There may be another valuable shield in the fight against COVID-19, and the head of a Vancouver biotech firm says it could buy time as researchers race to develop a vaccine.
Carl Hansen, CEO of AbCellera Biologics Inc., said a drug built with antibodies could be used to protect vulnerable populations until a vaccine is more widely available.
The antibodies would give patients all the molecular material they need to fight the disease instead of depending on their bodies to develop their own as with a vaccine, giving them faster protection, he said.
“A prophylactic antibody could well be more effective than a vaccine,” he said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $175 million federal funding for AbCellera to support its work in discovering those antibodies using a high-tech platform.
The funding also supports the company’s plans to build technology and manufacturing infrastructure for antibody therapies against future pandemic threats.
In partnership with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, AbCellera is among a handful of companies on track for clinical trials this summer.
“There are many groups trying to rapidly develop vaccines for COVID-19 and vaccines are a very important part of the global response,” Hansen said.
“What we’re doing is different. What we’re doing is searching through an immune response that was generated from an actual infection and recovery in a patient and then finding that one antibody out of the literally millions that is best suited to stop the virus and that can be manufactured,” he said.
In 2012, Hansen said AbCellera recognized it could combine technologies from artificial intelligence, genomics, microfluidics and immunology to quickly search through natural immune systems to find antibodies that fight infection.
Two years ago, AbCellera began working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the United States as part of a program to “radically accelerate” pandemic response, Hansen said. The company was working on simulations using its antibody-identifying technology when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“We quickly pivoted our efforts,” Hansen said.
Using blood samples from one of the first recovered COVID-19 patients in the United States on Feb. 25, AbCellera began screening millions of cells.
It narrowed down 500 unique human antibodies against the virus to a set of 24 that showed high promise of being therapeutic, he said.
“More recently we have further refined that set to a single antibody that is now being manufactured with the objective of having a first in-human trial start in July,” Hansen said.
What typically takes up to five years has been accelerated to less than four months, he said.
Vaccines and antibody-based prevention drugs work differently. With a vaccine, you inject a patient with a weakened virus or part of a virus to stimulate the immune system’s natural production of antibodies. With a prophylactic antibody, you insert the antibodies into the patient, Hansen said.
There are benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, prophylactics create more immediate protection because there’s no waiting period for the body to create its own antibodies. It’s also more broadly effective, because not all patients’ immune systems may be up to the task of producing their own antibodies.
On the other hand, a substantial number of antibodies must be administered to the patient in order to protect them.
“What that means is that the ability to manufacture hundreds of millions or even a billion doses of a vaccine is something well within the realm of possibility today. Making that many doses of antibodies is not,” he said.
That would mean giving the antibody to select groups of people at risk, such as health workers or the elderly, Hansen said.
The World Health Organization recommends that pharmacological treatment for COVID-19 should not be used outside of clinical trials.
On April 27, British Columbia’s COVID-19 therapeutics committee issued the same warning.
“There are no proven therapies for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. All agents have the possibility of associated harm, and pharmaceutical supplies province-wide and nationally for many of the possible agents are severely limited,” it said.
For Hansen, research and development during the pandemic has not been business as usual.
“It’s not a race against our competitors nearly as much as it’s a race against the virus,” he said.
“What matters most is we get a therapy out there that works for patients and do so as quickly as possible.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2020.
COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry condemns anti-maskers, data correction, physical activity update, and more – The Georgia Straight
Tragically, B.C. has hit yet another new record number of deaths. In additon, the new case count remained high, and case numbers increased in other categories.
While there weren’t any new outbreaks, there were three stores and six flights with confirmed cases.
There were a number of updates, including updated physical activity guidelines and data corrections.
Although B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had announced on November 19 that all spin classes, high intensity interval training (HIIT), and hot yoga had to stop activity, B.C. health officials updated its guidelines for physical activity spaces on November 24, which includes further temporary suspensions.
All dance studios, yoga studios, gymnastics centres, and other spaces with group indoor fitness activity now have to temporarily stop those activities across the province while “new guidance is being developed”.
These activities include gymnastics, dance, martial arts, yoga, pilates, cheerleading, and strength and conditioning.
Venues will have to use the new guidance and post an update COVID-19 safety plan before resuming activity.
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that they are seeing a decreases in cases and outbreaks related to parties, wedding, and social events.
An encouraging sign is that she said they haven’t seen any surges linked to Diwali (November 14).
However, she said they are seeing surges in other settings, such as clusters in workplaces.
Henry explained that her mandatory mask order is designed to help staff at locations such as retail shops, and to enable police in taking action to address people responding in belligerent ways, and for “people to know there are consequences from taking unsafe actions”.
She said she has “no time for people who are belligerent and are trying to make some sort of a statement about anti-vaxx and think that this is not a truly challenging pandemic and I have no time for people who believe that wearing a mask somehow makes them ill or is a sign of a lack of freedom,” she said. “To me, it’s about respect for our fellow people who are suffering through this with us and about making sure we’re doing our piece in solidarity to get us through this really challenging time.”
As she said she also wants to protect the people who truly cannot wear a mask to receive the services they need, she wanted to emphasize the need for everyone to demonstrate respect for others.
Unfortunately, there have been some recent examples of those who have no interested in doing so.
Vancouver police shut down a party in Yaletown on November 21, where all of the guests were seated close together and weren’t wearing masks in violation of COVID-19 restrictions for social gatherings. After the party guests ignored health information from Vancouver police, officers issued a $2,300 ticket to the main occupant.
Meanwhile, a West End tenant issued letters to his neighbours in a condo building to inform them that he refuses to wear a mask and will sue anyone who makes him do so.
Henry said there was a technical error in the transfer of data from a lab to the health authority that affected case numbers in Fraser Health from November 17 to 24.
She said the error was detected yesterday and she provided corrected numbers. As well, a chart of corrections was issued.
However, the numbers that Henry read out at the briefing and what appear on the chart appear to be different.
The Georgia Straight has contacted the B.C. Health ministry to clarify the discrepancies.
Henry announced that there are 738 new cases today, including four epi-linked cases.
By region, that includes:
- 443 in Fraser Health;
- 169 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
- 70 in Interior Health;
- 35 in Northern Health;
- 21 in Island Health;
- none among people from outside Canada.
Currently, there are 7,616 active cases, which is an increase of 116 cases.
The number of hospitalizations continue to rise. Ath the moment, there are now 294 people are in hospital (10 more people since yesterday), with 61 patients in intensive care units (same number as yesterday).
Public health is monitoring 10,270 people, which is only 13 more people since yesterday.
Unfortunately, there are 13 new deaths, which is a new record for one day. The last record was 11 deaths on November 17.
The total number of fatalities is now at 371 people have died.
A total of 19,814 people have now recovered
B.C. has recorded a cumulative total of 29,086 cases during the pandemic, which includes:
- 18,167 cases in Fraser Health;
- 8,161 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
- 1,426 in Interior Health;
- 713 in Northern Health;
- 526 in Island Health;
- 93 people from outside Canada.
The good news is that there aren’t any new healthcare outbreaks.
Fraser Health declared the outbreak at Royal Columbian Hospital, which began in a medicine unit, as over.
Active healthcare outbreaks remain at 57 facilities—52 are in longterm care facilities while five are in acute care units.
In addition, there aren’t any new community outbreak and Henry said that the outbreak at MSJ Distribution at Valhalla in Delta has been declared over.
Loblaw reported cases at three of its stores:
- two employees who tested positive last worked on November 13 and 16 at Real Canadian Superstore (2855 Gladwin Road,) in Abbotsford;
- one employee who tested positive last worked on November 15 at Real Canadian Superstore at 350 Southeast Marine Drive in Vancouver;
- an employee who tested positive last worked on November 20 at Shoppers Drug Mart located at 1125 Davie Street in Vancouver.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) added six flights to its lists of domestic and international flights confirmed with COVID-19 cases:
- November 16: United Airlines 5312, San Francisco to Vancouver;
- November 18: Air Canada/Jazz 8265, Vancouver to Nanaimo;
- November 18: United Airlines 5436, San Francisco to Vancouver;
- November 21: United Airlines 5312, San Francisco to Vancouver;
- November 22, Air Canada 45, Delhi to Vancouver;
- November 23: WestJet 3349, Edmonton to Victoria.
For affected row information, visit the BCCDC website.
Today, there were 44 schools from three regional health authorities with new exposure dates.
Due to the extensive number of schools with exposures, today’s list was published as a separate article.
B.C. reports 738 coronavirus cases and 13 deaths, marking deadliest day of pandemic – CTV News Vancouver
British Columbia added 738 cases of COVID-19 to its total Wednesday, as well as 13 more deaths from the disease.
The 13 fatalities is the most B.C. has ever recorded in a single 24-hour period.
There have now been 29,086 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. since the pandemic began and 371 deaths.
B.C. currently has 7,616 active cases of the disease, including 294 people who are in hospital, 61 of whom are in intensive care.
The new numbers came at a news conference from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
The pair also announced a correction to data on new cases released in recent weeks. Among the changes was a reduction in the total number of cases reported on Tuesday. While health officials reported 941 new cases – a new record – there were actually 695, Henry said.
“I know we had a dramatic increase in the daily numbers,” the provincial health officer said. “That was a result of some of these data coming in at a different time.”
Henry apologized for the changes, which she said were the result of “challenges with a data system” in the Fraser Health region. She provided updated totals for that region for Nov. 17 through 24, as well as updated overall totals for some of those days.
“It’s always complex when we have many data systems trying to feed into a single report on a daily basis,” Henry said.
The changes mean B.C.’s record for new cases in a day is 835, which should have been the total reported for Saturday, Nov. 21. B.C. initially reported 713 for that day.
The total for other dates in that range have also been revised, with no other days topping 800 cases.
Before November, B.C. had never recorded more than 400 cases in a 24-hour period.
Wednesday’s update included no new outbreaks in the provincial health-care system, as well as the end of an outbreak at Royal Columbian Hospital.
That means there are 57 ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C. health-care facilities, including 52 in long-term care and assisted-living homes, as well as five in acute care.
Most of the new cases B.C. is recording continue to be located in the Lower Mainland. Wednesday’s update included 443 new cases in Fraser Health and 169 in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Elsewhere in the province, there have been 70 new cases recorded in Interior Health, 35 in Northern Health, and 21 in Island Health.
AstraZeneca manufacturing error raises questions about vaccine study results – CBC.ca
AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.
In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90 per cent effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62 per cent effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70 per cent effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.
The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.
Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.
Real or quirk?
In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late-stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.
Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low-dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.
Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.
Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70 per cent effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.
“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,” he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.”
Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.
‘The Goldilocks amount’
Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.
“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”
Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.
Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.
“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.
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