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Vancouver biotech company discovering antibodies for COVID-19 treatment – The Observer

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VANCOUVER — 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.

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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.

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Covid-19 research scam: Unwanted diversion during pandemic – The East African

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By AFP
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The first research scandal of the coronavirus pandemic has created unnecessary distraction around the politically divisive drug hydroxychloroquine, scientists say, as questions swirl around the tiny health care company at the centre of the affair.

On Thursday, most of the authors of major studies that appeared in The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) retracted their work and issued apologies, saying they could no longer vouch for their data after the firm that supplied it — Chicago-based Surgisphere — refused to be audited.

NEW DIMENSIONS

At any other time, the matter might have led to hang-wringing within academia, but it has taken on a new dimension as the world grapples with a virus that has claimed some 400,000 lives.

Of particular interest was the paper in The Lancet that claimed to have analysed the records of 96,032 patients admitted to 671 hospitals across six continents, finding that hydroxychloroquine showed no benefit and even increased the risk of death.

Its withdrawal is seen as a boost to backers of the decades-old anti-malarial drug, who include US President Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro.

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“It’s very politicised — there is a group, probably not particularly small, who have learned to mistrust science and scientists, and this just feeds into that narrative,” Gabe Kelen, a professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told AFP.

This is despite the fact that even without The Lancet paper, evidence has been building against hydroxychloroquine’s use against Covid-19.

HUMAN EXPERIMENTS

On Friday, results from a fourth randomised controlled trial — carefully designed human experiments considered the most robust form of clinical investigation — showed it had no impact against the virus.

The Lancet, which first published in 1823, is one of the world’s most trusted medical journals.

As a result, the hydroxychloroquine paper had an outsized impact: the World Health Organization, Britain and France all suspended ongoing clinical trials.

But things soon began unravelling after researchers noticed numerous red flags, from the huge number of patients involved to the unusual level of detail about the doses they had received.

PRESTIGIOUS

Both The Lancet and the equally prestigious NEJM, which had published a paper on whether blood thinners elevated the risk of Covid-19 that relied on the same company, issued expressions of concern — before the authors themselves pulled both papers.

Surgisphere, founded in 2007 by vascular surgeon Sapan Desai, had refused to share data with third-party reviewers, saying it would violate privacy agreements with hospitals.

However, when science news site The Scientist began reaching out to hospitals throughout the US to ask whether they had participated, it found none.

Surgisphere’s internet profile has also raised numerous questions. Only a handful of employees could be found on LinkedIn, and most have now deactivated their accounts.

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE

According to the Guardian newspaper, its employees included an adult model and until last week the contact page on its website redirected to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website, leaving it unclear how hospitals could have reached out to them.

Meanwhile Desai, who according to court records has three outstanding medical malpractice suits against him, has written extensively in the past on research misconduct.

“The most serious cause of fraud in medical publishing is manufactured data that authors use to support high impact conclusions,” he said in a 2013 paper.

For Ivan Oransky, who founded Retraction Watch in 2010, the affair is far from surprising, serving instead to highlight systemic issues in science publishing and the way science is reported to the public.

“No one took a hard look at the data,” said Oransky. “But we’ve known about these issues for literally decades.”

LEADING JOURNALS

Policymakers should get away from the idea of using the results of a single study to inform their decisions, he added, as was the case for the WHO — and the media has a responsibility to place papers in context instead of hyping them up.

The problem also stems from the fact that even leading journals rely too heavily on an honour system, but “you never know when a catastrophe is going to happen, if you’re not willing to put into place some reasonable safeguards,” added Oransky.

As to the future, the current episode is unlikely to serve as a wake-up call, he said. If one journal increases its diligence, more blockbuster papers will start appearing in its competitors.

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No new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Saturday – CBC.ca

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No new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Manitoba on Saturday.

The total number of cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus identified in the province is still 300.

The province tweeted the announcement and said Manitoba’s numbers on hospitalizations, recoveries, tests and active cases will be updated again on Monday.

On Friday, there was no one in hospital with COVID-19. Nine cases were still active and 284 had recovered.

Manitoba had done 47,372 tests for the virus as of Friday.

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No new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Saturday – News 4

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