streaming services within a couple of clicks and plays the music through a streaming device called the MediBeat and a pair of headphones.

Gary Jones, CEO and co-founder of MediMusic said: “We’ve always felt the music can soothe our soul but now we have compelling evidence that it can help our mind and body too. With MediMusic, we’ve managed to digitally fingerprint the DNA of music so we can prescribe the right type of music as medicine.”

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