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In COVID-19 vaccine race, Hungarian village firm takes global role – Reuters

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SZIRAK, Hungary (Reuters) – In an unassuming house in rolling hills east of the Hungarian capital, a small family firm is helping oil the wheels of the world’s big pharmaceutical companies on the path to a coronavirus vaccine.

Hungarian biologists Alexandra Torok and Noemi Lukacs check the purity of an antibody, a genetic sensor of sorts, manufactured by a small family company and sold to the largest pharmaceutical companies in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, in Szirak, Hungary, November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Biologist Noemi Lukacs, 71, retired to Szirak, her birth village, to establish English & Scientific Consulting (SciCons) and manufacture a genetic sensor so sensitive that a few grams can supply the entire global industry for a year.

“We produce monoclonal antibodies,” Lukacs told Reuters in the single-storey house where she was born, now partly converted into a world-class laboratory. The white powder ships worldwide from here, micrograms at a time.

“These antibodies recognise double-stranded RNA (dsRNA),” she explained. DsRNA is a byproduct of viruses replicating, so its presence signals the presence of a live virus, long useful in virus-related research.

More importantly, dsRNA is also a byproduct of the process used by U.S. giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech to create their experimental COVID-19 vaccine which is more than 90% effective according to initial trial results last week.

And because dsRNA can be harmful to human cells, it has to be filtered out from any vaccine to be used in humans. Several filtering methods exist, but the most widely used way to do quality control is to expose the vaccine to Lukacs’ antibodies.

Not only will the antibodies show if there is any dsRNA in the vaccine, they will also tell researchers how much of it is present. Only once completely freed from dsRNA can the vaccine be administered.

The result: a line of big pharma representatives outside her door.

The small company is growing rapidly, yet its revenue was only 124 million forints (just over $400,000) last year, with profits at 52 million forints. That feeds five employees and even leaves some for local charity projects in Szirak.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

To Lukacs, that is just fine. The success of the RNA field, long frowned upon, is vindication enough.

DOG IN THE RACE

The former university professor followed the race to the vaccine closely and rooted especially for the contestants who look set to come first: those using modified RNA to train cells of the human body to recognise and kill the coronavirus. The RNA was her dog in the race.

The modified RNA, or mRNA, methodology is a whole new group of drugs, with the COVID vaccine the first product likely to get regulatory approval and go into mass production. But more applications are expected, which has Lukacs overjoyed.

“Once you get into the RNA field, it is an extremely exciting area,” she said, recalling decades of struggles when the rest of the scientific community did not share her excitement.

Or most of the rest, that is. Another Hungarian woman, Katalin Kariko, working across the Atlantic, patented the method that enables the use of RNA and promises to free the world not only of the coronavirus but scores of other diseases.

In the process, Kariko – now the Vice President of Germany’s BioNTech, which was first alongside U.S. giant Pfizer to break through with a vaccine earlier this month – became an early SciCons customer.

The COVID breakthrough and other RNA uses may necessitate more use of Lukacs’s antibodies as well, but they do not anticipate much of a boon.

“We would be happy to sell more of it,” said Johanna Symmons, her daughter and the small company’s chief executive. “We probably will too. But it’s not like we’ll get silly rich.”

Being part of the solution reaps its own rewards.

“We have cooperated with most vaccine manufacturers, and certainly almost all of the ones using the mRNA method,” she said with a hint of pride. “We have been a small screw in this large machine.”

Reporting by Marton Dunai @mdunai; Editing by Christina Fincher

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COVID-19 concerns raised after video shows crowding at Chinook Centre – Calgary Herald

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Alberta is in the midst of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, having recorded more than 1,000 new infections daily in the last 10 days, including a record 1,731 cases reported Saturday.

The Alberta government released a series of new measures Tuesday meant to combat rising case counts, including at businesses.

According to Alberta Health, retail businesses within malls, as well as the malls themselves, are allowed to remain open with capacity limited to 25 per cent of their fire code occupancy.

It’s the responsibility of mall owners to ensure a process is in place to meet that capacity limit, the province said.

In a statement Saturday, Cadillac Fairview, the company which owns and operates Chinook Centre, said it has worked to combat crowding in the wake of government restrictions.

“The health and safety of our community of guests, clients and employees is our primary concern, and we continue to follow guidance from all levels of government and public health officials,” the company said.

“Regarding the Province of Alberta’s new restrictions for shopping centres, we have been actively monitoring capacity levels throughout the holiday shopping season.”

A Calgary police representative reached Saturday said officers attended the mall Friday and escorted a group of patrons out of the building.

No charges were laid, as police said the focus was on public safety and education, but they added that if the same individuals were to crowd the mall again, fines would be given. Officers maintained a presence at the mall Saturday.

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The SHA Releases The November 28th COVID-19 Update – SwiftCurrentOnline.com

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  1. The SHA Releases The November 28th COVID-19 Update  SwiftCurrentOnline.com
  2. Latest COVID update Nov. 28: 1 death, 197 new cases  CKOM News Talk Sports
  3. COVID-19 in Sask.: 1 more death, 197 new cases announced Saturday  CBC.ca
  4. Sask. reports 1 more coronavirus death, 197 new cases  CTV News
  5. One new COVID-19 death reported, the eighth since Nov. 25  paNOW
  6. View Full coverage on Google News



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Coronavirus: Support for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is falling in Canada says Ipsos poll – Global News

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  1. Coronavirus: Support for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is falling in Canada says Ipsos poll  Global News
  2. What happens if someone refuses vaccination? Ethicists urge clarity on COVID-19 rollout  CTV News
  3. Senior military commander to lead Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution  CBC News: The National
  4. U.K. poised to approve Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine next week: report  Global News
  5. UK to Approve BioNTech-Pfizer Covid Vaccine Within Days: FT  BNN
  6. View Full coverage on Google News



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