Pfizer, BioNTech experimental COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in early trial: Study

Agencies
July 2,2020

The American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and the European biotechnology company BioNTech SE have conducted an experimental trial of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate and found it to be safe, well-tolerated, and capable of generating antibodies in the patients.

The study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, describes the preliminary clinical data for the candidate vaccine -- nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA), BNT162b1.

It said the amount of antibodies produced in participants after they received two shots of the vaccine candidate was greater than that reported in patients receiving convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.

"I was glad to see Pfizer put up their phase 1 trial data today. Virus neutralizing antibody titers achieved after two doses are greater than convalescent antibody titers," tweeted Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist from Baylor College of Medicine in the US, who was unrelated to the study.

Researchers, including those from New York University in the US, who were involved in the study, said the candidate vaccine enables human cells to produce an optimised version of the receptor binding domain (RBD) antigen -- a part of the spike (S) protein of SARS-CoV-2 which it uses to gain entry into human cells.

"Robust immunogenicity was observed after vaccination with BNT162b1," the scientists noted in the study.

They said the program is evaluating at least four experimental vaccines, each of which represents a unique combination of mRNA format and target component of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Based on the study's findings, they said BNT162b1 could be administered in a quantity that was well tolerated, potentially generating a dose dependent production of immune system molecules in the patients.

The research noted that patients treated with the vaccine candidate produced nearly 1.8 to 2.8 fold greater levels of RBD-binding antibodies that could neutralise SARS-CoV-2.

"We are encouraged by the clinical data of BNT162b1, one of four mRNA constructs we are evaluating clinically, and for which we have positive, preliminary, topline findings," said Kathrin U. Jansen, study co-author and Senior Vice President and Head of Vaccine Research & Development, Pfizer.

"We look forward to publishing our clinical data in a peer-reviewed journal as quickly as possible," Jansen said.

According to Ugur Sahin, CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech, and another co-author of the study, the preliminary data are encouraging as they provide an initial signal that BNT162b1 is able to produce neutralising antibody responses in humans.

He said the immune response observed in the patients treated with the experimental vaccine are at, or above, the levels observed from convalescent sera, adding that it does so at "relatively low dose levels."

"We look forward to providing further data updates on BNT162b1," Sahin said.

According to a statement from Pfizer, the initial part of the study included 45 healthy adults 18 to 55 years of age.

It said the priliminary data for BNT162b1 was evaluated in 24 subjects who received two injections of 10 microgrammes ( g) and 30 g -- 12 subjects who received a single injection of 100 g, and 9 subjects who received two doses of a dummy vaccine.

The study noted that participants received two doses, 21 days apart, of placebo, 10 g or 30 g of BNT162b1, or received a single dose of 100 g of the vaccine candidate.

According to the scientists, the highest neutralising concentrations of antibodies were observed seven days after the second dose of 10 g, or 30 g on day 28 after vaccination.

They said the neutralising concentrations were 1.8- and 2.8-times that observed in a panel of 38 blood samples from people who had contracted the virus.

In all 24 subjects who received two vaccinations at 10 g and 30 g dose levels, elevation of RBD-binding antibody concentrations was observed after the second injection, the study noted.

It said these concentrations are 8- and 46.3-times the concentration seen in a panel of 38 blood samples from those infected with the novel coronavirus.

At the 10 g or 30 g dose levels, the scientists said adverse reactions, including low grade fever, were more common after the second dose than the first dose.

According to Pfizer, local reactions and systemic events after injection with 10 g and 30 g of BNT162b1 were "dose-dependent, generally mild to moderate, and transient."

It said the most commonly reported local reaction was injection site pain, which was mild to moderate, except in one of 12 subjects who received a 100 g dose, which was severe.

The study noted that there was no serious adverse events reported by the patients.

Citing the limitations of the research, the scientists said the immunity generated in the participants in the form of the T cells and B cells of their immune system, and the level of immunity needed to protect one from COVID-19 are unknown.

With these preliminary data, along with additional data being generated, Pfizer noted in the statement that the two companies will determine a dose level, and select among multiple vaccine candidates to seek to progress to a large, global safety and efficacy trial, which may involve up to 30,000 healthy participants if regulatory approval to proceed is received.

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First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing

Agencies
July 15,2020

The first COVID-19 vaccine tested in the US revved up people's immune systems just the way scientists had hoped, researchers reported Tuesday -- as the shots are poised to begin key final testing.

No matter how you slice this, this is good news, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert, told The Associated Press.

The experimental vaccine, developed by Fauci's colleagues at the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will start its most important step around July 27: A 30,000-person study to prove if the shots really are strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.

But Tuesday, researchers reported anxiously awaited findings from the first 45 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves back in March. Sure enough, the vaccine provided a hoped-for immune boost.

Those early volunteers developed what are called neutralizing antibodies in their bloodstream -- molecules key to blocking infection -- at levels comparable to those found in people who survived COVID-19, the research team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This is an essential building block that is needed to move forward with the trials that could actually determine whether the vaccine does protect against infection, said Dr. Lisa Jackson of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle, who led the study.

There's no guarantee but the government hopes to have results around the end of the year -- record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

The vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren't uncommon with other vaccines -- fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn't being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they're temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

Small price to pay for protection against COVID, said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn't involved with the study.

He called the early results a good first step, and is optimistic that final testing could deliver answers about whether it's really safe and effective by the beginning of next year.

It would be wonderful. But that assumes everything's working right on schedule, Schaffner cautioned.

Moderna's share price jumped nearly 15 percent in trading after US markets closed. Shares of the company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have nearly quadrupled this year.

Tuesday's results only included younger adults. The first-step testing later was expanded to include dozens of older adults, the age group most at risk from COVID-19.

Those results aren't public yet but regulators are evaluating them. Fauci said final testing will include older adults, as well as people with chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus and Black and Latino populations likewise affected.

Nearly two dozen possible COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of testing around the world. Candidates from China and Britain's Oxford University also are entering final testing stages.

The 30,000-person study will mark the world's largest study of a potential COVID-19 vaccine so far. And the NIH-developed shot isn't the only one set for such massive U.S. testing, crucial to spot rare side effects. The government plans similar large studies of the Oxford candidate and another by Johnson & Johnson; separately, Pfizer Inc. is planning its own huge study.

Already, people can start signing up to volunteer for the different studies.

People think this is a race for one winner. Me, I'm cheering every one of them on, said Fauci, who directs NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

We need multiple vaccines. We need vaccines for the world, not only for our own country. Around the world, governments are investing in stockpiles of hundreds of millions of doses of the different candidates, in hopes of speedily starting inoculations if any are proven to work.

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COVID-19 | Govt warns against use of N-95 masks with valved respirators

Agencies
July 21,2020

New Delhi, Jul 21: The Centre has written to all states and union territories warning against the use of N-95 masks with valved respirators by people, saying these do not prevent the virus from spreading out and are "detrimental" to the measures adopted for its containment.

The Director General of Health Services (DGHS) in the Ministry of Health, in a letter to the Principal Secretaries of health and medical education of states, said it has been observed that there is "inappropriate use" of N-95 masks, particularly those with valved respirators, by the public other than designated health workers.

The DGHS referred to the advisory on the use of homemade protective cover for face and mouth available on the website of the Ministry of Health.

"It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask. In view of the above, I request you to instruct all concerned to follow the use of face/mouth cover and prevent inappropriate use of N-95 masks," DGHS Rajiv Garg said in the letter.

The government had in April issued an advisory on the use of homemade protective cover for face and mouth, asking people to wear it, particularly when they step out of their residences.

The advisory stressed such face covers must be washed and cleaned each day, as instructed, and stated that any used cotton cloth can be used to make this face cover.

The colour of the fabric does not matter but one must ensure that the fabric is washed well in boiling water for five minutes and dried well before making the face cover. Adding salt to this water is recommended, it said.

It also listed the procedures of making such homemade masks, asking to ensure it fits the face well and there are no gaps on the sides.

It urges people to wash hands thoroughly before wearing the face cover, switching to another fresh one as the face cover becomes damp or humid, and never reusing it after single use without cleaning it.

"Never share the face cover with anyone. Every member in a family should have separate face cover," the advisory stated.

India's COVID-19 case tally crossed the 11-lakh mark on Monday, while the total number of recovered patients increased to over seven lakh, according to Union health ministry data.

The death toll due to the disease rose to 27,497 with 681 fatalities reported in one day.

The ministry data updated at 8 am on Monday showed that a record single-day jump of 40,425 COVID-19 cases had taken the total number of cases to 11,18,043.

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Physical stress on the job linked with brain, memory decline in older age: Study

Agencies
July 24,2020

Colorado, Jul 24: A new study has found that physical stress in one's job may be associated with faster brain ageing and poorer memory.

Aga Burzynska, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and her research team connected occupational survey responses with brain-imaging data from 99 cognitively normal older adults, age 60 to 79. They found that those who reported high levels of physical stress in their most recent job had smaller volumes in the hippocampus and performed poorer on memory tasks. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is critical for memory and is affected in both normal ageing and in dementia.

Their findings were published this summer in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience under the research topic 'Work and Brain Health Across the Lifespan.'

"We know that stress can accelerate physical ageing and is the risk factor for many chronic illnesses," Burzynska said. "But this is the first evidence that occupational stress can accelerate brain and cognitive ageing."

She added that it is important to understand how occupational exposures affect the ageing of our brains.

"An average American worker spends more than eight hours at work per weekday, and most people remain in the workforce for over 40 years," Burzynska said. "By pure volume, occupational exposures outweigh the time we spend on leisure social, cognitive and physical activities, which protect our ageing minds and brains."

Physical demands at work

Burzynska explained that the association between "physical stress" and brain/memory were driven by physical demands at work. These included excessive reaching, or lifting boxes onto shelves, not necessarily aerobic activity. This is important because earlier work by Burzynska and her colleagues showed that leisure aerobic exercise is beneficial for brain health and cognition, from children to very old adults. Therefore, the researchers controlled for the effects of leisure physical activity and exercise.

As expected, leisure physical activity was associated with greater hippocampal volume, but the negative association with physical demands at work persisted.

"This finding suggests that physical demands at work may have parallel yet opposing associations with brain health," Burzynska explained. "Most interventions for postponing cognitive decline focus on leisure, not on your job. It's kind of unknown territory, but maybe future research can help us make some tweaks to our work environment for long-term cognitive health."

She added that the results could have important implications for society.

"Caring for people with cognitive impairment is so costly, on economic, emotional and societal levels," Burzynska said. "If we can support brain health earlier, in middle-aged workers, it could have an enormous impact."

The researchers considered and corrected for several other factors that could be related to work environment, memory and hippocampus, such as age, gender, brain size, educational level, job title, years in the occupation and general psychological stress.

One piece of the puzzle

"The research on this topic is so fragmented," Burzynska said. "One previous study linked mid-life managerial experience with greater hippocampus volume in older age. Another showed that taxi drivers had larger hippocampi than a city's bus drivers, presumably due to the need to navigate. In our study, job complexity and psychological stress at work were not related to hippocampal volume and cognition. Clearly, our study is just one piece of the puzzle, and further research is needed."

The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data used for the study was collected at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign between 2011 and 2014.

CSU researchers now can collect MRI data with the new 3T scanner at the University's Translational Medicine Institute.

With this new capability, Burzynska, along with Michael Thomas and Lorann Stallones of CSU's Department of Psychology, is launching a new project, "Impact of Occupational Exposures and Hazards on Brain and Cognitive Health Among Aging Agricultural Workers," which will involve collecting MRI brain scans and identifying risk and protective factors that could help the agricultural community age successfully. The project recently obtained funding as an Emerging Issues Short-Term Project from the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU's College of Health and Human Sciences.

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