COVID-19: AstraZeneca, Moderna leading vaccine race, says WHO

Agencies
June 27, 2020

After admitting that the world may have a COVID-19 vaccine within one year or even a few months earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday said that UK-based AstraZeneca is leading the vaccine race while US-based pharmaceutical major Moderna is not far behind.

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan stated that the AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine candidate is the most advanced vaccine currently in terms of development.

"I think AstraZeneca certainly has a more global scope at the moment in terms of where they are doing and planning their vaccine trials," she told the media.

AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by researchers from the Oxford University will likely provide protection against the disease for one year, the British drug maker's CEO told Belgian radio station Bel RTL this month.

The Oxford University last month announced the start of a Phase II/III UK trial of the vaccine, named AZD1222 (formerly known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19), in about 10,000 adult volunteers. Other late-stage trials are due to begin in a number of countries.

Last week, Swaminathan had said that nearly 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be ready by the end of next year.

Addressing the media from Geneva, she said that "at the moment, we do not have a proven vaccine but if we are lucky, there will be one or two successful candidates before the end of this year" and 2 billion doses by the end of next year.

Scientists predict that the world may have a COVID-19 vaccine within one year or even a few months earlier, said the Director-General of the World Health Organization even as he underlined the importance of global cooperation to develop, manufacture and distribute the vaccines.

However, making the vaccine available and distributing it to all will be a challenge and will require political will, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday during a meeting with the European Parliament's Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

One option would be to give the vaccine only to those who are most vulnerable to the virus.

There are currently over 100 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of development.

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Agencies
June 14,2021

The highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has mutated further to form the ‘Delta plus’ or ‘AY.1’ variant but there is no immediate cause for concern in India as its incidence in the country is still low, scientists said.

The new Delta plus variant has been formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India and one of the drivers of the deadly second wave. Though there is no indication yet of the severity of the disease due to the new variant, Delta plus is resistant to the monoclonal antibody cocktail treatment for Covid-19 recently authorised in India.

“One of the emerging variants is B.1.617.2.1 also known as AY.1 characterized by the acquisition of K417N mutation,” Vinod Scaria, clinician and scientist at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), tweeted on Sunday.  

The mutation, he said, is in the spike protein of SARS-COV-2, which helps the virus enter and infect the human cells.  

According to Public Health England, 63 genomes of Delta (B.1.617.2) with the new K417N mutation have been identified so far on the global science initiative GISAID.  

In its latest report on coronavirus variants, updated till last Friday, the health agency said Delta plus was present in six genomes from India as of June 7.  

“The variant frequency for K417N is not much in India at this point in time. The sequences are mostly from Europe, Asia and America,” Scaria wrote on Twitter.  

The earliest sequence of this genome was found in Europe in late March this year.  

Noting that the travel histories for the variant are not readily available to make assumptions, Scaria said an important point to consider regarding K417N is the “evidence suggesting resistance to monoclonal antibodies Casirivimab and Imdevimab”.

This cocktail recently received emergency-use authorization in the country from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. Drug majors Roche India and Ciplas have priced the antibody cocktail at a steep Rs 59,750 per dose.  

Similar to antibodies which are proteins that the body naturally produces to defend itself against the disease, monoclonal antibodies are artificially created in a lab and tailor-made to fight the disease they treat.  

Casirivimab and Imdevimab are monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, and designed to block the virus' attachment and entry into human cells.  

Scaria also indicated the mutation may be associated with the ability to escape the immune response against the virus.

Allaying fears, immunologist Vineeta Bal noted that while there may be some setback in the use of commercial antibody cocktail due to the new variant, resistance to the therapy is not an indication of higher virulence or severity of a disease.  

“How transmissible this new variant is will be a crucial factor to determine its rapid spread or otherwise,” Bal, guest faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, told PTI.  

She also noted that the quality and quantity of neutralising antibodies, responsible for defending cells from pathogens, generated in the individual infected with the new variant is unlikely to be affected because of the mutation.  

“Thus in individuals catching infection with the new variant, it may not be a matter worth worrying,” she added. 

Pulmonologist and medical researcher Anurag Agrawal concurred.  

“There is no cause of concern due to the new variant in India as of now,” Agrawal, the director of CSIR-IGIB, told PTI.

The scientist said the blood plasma from many fully vaccinated individuals will have to be tested against this variant to determine whether it shows any significant immune escape.  As the Delta variant continues to evolve and acquire new mutations, there is a lot of interest in understanding its evolution. He said SARS-CoV-2 has a nearly constant rate of acquiring genetic variants, and each variant has acquired additional variants in a stepwise fashion.

“Understanding this continued evolution is of great importance in mapping the evolutionary landscape of emerging variants. Largely the virus has tried to optimise for transmission and immune escape by step-wise acquisition of new mutations,” he added 

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News Network
June 17,2021

Myopia is on the rise. In the UK, the number of children with myopia has doubled in the last 50 years. Globally, it’s projected that by 2050 half of the world’s population will be myopic.

Although myopia – also known as near-sightedness or short-sightedness – can run in families, environmental factors, such as spending too much time indoors have a large influence.

For most people, myopia develops from a mixture of both genetics and environmental factors. But while evidence shows that modern lifestyle factors contribute to myopia, scientists still aren’t entirely sure why.

For instance, research shows that the amount of time a child spends outdoors can play a significant role in their risk of developing myopia.

Not only do most studies show that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia, studies requiring children to spend extra time outdoors during school hours have shown the rate of myopia onset decreased compared with children who didn’t spend additional time outdoors.

But researchers still aren’t quite sure why this is the case. One theory is that the higher levels of light outdoors releases more dopamine into our retinal receptors (the nerves that process light signals in the eye), thus protecting against myopia.

Another suggestion is that the greater amount of physical activity children typically get outdoors prevents myopia. But studies have now shown that this has little effect.

It’s also been suggested that the different patterns and details we see in outdoor versus indoor spaces might explain the increase in myopia.

For example, one study suggests that the abundance of plain features and walls in indoor environments is to blame. This may also be why myopia tends to be more common in urban areas, however, more research is needed to understand this.

Modern lifestyles

Nevertheless, modern lifestyles often require us to spend a lot of our time indoors. For example, children are spending longer in formal education thanks to increases in school leaving age and more people pursuing higher education, which evidence suggests can cause myopia.

Yet what aspects of formalised education are causing increases in myopia is still unknown. Prolonged reading, learning at close distances, time spent indoors and increased screen use might all be to blame.

While one study suggests reading at a distance closer than 25cm may be a risk for developing myopia, reading probably only has a small effect on developing myopia.

The effect of greater screen use on myopia in children also has mixed results – probably because estimating screen use and controlling it in a long-term experiment is difficult. Regardless, further research is needed to understand whether excessive screen use is to blame for higher rates of myopia, and why this is the case.

Given the risk factors for developing myopia, there are also concerns now that stay-at-home orders and home learning during the pandemic may have worsened children’s eyesight.

Although there has been no study yet looking at the effect on children in the UK, early results elsewhere suggest that the pandemic may cause more children to develop myopia – but it’s anticipated the effects will be small. Whether the pandemic will have caused permanent increases in myopia is also yet to be seen.

Currently, the best advice for limiting the risk of developing myopia is to increase time spent outdoors, even by 40 minutes a day. 
 

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