COVID-19

Typically BELS Brief Clips are only distributed via email directly to BELS members. However, in the midst of COVID-19, we’re posting periodic updates on this page to more widely share the role of the UK life sciences in combatting the virus.

British-educated life scientists at home and abroad are racing against the clock
Pursuing R&D in diagnostics, vaccines and treatments, antibodies, scaling manufacturing capacity, fast tracking clinical trials, delivering digital healthcare solutions, and more—in tandem with analysis to inform public health decision-making for the sector, government and the NHS.
On the public health front:
  • a surge in the UK of reported cases of COVID-19 not seen since May has led to the imposition of new constraints. Social gatherings are now limited to six people both indoors and out; violators face fines of up to £3200. And people in England who refuse an order to self-isolate could be fined up to £10,000 starting September 28th.
  • Public Health England is being merged with the NHS Test and Trace service into the new National Institute for Health Protection to strengthen and better join up public health in the UK and protect people from external threats to health, including biological weapons, pandemics, and infectious diseases of all kinds.
The MHRA is accepting rolling submissions of data which is expected to shorten the licensing review period considerably.
Aiming to build a portfolio of potential vaccines and effective treatments, UK Government has secured access to:
  • 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine (originally ChAdOx, licensed by AZ and renamed AZD1222), now in phase 3 trial, including a study in Brazil. Progress was vaulted by work done by Oxford to produce a vaccine against MERS. After a brief pause due an adverse event involving a woman in the UK and subsequent review by safety experts, trials resumed in the UK and Brazil, though not yet in the US. AZ intends to provide the vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during the pandemic.
  • 30 million doses of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, now in phase 2 trials
  • 60-100 million doses of Valneva, now in pre-clinical stage
  • 60 million doses of Sanofi/GSK vaccine, now in pre-clinical stage
  • 60 million doses of Novavax vaccine, now in phase 1-2 trial
  • 30 million doses of Janssen Pharmaceutical/J&J, now planning phase 3 trials
  • 1 million doses of a treatment containing COVID-19-neutralising antibodies from AstraZeneca (especially for those who can’t receive vaccines)
Imperial College London trials are underway, the first test of a new self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) technology

BELS Brief Clips on COVID-19

New research identifies those most at risk from ‘long COVID’   According to researchers at King’s College London, one in 20 people with COVID-19 are likely to suffer symptoms for eight weeks or more (so-called ‘long COVID’), potentially adding up to many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and millions worldwide. Using data from the COVID Symptom Study app, the team found that older people, women and those with a greater number of different symptoms in the first week of their illness were more likely to develop long COVID.   (King’s College London   October 21, 2020) RESEARCH

UK plans COVID-19 ‘challenge’ trials that deliberately infect volunteers   Britain will help to fund trials using a manufactured COVID-19 virus to deliberately infect young healthy volunteers with the hope of accelerating the development of vaccines against it. The government said it will invest 33.6 million pounds ($43.5 million) in the so-called “human challenge” trials in partnership with Imperial College London, laboratory and trial services company hVIVO and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.   (Reuters   October 20, 2020) VACCINE

Neuropilin-1 drives SARS-CoV-2 infectivity, finds breakthrough study   In a major breakthrough an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, has potentially identified what makes SARS-CoV-2 highly infectious and able to spread rapidly in human cells. Their findings describe how the virus’s ability to infect human cells can be reduced by inhibitors that block a newly discovered interaction between virus and host, demonstrating a potential anti-viral treatment.   (Bristol University   October 20, 2020) RESEARCH

UK scientists link COVID-19 to hearing loss   COVID-19 may lead to hearing loss that could become permanent if not detected and treated early, scientists in the UK have warned. Experts at University College London cited the case of a 45-year-old British man who was admitted to intensive care with COVID-19, put on ventilation and given intravenous steroids as well as the antiviral drug remdesivir. The patient, who is asthmatic, developed tinnitus in his left ear before losing hearing in it altogether a week after leaving the intensive care unit. Tests revealed sensorineural hearing loss caused by inflammation or damage in the inner ear or nerve responsible for sound, which was later partially treated with steroids.   (ZBT News   October 14, 2020) RESEARCH

COVID-19 antibody treatment   AstraZeneca has reached a $486 million deal with the US government to supply as many as 100,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment, if it’s ultimately approved. Under the terms of the agreement, HHS will supply the funding as part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed effort to quickly develop potential vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.   (UPI   October 12, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Oxford Nanopore SARS-Cov-2 Sequencing Test Gets CE Mark   Oxford Nanopore Technologies (Oxford) said that its LamPore SARS-CoV-2 sequencing test has obtained the CE mark for use with the GridIon platform.  The assay, which combines loop-mediated isotheral amplification (LAMP) with nanopore sequencing and can run on the GridIon and MinIon Mk1C platforms, targets the ORF1a, E, and N genes of the virus. Last month, researchers in the UK published a preprint of a validation study involving around 500 clinical samples, showing that the test is highly reproducible and has a sensitivity of 99.1% and a specificity of 99.6%.  Oxford Nanopore is rolling the LamPore test out globally, initially in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates, according to a company statement.   (GenomeWeb   October 9, 2020) TESTING

12 Things We Know about COVID-19   Using data drawn from the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway, a new report, 12 things we know about COVID-19, brings into sharp focus our current understanding of the coronavirus pandemic. It features a wealth of detailed information – from how the virus affects the elderly and the obese, to what we know about outbreaks in care homes, to effects of the pandemic on care for other conditions such as cancer and heart disease. Published by Health Data Research UK, the report also demonstrates the necessity for timely, secure access across all aspects of the coronavirus.   (UKRI   September 29, 2020) RESEARCH

Novacyt Signs Deal with UK Government for COVID-19 Testing Kits   French clinical diagnostics company Novacyt has inked a deal with the UK Department of Health and Social Care for instrument platforms and COVID-19 testing kits. The supply contract includes Novacyt’s q16 and q32 Rapid-PCR instrument platforms, as well as its existing COVID-19 Direct kits and genesig SARS-CoV-2 Winterplex kits.  (PharmaTimes  September 29, 2020) TESTING

IONTAS and FairJourney Biologics discover SARS-COV-2 neutralizing antibodies  IONTAS (Cambridge UK) and FairJourney Biologics, two antibody discovery CROs that joined forces this year, announced the discovery of potent SARS-CoV2 neutralising antibodies as potential therapeutics for COVID-19. The newly-identified panel of antibodies have been verified by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control to block infection at doses as low as 20pM in pseudoviral assays and 100pM in live coronavirus assays, surpassing or matching the best antibodies reported.  (Press release  September 28, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

First UK patient given GSK’s experimental arthritis drug in COVID-19 trial  A patient in Manchester is the first in the UK to be treated in a new COVID-19 trial investigating the use of an experimental arthritis drug, otilimab, for severe lung disease related to the novel coronavirus. The OSCAR study is being sponsored and funded by GlaxoSmithKline and has been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care. The first dosed patient is receiving care at Manchester Royal Infirmary, although the study is planned to take place at hospitals across the UK.  (PharmaTimes  September 28, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

UK Market Flooded with Inadequate Covid Tests, Experts Suggest   Inadequate tests for Covid-19, based on poor or dodgy data, are proliferating in the UK because there are no clear rules on what companies have to prove before they can sell them, experts believe. The Royal Statistical Society has set up a working group to investigate and draw up guidelines for the companies making the tests and those who assess them and buy them. (The Guardian  September 27, 2020) TESTING

Novavax starts Phase III Covid-19 vaccine trial in UK  Novavax, which also published Phase I data from its Phase I/II study in early September,  started the Phase III study of its vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, under a partnership with the UK goverment’s vaccine task force. The study is expected to enroll up to 10,000 volunteers aged 18-84.  (MedCity News  September 25, 2020) VACCINE

UK launches COVID-19 exposure notification app for England and Wales  The last two regions of the UK now have an official coronavirus contacts-tracing app, after the UK government pushed the button to launch the NHS COVID-19 app across England and Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland launched their own official apps to automate coronavirus exposure notifications earlier this year. But the England and Wales app was delayed after a false start back in May. The key point is that the version that’s launched now has a completely different app architecture. All three of the UK’s official coronavirus contacts-tracing apps make use of smartphones’ Bluetooth radios to generate alerts of potential exposure to COVID-19 — based on estimating the proximity of the devices.  (TechCrunch  September 24, 2020) CONTACT TRACING

Could a COVID-19 Breath Test Help UK out of Lockdown?   A potential COVID-19 breath test has been unveiled in the UK, as the country desperately searches for alternatives to crippling lockdown measures to prevent the disease from spreading. The breath test has been developed by Integumen (York) in collaboration with Modern Water (London), Avacta (Cambridge) and Aptamer Group (York), which had been working on a test that identifies the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in waste water. Based on that technology the companies have designed, built and tested a prototype, Microtox BT, which can analyse the breath and detect the spike protein of the coronavirus in real time. Microtox BT will now be tested at a containment laboratory at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland), followed by a joint trial of up to 5,000 participants, where results will be compared with standard lab antigen tests. Results are expected by the end of the year. If the trial goes well the company said Microtox BT could enable instant real-time testing of people within the community.  (Pharmaphorum  September 24, 2020) TESTING

UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines – FT  Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported, citing people involved in the project. So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said, adding that about 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner. The FT report did not name the vaccines that would be assessed in the project. (Reuters. September 23, 2020) VACCINE

New discovery in Coronavirus structure ‘could stop virus in its tracks’  An international team of scientists led by the University of Bristol has found a druggable pocket in the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein that could be used to stop it from infecting human cells. Enabled by using the ARCHER supercomputer, the researchers used a powerful imaging technique, electron cryo-microscopy, to analyse SARS-CoV-2 Spike at near atomic resolution. Their work, a potential game changer in defeating the pandemic, could lead to small molecule anti-viral drugs being developed to target the pocket they discovered, which could help eliminate COVID-19 and stop the virus in its tracks. (UKRI  September 23, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

90-Minute British DnaNudge COVID-19 Test is Accurate, Lancet Study Finds   A British COVID-19 test known as DNANudge that gives results in just over an hour and which requires no laboratory was accurate in almost all cases, an academic review in the Lancet has found. Faster testing could allow more people to return to work or permit testing on entry to hospital, thus slowing a second spike in coronavirus infections. The new test, based on the design of a DNA test developed by a professor at Imperial College London, received approval for clinical use by the MHRA at the end of April after successful trials. In a study in The Lancet Microbe, the test was found to have an average sensitivity (the ability to correctly identify those with COVID-19) of 94.4% and a specificity (correctly identifying those without the disease) of 100%.  (Reuters  September 18, 2020) TESTING

Sanofi, GSK sign deal to supply 300 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in EU states  GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi have entered into an advanced purchase agreement with the European Commission to supply up to 300 million doses of adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine. The deal will enable to purchase a Covid-19 vaccine for all member states of the EU. The reserved doses will be supplied to lower and middle-income countries.  (Pharmaceutical Business Review  September 21, 2020) VACCINE

Inhaled vaccines in landmark coronavirus trial  Researchers at Imperial College London are set to begin trials to assess the safety and effectiveness of two UK coronavirus vaccines in development. The team will compare vaccine candidates being developed by both Imperial College London and the University of Oxford, delivering the vaccines directly to the respiratory tract of human volunteers by inhalation through the mouth. The hope is that directly targeting the cells lining the airways (the typical point of infection for respiratory viruses) may induce a more effective immune response. This could potentially accelerate the development of effective vaccines against COVID-19 by exploring additional delivery methods and targets.  (UKRI  September 15, 2020) VACCINE

The Life Scientific – Professor Sarah Gilbert, whose team are developing a COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Oxford, is profiled on BBC Radio 4 in which she describes the team’s work. How did Sarah and her Oxford team get so far, so fast in developing a vaccine for Covid-19? (BBC Radio 4  September 15, 2020) VACCINE

RECOVERY COVID-19 phase 3 trial to evaluate Regeneron’s REGN-COV2 investigational antibody cocktail in the UK  RECOVERY—Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (Oxford), one of the world’s largest randomised clinical trials of potential COVID-19 treatments, will evaluate Regeneron’s investigational anti-viral antibody cocktail, REGN-COV2. The Phase 3 open-label trial in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 will compare the effects of adding REGN-COV2 to the usual standard-of-care versus standard-of-care on its own, evaluating the impact of REGN-COV2 on mortality, hospital stays, and the need for ventilation.  (RECOVERY Trial  September 14, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Trials resume for AZ/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine  After a voluntary pause across all global trials instituted after a patient in the UK suffered a reported side effect, the MHRA has confirmed that trials can restart in the UK.  (PM Live  September 14, 2020) VACCINE

UK Signs $1.6B Supply Development Agreement for Valneva’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hopeful  The biggest drugmakers in the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine have been racing to lock up national supply deals for months in anticipation of global demand for a winner. Even the lesser-known contestants are selling their wares around the world, though—and the UK appears to be buying.  The British government has set aside $1.63 billion for a five-year supply of French drugmaker Valneva’s inactivated COVID-19 shot. The deal could bring up to 190 million doses to the country by 2025.  The pact includes an initial $558 million order for 60 million doses, set to be shipped by the second half of 2021. The UK then has two follow-up options: An additional 40 million doses for 2022, and between 30 million and 90 million doses to be delivered by 2025.  (FiercePharma  September 14, 2020) VACCINE

New testing device can detect COVID-19 in 15 minutes  A new diagnostic test, developed at the University of Southampton, could provide rapid, inexpensive testing of COVID-19 recent trials have shown. Current testing using the standard PCR test requires samples to be sent to a laboratory which means results are not available until one or two days later. The new test can detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 in 10 – 15 minutes. The test involves taking a patient’s nasal swab and mixing it with a solution in a tube. Working in a similar way to the commonly available pregnancy test, a paper strip containing a capture antibody is then dipped into the tube to absorb the solution. As the liquid moves up the strip, a red line will appear if the virus is present in the sample.  (University of Southamptom  September 10, 2020) TESTING

20 Second Coronavirus Test Piloted at UK’s Heathrow Airport  Two British companies are preparing to launch a simple COVID-19 saliva screening test that aims to provide an accurate result within 20 seconds—following its first uses at London’s Heathrow airport, one of the busiest in the world.  The Virolens device, developed by iAbra (Bedfordshire), uses a digital microscope and artificial intelligence-powered software to visually search a mouth swab sample for signs of the novel coronavirus.  The machine provides a low-cost, repeatable and self-administered method of screening, allowing hundreds of cartridge-based tests to be performed each day, according to iAbra’s manufacturing partner TT Electronics (Woking). Validation studies by the University of Bristol have pegged the system’s false-negative rate of 0.2%, alongside a false-positive rate of 3.3%.  The Virolens device underwent its first rounds of field testing among Heathrow employees, and its developers are now planning full clinical trials to gain certifications for medical use.  (Fierce Medtech  September 10, 2020) TESTING

AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine on Track for 2020 Filing Despite Delay, Soriot  AstraZeneca is still on track to file for approval of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, according to its CEO. Pascal Soriot told attendees at an online event that it is unclear how long the trial will be paused in response to a recent adverse event, but a 2020 approval is still on the cards.  Earlier in the year, AZ said it was on track to show whether its COVID-19 vaccine worked by September. Hopes of a fall approval had begun to fade long before AZ placed development of the vaccine on hold after a participant in the program suffered an unexpected illness, but Soriot still thinks AZ has a shot at being one of the companies that gets to market this year.  (FierceBiotech  September 10, 2020) VACCINE

DNAnudge, Benchmark Electronics Ink Manufacturing Deal Rapid Molecular  Benchmark Electronics and DNANudge (London) announced a manufacturing partnership aimed at the high-volume production of DNANudge’s RT-PCR testing system for SARS-CoV-2.  Financial and other terms of the deal were not disclosed.  DnaNudge has re-engineered its consumer DNA test to detect SARS-CoV-2. The test system delivers results in about an hour and does not require use of a laboratory, the firms said.  The new test, CovidNudge, works by placing a patient’s swab sample into a single-use DNA cartridge. RNA extracted from the sample is inserted into a system component called the NudgeBox for analysis and reverse transcribing to DNA.  (GenomeWeb  September 9, 2020) TESTING

Covid-19: Government plans to spend £100bn on expanding testing to 10 million a day  Internal correspondence reveals that the government is prepared to almost match what it spends on the NHS in England each year (£130bn) to fund mass testing of the population “to support economic activity and a return to normal life” under its ambitious Operation Moonshot programme. The UK-wide Moonshot programme is expected to “cost over £100bn to deliver.” If achieved, the programme would allow testing of the entire UK population each week.  (BMJ  September 9, 2020) TESETING

Verona Pharma launches pilot study of ensifentrine for Covid-19  Verona Pharma (London) has launched a pilot study to assess ensifentrine administered via a pressurised metered-dose inhaler (pMDI) formulation in US patients hospitalised with Covid-19. Ensifentrine is known to exhibit bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory activities. Data from clinical studies in other respiratory diseases demonstrated that the drug improved oxygenation and mucus clearance, as well as reduced inflammation in the lungs. Verona Pharma added that the drug was well tolerated in trials involving more than 1,300 participants to date.  (Clinical Trials Arena  September 8, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Destiny, SporeGen Collaborate on COVID-19 Prevention Spray  UK biotechs Destiny Pharma (Brighton) and SporeGen (Egham) have entered into a collaborative agreement to develop a new preventative treatment for COVID-19, with support from an £800,000 grant from Innovate UK.  Under the agreement, the parties will co-develop SporeGen’s SPOR-COV – a proprietary formulation of Bacillus bacteria that will be administered nasally as a spray – sharing any costs and commercial returns.  The companies said they plan to complete a preclinical programme for SPOR-COV with the aim of being ready to enter the first human clinical trials within 18 months.  The drug has already been shown by SporeGen to provide complete (100%) protection in preclinical models of influenza virus.  SPOR-COV is different to vaccines in that it utilises the innate immune system with the aim of developing COVID-19 protection a few days after dosing.  As an ‘easy to use’ first line of defence, it has the potential to reduce COVID-19 infection rates and transmission significantly, and also could be stockpiled “almost indefinitely without the need for cold chain refrigeration” as it is very stable.  (Pharma Times  September 7, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Persistent immune memory of COVID-19 found in recovered patient T cells  Oxford University researchers have found that infection with COVID-19 produces a robust T cell response, including inducing T cell ‘memory’ to potentially fight future infections.  New research published in Nature Immunology shows strong T cell responses in patients recovered from COVID-19. The discovery of epitope clusters eliciting T cell response helps inform an understanding of how patients recover from the disease and to support future developments for patient benefit.  (University of Oxford  September 4, 2020) RESEARCH

Sanofi and GSk Begin Clinical Trials of Coronavirus Vaccine  Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have begun clinical trials of their coronavirus vaccine, as AstraZeneca expanded studies of its rival into Japan.  In April, Sanofi joined forces with GlaxoSmithKline to produce the vaccine, with Sanofi contributing an antigen that produces the immune reaction.  Meanwhile GSK is producing the booster that reduces the amount of active ingredient necessary to produce an effect.  They said the trials would involve 440 adults at 11 sites across the US.  If data from the phase 1/2 trial are positive, the companies aim to move into a phase 3 trial by the end of the year.  They are also scaling up manufacturing of the antigen and adjuvant, aiming to produce up to a billion doses in 2021.  If trials go well the companies could request regulatory approval in the first half of 2021.  Sanofi is leading the clinical development and registration of the COVID-19 vaccine.  (Pharmaphorum  September 4, 2020) VACCINE

Tracing apps may stem COVID-19 spread even when only a few use them: study  Contact tracing apps can sharply reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus even when only a few people use them, a study published by researchers at Google and Oxford University showed. An app used by 15% of the population together with a well-staffed contact-tracing workforce can lead to a 15% drop in infection rates and an 11% drop in COVID-19 deaths, according to statistical modeling by the Alphabet Inc unit and Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.  (Reuters  September 3, 2020) CONTACT TRACING

Unprecedented national effort by UK immunologists to search for answers on COVID-19  Three new UK-wide studies, bringing together scientists from 17 research institutions, will receive £8.4 million from UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research to understand immune responses to the novel coronavirus. The scientists aim to develop better tests to define immunity, to study the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and to understand why some people suffer from severe life-threatening COVID-19 while others have mild or asymptomatic infections but can still transmit the virus. Importantly these studies will determine when and how immunity persists or whether people can become re-infected. Together, it is hoped these studies will improve the treatment of patients and inform the development of vaccines and therapies.  (UKRI  August 28, 2020) RESEARCH

AstraZeneca nets $396M down payment from EU for 300M-plus COVID vaccines  AstraZeneca has been on a roll lately, inking COVID-19 vaccine supply deals left and right with countries worldwide. One of its highest-profile pacts—a purchase deal with the EU—was made official earlier this month, and now, the trading bloc has floated a price for its initial supply order. The European Commission put up a €336 million ($396 million) down payment to secure its first 300 million doses of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s coronavirus hopeful, AZD1222.  (FiercePharma. August 28, 2020) VACCINE

Only one in 10 plan to return to live as they did before Covid-19  Launched in the week before lockdown started, the ongoing University College London Covid-19 Social Study is the UK’s largest study into how adults are feeling about the lockdown, government advice and overall wellbeing and mental health with over 70,000 participants who have been followed across the last 23 weeks. While 51% of people felt they were more likely on balance to return to how things were before lockdown, 22% felt they were more likely to change things, and this rose to around 25% in those aged 30-59 and for those with a diagnosed mental illness. The factor that people were most likely to change was increasing their support for local businesses (40%), with around a third of people also saying they would save more money, exercise more or make more use of online shopping. A quarter of adults expressed a plan to work from home more; this increased to 29% of 18-29 year olds and 32% of 30-59 year-olds.  (UCL  August 27, 2020) RESEARCH

Scancell receives funding for COVID-19 vaccine development  Scancell Holdings (Oxford) has secured funding of around £2 million from Innovate UK to initiate a Phase I clinical trial of an experimental SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Scancell’s DNA vaccines target dendritic cells to stimulate high avidity T cells that identify and destroy diseased cells. As the N protein is highly conserved amongst coronaviruses, this new vaccine has the potential to generate protection not only against SARS-CoV-2, but also against new strains of coronavirus that may arise in the future.  (PharmaTimes  August 27, 2020) VACCINE

Coronavirus: Needle-free vaccine which targets all coronaviruses could start trials in autumn   Having secured funding of £1.9 million, a coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Cambridge, which is delivered through a “single jet of air”, could enter clinical trials by autumn. The proposed vaccine, named DIOS-CoVax2, would be administered through a patient’s skin, eliminating the use of needles and making it pain-free.  (SkyNews  August 26, 2020) VACCINE

AstraZeneca Begins Phase 1 Trial for Monoclonal Antibody Combination for COVID-19  AstraZeneca has started its phase 1 clinical trial for AZD7442, its investigational therapy which is in development for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. This therapeutic, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies derived from convalescent patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection, could afford at least six months of protection from COVID-19.  (ContagionLive  August 25, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Verona Pharma to Develop Lung Drug for COVID-19  Verona Pharma (London) is to develop its lung drug ensifentrine for patients with COVID-19, joining the legions of drug companies repurposing their medicines to fight the pandemic.  Based in the UK and US, Verona is due to start a phase 3 trial of ensifentrine in COPD later this year after encouraging results in phase 2.  But the company has received clearance from the FDA to begin a pilot clinical trial in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. The randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study will test ensifentrine delivered through a pressurised metered-dose inhaler at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (PharmaPhorum  August 20, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Survey reveals Britains welcome shift to virtual healthcare  A new survey by Accenture has revealed that UK patients have embraced the sudden switch to virtual healthcare and communications as a result of COVID-19 with a strong majority (87%) reporting that the quality of care was as good or better than before. In the survey—involving 2,700 oncology, cardiology, or immunology patients—53% of British patients expressed the desire to continue using technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing conditions, based on their experiences during the pandemic.  (PharmaTimes  August 20, 2020) TELEMEDICINE

NHS telemedicine ambitions approach a pivotal point  The UK government has said it is vital to adopt telemedicine across the NHS in response to COVID-19 – but is the health service ready to fully embrace this digital tech? The rapid digitalisation of life during COVID-19’s acute phase has had a huge impact on healthcare delivery during the pandemic, part of which has included a major shift to telemedicine across the NHS. Plans for post-COVID healthcare are underway and digital health looms large within them.  (PharmaPhorum  August 19, 2020) TELEMEDICINE

Could AI Avert a Future Coronavirus Epidemic?  Could AI prevent future pandemics by developing an armoury of drugs that work against all coronaviruses?  A consortium of European pharma companies hopes to answer this question as it aims to rapidly develop new therapies to combat the pandemic.  The €77.7 million project funded by EU cash and European pharma companies is a work stream that aims to find drugs that work against coronavirus strains that may emerge in the future.  The UK-based AI drug discovery firm Exscientia (Oxford) is heavily involved in this project and is using its technology to screen existing small molecules to see if they could be used against the coronavirus class that causes diseases such as SARS, MERS and COVID-19.  (PharmaPhorum  August 18, 2020) THERAPEUTICS

How we accelerated clinical trials in the age of coronavirus  The UK RECOVERY Trial shows a way to benefit patients faster. As COVID hit in the Spring, the NHS began to run the biggest randomized COVID-19 clinical trial in the world—and to identify a treatment, amid the heat of the epidemic, without bypassing regulatory processes. It built on investment in programmes and infrastructure established in 2017 as government strategy. On 16 June, RECOVERY announced that dexamethasone, a commonly available steroid, could reduce mortality by one-third in people with severe respiratory complications owing to COVID-19. The RECOVERY trial had five key features that distinguish it from a standard approach… (Nature  August 18, 2020)

UK’s Second Go at a Contact Tracing App Heads for Pilot Study  After ditching its home-grown attempt at a coronavirus contact-tracing app for smartphones, the UK is ready to start pilot trials of a second version based on a platform developed by Apple and Google.  The new NHS Test and Trace app is intended to be used as an add-on to the controversial national and local contact-tracing service, and was due to start initial trials yesterday on the Isle of Wight and among a group of NHS volunteers.  Residents of COVID-19 hotspot Newham in London will also be offered the chance to participate in the pilot a little later.  (PharmaPhorum  August 14, 2020)

Major Antibody Study Finds 3.4 Million in England Had Covid-19  Results from a major antibody study by Imperial College London of more than 100,000 people conducted found that about 6% of England’s population had contracted COVID-19 by the end of June, compared to 13% in London. People from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups, care workers and people living in larger households were among the most likely to have been infected.  (Bloomberg  August 13, 2020) RESEARCH

Argentina, Mexico to produce AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine  Argentina and Mexico will produce the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for most of Latin America, initially producing 150 million which could extend to 250 million doses.  (Reuters  August 12, 2020) VACCINE

Brazil’s Bolsonaro orders $360 million to be set aside for AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine  Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree that will set aside $356 million) to purchase 100 million doses and eventually produce the potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University researchers.  (Reuters  August 6, 2020) VACCINE

Inside Oxford’s Push for ‘Challenge Trials’ Amid Race for Coronavirus Vaccine  Scientists at University of Oxford, developing one of the most promising vaccine candidates so far, are calling for challenge trials where all volunteers are given the vaccine and then infected with the virus. Some say the trial could be done with a smaller group and can quickly determine whether a vaccine.  (NBC Nightly News /on YouTube  August 6, 2020)  VACCINE

AZ Taps Indian Pharma Wockhardt For UK Shot Finishing  India-based Wockhardt has signed up to complete fill and finish work on millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for exclusive use in the UK. including AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford‘s frontrunner candidate. Wockhardt will help supply the country with COVID-19 vaccine doses, using its CP Pharmaceuticals label in Wrexham, North Wales. The company has set aside a single fill-finish line—where vaccines are packaged in the final manufacturing stage before deployment—to build out UK shot supplies over the next 18 months.  (FiercePharma  August 4, 2020) MANUFACTURING

Researchers say hydroxychloroquine could still prevent COVID-19   Leading scientific researchers from the University of Oxford have said that the antiviral medication  hydroxychloroquine is being ‘discarded prematurely’ and could still have benefit against COVID-19. The University of Oxford and the Wellcome supported Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit are leading the COPCOV study, the only large, global clinical trial testing hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 prevention. The COPCOV study is a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study aiming to enrol 40,000 healthcare workers to determine if hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can prevent COVID-19. The researchers maintained that previous prevention studies were too small to show conclusive evidence of whether hydroxychloroquine can work or not as a preventative medication. They also added that early use of the drug is critical, and that safety concerns surrounding hydroxychloroquine have been exaggerated.   (PharmaTimes   August 7, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Inside Oxford’s Push for ‘Challenge Trials’ Amid Race for Coronavirus Vaccine   Scientists at University of Oxford, developing one of the most promising vaccine candidates so far, are calling for challenge trials where all volunteers are given the vaccine and then infected with the virus. Some say the trial could be done with a smaller group and can quickly determine whether a vaccine.   (NBC Nightly News /on YouTube   August 6, 2020)  VACCINE

Oxford Nanopore Technologies partners with UK Government to roll out LamPORE, a new generation of COVID-19 test   Ground-breaking British technology will initially provide hundreds of thousands of fast, accurate, low-cost COVID-19 tests under new agreement with the UK Government, with the potential to build to millions of tests per month. The LamPORE COVID-19 assay provides precise detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using Oxford Nanopore’s DNA/RNA sequencing technology. LamPORE is fully scalable and designed to enable both high-volume screening and rapid, local testing. Results can be obtained in under two hours.   (Press release   August 3, 2020)  TESTING

National roll-out: UK government places £161m order for rapid and reliable DnaNudge COVID-19 tests   The UK government has placed a £161 million order with DnaNudge (London) to supply the Department of Health and Social Care with 5.8 million rapid COVID Nudge test kits, for use in NHS hospitals across the UK from September. The COVID Nudge test is a rapid, accurate, portable, out-of-laboratory, sample-to-answer RT-PCR test that delivers results on the spot, at the point of need and in just over an hour.  DnaNudge recently obtained a CE mark for its COVID Nudge test, enabling its additional use in non-clinical locations, including care homes and other public emergency services. Trials comparing COVID Nudge against several NHS laboratory results indicated 98% sensitivity and 100% specificity.   (Press release   August 3, 2020)  TESTING

Frontline healthcare workers more likely to test positive for COVID despite PPE   Researchers at King’s College London and Harvard teams have found that frontline healthcare workers with adequate personal protective equipment have a three-fold increased risk of a positive SARS-CoV-2 test compared to the general population. The study also found that healthcare workers from BAME backgrounds were more likely to test positive. The researchers used data from the COVID Symptom Tracker App, provided by over 2 million individuals and 99,750 healthcare workers.   (King’s College London   August 3, 2020) TESTING, RESEARCH

Over £100 million cash boost to manufacture millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine   The investment will fund a state-of-the-art Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Innovation Centre (Braintree Essex), which will upgrade an existing facility to create a fully-licensed manufacturing centre, to accelerate the mass production of a successful COVID-19 vaccine in the UK. Due to open in December 2021, the Centre will have the capacity to produce millions of doses each month, ensuring the UK has the capabilities to manufacture vaccines and advanced medicines, including for emerging diseases, far into the future. The new centre will complement the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, which is currently under construction in Oxfordshire thanks to a £93 million investment from the government. Once complete next year, the facility will have the capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population at scale.     (Press release   July 23, 2020) MANUFACTURING

New service enables people to sign up to be contacted for COVID-19 vaccine studies   The NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry, developed in partnership with NHS Digital, will help large numbers of people across the UK to be recruited into approved UK COVID-19 vaccine trials over the coming months.   (Digital NHS   July 20, 2020) TRIALS

Coronavirus: Protein treatment trial ‘a breakthrough’   The preliminary results of a clinical trial suggest a new treatment for Covid-19 from Synairgen (Southampton) that uses a protein called interferon beta reduces the number of patients needing intensive care. The protein is inhaled directly into the lungs of patients with coronavirus, using a nebuliser, in the hope that it will stimulate an immune response. The initial findings suggest the treatment cut the odds of a Covid-19 patient in hospital developing severe disease by 79%. Patients were two to three times more likely to recover to the point where everyday activities were not compromised by their illness   (BBC   July 20, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

COVID-19 vaccine AZD1222 showed robust immune responses in all participants in Phase I/II trial   Early stage human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine have found it produces strong immune response and shows no early safety concerns, according to results published in The Lancet. Interim results from the ongoing Phase I/II COV001 trial, led by Oxford University, showed AZD1222 (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) was tolerated and generated robust immune responses against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in all evaluated participants, 1,077 healthy adults, aged 18-55 years. It assessed a single dose of AZD1222 against a comparator meningococcal conjugate vaccine, MenACWY. Ten participants also received two doses of AZD1222 one month apart. The results confirmed a single dose of AZD1222 resulted in a four-fold increase in antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein in 95% of participants one month after injection. In all participants, a T-cell response was induced, peaking by day 14, and maintained two months after injection.   (Press release   July 20, 2020) VACCINE

COVID-19 antibody test passes first major trials in UK with 98.6% accuracy   British ministers are making plans to distribute millions of free coronavirus antibody tests after a version backed by the UK government passed its first major trials, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Friday. The fingerprick tests, which can tell within 20 minutes if a person has ever been exposed to the coronavirus, were found to be 98.6% accurate in secret human trials held in June. The test was developed by the UK Rapid Test Consortium, a partnership between Oxford University and leading UK diagnostics firms.   (Reuters   July 18, 2020) TESTING

Six distinct ‘types’ of COVID-19 identified   Analysis of data from the COVID Symptom Study app, led by researchers from King’s College London, reveals that there are six distinct ‘types’ of COVID-19, each distinguished by a particular cluster of symptoms. Moreover, the team found that these types differed in the severity of the disease and the need for respiratory support during hospitalisation. The findings have major implications for clinical management of COVID-19 and could help doctors predict who is most at risk and likely to need hospital care in a second wave of coronavirus infections. Although continuous cough, fever and loss of smell (anosmia) are usually highlighted as the three key symptoms of COVID-19, data gathered from app users shows that people can experience a wide range of different symptoms including headaches, muscle pains, fatigue, diarrhea, confusion, loss of appetite, shortness of breath and more. The progression and outcomes also vary significantly between people, ranging from mild flu-like symptoms or a simple rash to severe or fatal disease.   (Kings College London   July 17, 2020) DIGITAL

Pioneering spin-out company’s test identifies fungal lung disease in COVID-19 patients   A revolutionary point-of-care test developed by experts from ISCA Diagnostics (Exeter), a University of Exeter spin-out company, has been used to safely diagnose a lethal fungal lung disease during the Coronavirus pandemic. ISCA has created a simple, affordable and rapid test to detect pulmonary aspergillosis. A frequently fatal lung disease, which usually attacks immune deficient individuals such as cancer patients and bone marrow transplant recipients, it has also recently emerged as a super-infection of Coronavirus patients in Intensive Care Units known as COVID-19-Associated Pulmonary Aspergillosis.   (University of Exeter   July 17, 2020)  TESTING

Coronavirus vaccine: Oxford team aim to start lab-controlled human trials   The team behind the University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine hope to begin tests on volunteers who will be intentionally exposed to the virus in a “challenge trial”, a move seen as controversial since there is no proven cure for the illness. Although challenge trials, in which healthy volunteers are given a pathogen, are routine in vaccine development, taking the approach for Covid-19, where there is no failsafe treatment if a volunteer becomes severely ill, has been questioned. In human challenge trials volunteers are intentionally exposed in a controlled laboratory setting, meaning the trial can be completed in weeks and requires far fewer people.   (The Guardian   July 16, 2020)  VACCINE

Coronavirus vaccine hopes rise after strong trial results   University of Oxford scientists believe they have made a breakthrough in their quest for a Covid-19 vaccine, discovering that their vaccine triggers a response that may offer a double defence against the virus, producing both a T cell and an antibody response. Phase I human trials of the world-leading Oxford vaccine have shown that it generates an immune response against the disease. Blood samples taken from a group of UK volunteers given a dose of the vaccine showed that it stimulated the body to produce both antibodies and killer T-cells. While extremely promising, the results have not yet proven that the Oxford vaccine provides long-lasting immunity against Covid-19.   (The Telegraph   July 16, 2020)

Covid Vaccine Front-Runner Is Months Ahead of Her Competition   The University of Oxford candidate, led by Sarah Gilbert, might be through human trials in September. AstraZeneca has lined up agreements to produce 2 billion doses. Could this be the one?    (Bloomberg Businessweek   July 15, 2020)  VACCINE

GSK Partnered Medicago Starts Trials of Plant-Based COVID-19 Vaccine   Medicago has started dosing healthy volunteers in the first human trial of its candidate vaccine for COVID-19, a few days after partnering with GlaxoSmithKline on the project.  The Quebec, Canada-based biotech is using a different approach with its vaccine than the other candidates in clinical testing – 22 at last count according to the WHO – as its vaccine is based on recombinant coronavirus virus-like particles made in plant cells.  GSK is contributing its vaccine adjuvant technology to the programme, which is designed to boost the immune response to the vaccine and potentially also allow it to be given in smaller doses, stretching supplies further.  Medicago is also testing its vaccine using another adjuvant supplied by Dynavax, to see which works best.  The CoVLPs mimic the structure of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, stimulating an immune response that theoretically should also protect against the coronavirus itself.  Medicago says its plant platform allows it to quickly develop very close copies of circulating virus strains – in a matter of weeks – and can be quickly scaled up to produce millions of doses.   (Pharmaphorum   July 15, 2020)

Rapid genome sequencing and screening help hospital manage COVID-19 outbreaks   Since the start of the UK pandemic, when the virus was spreading between people, a team of scientists and clinicians at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have been reading the genetic code of the virus to see if cases within the hospital are connected. This has enabled the hospital to fully investigate these outbreaks and to improve infection control measures to reduce the risk of further infections. In addition, the introduction of a screening programme that involved repeat testing of staff, has helped the hospital to investigate clusters of COVID-19 infections, informing infection control measures and breaking chains of transmission. This has helped reduce the number of hospital-acquired infections, ensuring maximum safety for patients and staff as the NHS aims to re-start other services.   (University of Cambridge   July 14, 2020)

AstraZeneca taps IQVIA to ‘warp speed’ its US pandemic vaccine research   Operation Warp Speed is living up to its name as, under the project, one of the COVID-19 vaccine front-runners AstraZeneca is teaming up with life science services company IQVIA to boost its work on the shot. Under the plan, financial details of which were not disclosed, contract research organization IQVIA and AstraZeneca come together to “drive faster delivery of clinical studies in the US aimed at demonstrating efficacy of AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccine, AZD1222.”   (FierceBiotech   July 14, 2020)  VACCINE

Imperial’s Coronavirus Vaccine Could be Available in Early 2021   Lockdown is easing across the UK but life is far from the pre-coronavirus “normal” in the absence of a vaccine that has been proven to be safe and effective.  The UK government has helped to kick-start development of two potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates from Oxford University/AstraZeneca, and Imperial College London.   While AZ’s vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is already in phase 3, Imperial’s potential vaccine is at the start of the clinical trial process.  And even if the trials do work out, there are concerns about who will receive them first as various governments attempt to make deals with pharma companies ahead of definitive trial results.   While AZ has already promised to provide 400 million doses to the US and UK, and to supply doses to a host of other countries if the vaccine works. The latest from Imperial is that expects definitive trial results at the beginning of next year, and its candidate could be rolled out across the UK in the first half of next year.   (Pharmaphorum   July 13, 2020)  VACCINE

UK Firms Plan Early Warning Detector for COVID-19 in Wastewater   Sewage monitoring is being trialled as a way to spot new outbreaks of coronavirus, and three UK companies have now joined forces to try to develop a probe for this purpose. Integumen (York), Avacta (Cambridge UK) and Modern Water (London) are building on recent research findings that fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be detected in wastewater. The partners say they plan to develop a sensor that could be added quickly to Modern Water’s Microtox sewage analysis system, and provide a way to spot COVID-19 spikes in near real-time.  The sensor technology consists of a series of proteins that bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, provided by Avacta, which will be immobilised on silicon wafers developed by Integumen subsidiary Rinocloud for use in bacterial detection sensors. The Microtox system is already installed in more than 3,000 locations around the world to detect the presence of bacteria, viruses and toxins, but to date hasn’t been used to identify a specific pathogen.   (Pharmaphorum   July 13, 2020) TESTING

UK Researchers:  Llama Antibodies to Neutralise COVID-19   Antibodies derived from llamas have been shown to neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus in lab tests, according to researchers from the Rosalind Franklin Institute (Oxford), Oxford UniversityDiamond Light Source (Oxford) and Public Health England. They hope the antibodies, known as nanobodies due to their small size, could eventually be developed as a treatment for patients with severe COVID-19. Llamas, camels and alpacas naturally produce quantities of small antibodies with a simpler structure, that can be turned into nanobodies. The team engineered their new nanobodies using a collection of antibodies taken from llama blood cells. They have shown that the nanobodies bind tightly to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, blocking it from entering human cells and stopping infection.  Using advanced imaging with X-rays and electrons at Diamond Light Source and Oxford University, the team also identified that the nanobodies bind to the spike protein in a new and different way to other antibodies already discovered.   (Science Daily   July 13, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Immunity to COVID-19 Could be Lost in Months UK Study Suggests   People who have recovered from Covid-19 may lose their immunity to the disease within months, according to research suggesting the virus could reinfect people year after year, like common colds.  In the first longitudinal study of its kind, scientists at King’s College London analysed the immune response of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and found levels of antibodies that can destroy the virus peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms then swiftly declined.  Blood tests revealed that while 60% of people marshalled a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the virus, only 17% retained the same potency three months later. Antibody levels fell as much as 23-fold over the period. In some cases, they became undetectable.  The study has implications for the development of a vaccine, and for the pursuit of “herd immunity” in the community over time.   (The Guardian   July 12, 2020)

Coronavirus: Quarantine rules end for dozens of destinations   People arriving in the UK from 75 countries and British overseas territories, including France, Italy, Belgium, Germany and dozens of other countries no longer have to spend 14 days in quarantine. However, Scotland still requires people travelling from Spain to quarantine – unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland.   (BBC   July 10, 2020) TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Oxford scientists form spinout to launch rapid COVID-19 virus test   The COVID-19 pandemic demands availability of highly accessible and rapid testing around the world to detect SARS-CoV-2 and enable countries to emerge from lockdown with confidence. Scientists from the University of Oxford and Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research have developed a rapid test which detects the presence of virus which could be adapted for use in settings ranging from community care, schools, airports or home self-testing. Oxford University Innovation has supported the formation of a lean spin-out company named Oxsed Limited (Oxford), a social venture to commercialise and distribute the test, which will soon be certified with CE-mark, available in quantity with the commercial product name Oxsed RaViD Direct, with a cost of no more than £20 per test, which is considerably cheaper than most of the products currently on market.   (University of Oxford   July 8, 2020) TESTING

NHS England Will Roll Out Online COVID-19 Recovery Portal   People in the UK who are recovering from coronavirus infections will be able to get advice from an online rehabilitation service later this month.  The digital health portal, Your Covid Recovery, will eventually provide access to healthcare workers and advice for “tens of thousands” of patients who could have long-term health issues related to COVID-19.  There have been 285,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK since the start of the pandemic, with more than 100,000 requiring hospital treatment and just over 44,000 deaths at last count.   (Pharmaphorum   July 6, 2020) DIGITAL

Britain closes in on £500m COVID-19 vaccine deal with Sanofi/GSK   Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline look set to agree a £500m deal with Britain for the supply of 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Last month, Sanofi said that it expects to start clinical testing of its experimental coronavirus vaccine in September, several months earlier than planned. The company added that it could have the vaccine ready for emergency use by as early as January.   (PM Live   July 6, 2020) VACCINE

UK study to research long-term health impact of COVID-19   Around 10,000 patients are expected to take part in one of the world’s largest comprehensive research studies into the long-term health impacts of coronavirus on hospitalised patients which is being supported by £8.4 million from the UK government, through UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research. Led by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, a partnership between the University of Leicester and the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, the PHOSP-COVID study will pull together a consortium of leading researchers and doctors from across the UK to assess and publish findings on the impact of COVID-19 on patient health and their recovery, including looking at ways to help improve the mental health of patients hospitalised with coronavirus and how individual characteristics – such as gender or ethnicity – might influence recovery.   (PharmaTimes   July 6, 2020) RESEARCH

Levels of depression and anxiety higher amongst those from BAME backgrounds during lockdown   People from BAME backgrounds have had higher levels of depression and anxiety throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, as well as lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction, finds University College London’s Covid-19 Social Study. In addition, whilst 21% of people from white backgrounds have reported being often lonely during lockdown, this figure has been 23% amongst those from BAME backgrounds. Thoughts of death, although affecting fewer than 15% of people, have been on average 1/3 higher in BAME groups and whilst fewer than 5% of people have reported self-harming during lockdown, these reports have been around 70% higher amongst BAME groups (4-7% reporting self-harming compared to 3-4%). Similarly on average fewer than 1 in 10 people have experienced psychological or physical bullying or abuse during lockdown, but reports have been around 80% higher amongst BAME groups (average 8-12% reporting each week compared to 5-6% in white ethnic groups).   (UCL   July 3, 2020) RESEARCH

One UK trial is transforming COVID-19 treatment. Why haven’t others delivered more results?   On 29 June, University of Oxford clinical scientists Martin Landray and Peter Horby changed how physicians around the world consider treating COVID-19—for the third time in little more than 3 weeks. The principal investigators of a UK megatrial called Recovery—Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (Oxford), which has been testing existing drugs as therapies for the new infection, the pair had just finished reviewing data from 1,596 patients who had received a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, two antivirals known to curb HIV, and 3376 patients who had received only standard care. In a press release, they and their Recovery colleagues announced there had been no significant difference in the death rate between the two groups. “This could have worked. And it was a bust,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “It was really important to clarify that.”   (Science Magazine   July 2, 2020) TRIALS

Scottish firm to trial T cells as possible COVID-19 treatment   TC BioPharma (Glasgow) said it would start clinical trials on a possible T cell treatment for COVID-19 at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, using gamma-delta T cells in a technique it has previously used on cancer patients.  T cells are white blood cells that form a key part of the immune system, along with antibodies, and scientists are hopeful they could play a role in tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic. The organisers of the trial said that data showed severely affected COVID-19 patients might have a deficiency of T cells. The trial will be aimed at reducing the need for intensive care among hospitalised patients.   (This is Money   June 30, 2020) THERAPEUTIC

Genomics England taps up AWS and Lifebit to create cloud-based Covid-19 research environment   Genomics England has joined forces with public cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) and biomedical data processing company Lifebit to create a Covid-19-related genomic research platform. The project’s aim is to “transform” how genomic data is used and made available to the medical research community around the world, and will initially focus on data analytics tasks pertaining to the global fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus. The data gleaned from the 100,000 Genomes Project will be used in the Covid-19 research, while the platform will also, in time, be used to generate insights from that data to help Genomics England in its quest to find out more about rare diseases and cancers.   (Computer Weekly   June 30, 2020) RESEARCH

AstraZeneca Reaches Supply Deal with Brazilian Government to Produce Millions of Doses of COVID-19 Shot   As COVID-19 continues to rampage across the globe, Brazil stands alongside the US as the countries hardest hit with new infections and deaths. But AstraZeneca and its vaccine hopeful could be coming to save the day now that AZ and the Brazilian government have reached a new supply pact, inking a deal valued at $127 million to produce doses of the University of Oxford‘s adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222, as the country combats a rising count of new infections.  Brazil, which trails only the US in terms of total reported COVID-19 cases and deaths, will produce around 30 million doses of the vaccine, with roughly half that amount available by December.  (FiercePharma   June 29, 2020)

Government Unveils £200 Million Package to Help Innovative Businesses   Innovative ideas and projects led by companies recovering from the impact of coronavirus may not be lost, thanks to a new £200 million fund launched at the weekend. The government has launched a Sustainable Innovation Fund, which will be open to UK companies which need urgent financial support to keep their cutting-edge projects and ideas alive. Funding totalling almost £200 million could go towards developing new technologies focused on making homes and offices more energy efficient to cut bills, creating ground-breaking medical technologies to treat infections and diseases, or reducing the carbon footprint of public transport in our towns and cities.   (Business & Innovation Magazine   June 29, 2020)

AstraZeneca, Daiichi Sankyo Working on Japanese Supply Deal for COVID-19 Vaccine   AstraZeneca has picked up manufacturing partners at a rapid clip with a goal to produce 2 billion doses per year of the University of Oxford‘s adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccine, AZD1222. And it may be close to adding to that partner list: AZ and Daiichi Sankyo are in talks to knock together a supply deal for Japan that would include fill-finish and storage duties.  The supply talks come after AZ and the Japanese government agreed to sit down at the negotiating table to discuss a possible deal, Daiichi said. Daiichi Sankyo Biotech, a subsidiary of the Japanese drugmaker, plans to receive Oxford’s undiluted vaccine, which it will finish at its own facilities.  (FiercePharma   June 26, 2020)

UK Groups Partner to Evaluate COVID-19 Vaccine Safety   A new consortium has been established by the Drug Safety Research Unit (DSRU) (Southampton) and the Medicines Monitoring Unit (MEMO Research) at the University of Dundee to monitor the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.  The new Consortium for Monitoring the Safety and Effectiveness of COVID-19 Vaccines will allow for monitoring at the ‘post-marketing’ stage, to ensure vaccines work as they should and fill in any gaps from pre-marketing trials.  The DSRU and MEMO Research previously collaborated to monitor the safety of the new vaccines for swine flu during the 2009 pandemic, and DSRU has conducted enhanced safety surveillance on the seasonal flu vaccine every year since 2014.   (PharmaTimes   June 26, 2020)

Air pollution could help London transport planners fight COVID-19   Analysis of air pollution, COVID-19 cases and fatality rates in London demonstrates a connection between increased levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) and higher risk of viral transmission. Scientists at the Universities of Birmingham and University of Cambridge say that this shows air pollution could be used as an indicator to rapidly identify vulnerable parts of a city such as London – informing decisions to suspend or reduce operation of buses, trains and Underground.   (University of Birmingham   June 25, 2020)

AstraZeneca Taps Scottish Firm for 10th COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Deal   AstraZeneca has signed its 10th supply-and-manufacturing deal for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine with a Scotland-backed firm as AZ ramps up efforts for wider trials of the potential treatment.  Symbiosis Pharmaceutical (Stirling) agreed to make and supply an unspecified number of units of the vaccine, AZD1222, for AZ to use in clinical trials. The companies did not provide any financial terms of the deal. CEO Pascal Soriot last month warned that AZ was running out of time to effectively test the vaccine as the number of cases decline in Europe.  Brazil last week became the first country outside of the UK to begin human testing of the vaccine AZ licensed from the University of Oxford. About 3,000 people in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have enrolled for trials.  Scotland’s economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise, supported the establishment of Symbiosis Pharmaceutical in 2011 and provided it with capital.  (Reuters   June 24, 2020)

What human waste can tell us about COVID-19   The Quadrum Institute (Norwich), working with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, is studying  how often and for how long COVID-19 is present in the stool of people who have tested positive for COVID-19. And researchers at Bangor University are sampling wastewater from households across Wales in the hope of creating an early warning system for communities.   (UKRI   June 2020)

PrecisionLife Identifies 68 Genes Associated with High Risk of Severe COVID-19, Suggesting Opportunities for Genomic Biomarkers and New Treatment Options   PrecisionLife (Oxford) has identified 68 genes associated with high-risk of developing severe COVID-19 by using AI-analysis of 929 hospitalized patients from the UK Biobank.  The damaging immune response factors identified are common across all patients with all co-morbidities, giving the potential for biomarkers to stratify people at high-risk of severe COVID-19.  A new cluster of genes was identified converging on plasma membrane repair, clotting and wound healing. And several druggable protein targets and pathways were found, creating new opportunities for drug repurposing and accelerated drug development.   (Press release   June 25, 2020)

UK Launches New National COVID-19 Test Validation Project   The UK government is launching a national research program, in collaboration with a number of universities, NHS trusts and medical research groups, to evaluate the accuracy of new coronavirus diagnostic tests and how well they perform in different settings.  The COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform, or CONDOR, will be funded by the National Institute for Health Research, UK Research and Innovation, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation. The program will be led by the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford in collaboration with four NIHR Medtech and IVD Co-operatives as well as the University of Nottingham and the National Measurement Laboratory. It will also collaborate with NICE to assess individual tests’ benefits.   (Fierce Biotech   June 24, 2020)

Town in UK Takes Steps to Test Entire Population for Coronavirus   Southampton is about to start testing thousands of people for the coronavirus each week, coordinated by the University of Southampton, using easily collected saliva and a cheap, quick way of detecting the virus. If the initial trial is successful, the aim is to test the town’s entire population of 250,000 people every week to see if this can rapidly halt the virus’ spread.   (New Scientist   June 24, 2020)

Air pollution could help London transport planners fight COVID-19   Analysis of air pollution, COVID-19 cases and fatality rates in London demonstrates a connection between increased levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5) and higher risk of viral transmission. Scientists at the Universities of Birmingham and University of Cambridge say that this shows air pollution could be used as an indicator to rapidly identify vulnerable parts of a city such as London – informing decisions to suspend or reduce operation of buses, trains and Underground.   (University of Birmingham   June 25, 2020)

Coronavirus: Human trial of new vaccine begins in UK   Volunteers have begun being immunised with a new UK coronavirus vaccine developed by Imperial College London. About 300 people will have the vaccine over the coming weeks, with another 6,000 being planned for October. Volunteers are to get two shots of this mRNA vaccine candidate, four weeks apart. Tests in animals suggest the vaccine is safe and triggers an effective immune response.   (BBC   June 24, 2020)

Oxford University Starts Human Trial of Potential COVID-19 Vaccine in Brazil   Oxford University started human clinical trials for its potential COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil, one of the worst-hit countries and current epicentre, over the last weekend. Vaccine sponsor Lemann Foundation said in a statement that the trials will be performed on 2,000 health workers volunteers in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, and 1,000 people in Rio de Janeiro.   (Republic World   June 23, 2020)

Studies at Pirbright demonstrate two doses of Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine boosts immune response in pigs   The Pirbright Institute (Oxford), working in collaboration with the University of Oxford, have successfully shown that two doses of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine produce a greater antibody response than a single dose in pigs. The new vaccine, which was developed by a team of scientists at the Jenner Institute (Oxford), is a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector that contains the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2. Phase 1 human clinical trials of the single dose vaccine have already begun following research that showed that macaques were protected against lung disease after a single immunisation. Volunteers are now being recruited for the next phase of human trials.   (Pirbright Institute   June 23, 2020)

New coronavirus saliva test to be trialled in Southampton   A weekly COVID-19 testing model using a promising new ‘no-swab’ saliva test [developed by OptiGene (Horsham)] is being piloted in Southampton from this week. People taking part in the trial will complete coronavirus tests at home by putting their saliva into a sample pot every week to test for current infections of the virus, potentially increasing testing capacity and accessibility. GP staff, other essential key workers, university employees and members of their households will be among the first to participate in the pilot. Samples will be collected from homes by University of Southampton staff or returned to an agreed location on a weekly basis, and participants will receive test results within 48 hours.   (PharmaTimes   June 23, 2020)

GSK/Clover’s COVID-19 vaccine moves into human trials   GlaxoSmithKline’s scientific collaboration with Chinese biotech Clover Pharmaceuticals to develop an adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine is now being tested in human clinical trials.  Clover has initiated a Phase I clinical study assessing the potential of combining its COVID-19 S-Trimer vaccine (SCB-2019) with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant system, which can reduce the amount of protein required per vaccine dose. The moves rides on the back of promising preclinical data indicating the beneficial effect of GSK’s pandemic adjuvant for the SCB-2019 vaccine candidate, “with high neutralising antibody levels elicited in multiple animal species,” the UK drug giant noted.   (PharmaTimes   June 22, 2020)

UK team awarded grant for ‘second wave’ COVID-19 drug hunt   A UK research group has been given £2.2 million in funding to seek out additional drugs to treat COVID-19, in case the first wave of therapies fail to show a benefit. The money has been awarded to AGILE, a project that aims to rapidly identify drugs to help treat and prevent COVID-19 which is led by the University of Liverpool. AGILE has been awarded the grant by Unitaid, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on improving the health of low- and middle-income countries, and is part of $30 million in funding by the NGO earmarked for pandemic projects. The aim is to identify backup compounds if the drugs currently at the forefront of clinical testing for COVID-19 fail to live up to their early promise, which has already been seen with antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, an early front-runner now all but abandoned as a candidate.   (PharmaPhorum   June 19, 2020)

Social media users more likely to break COVID-19 lockdown rules – study   People who get information about coronavirus from social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are more likely to believe conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and to have broken lockdown rules, research has found. The research by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI was based on three separate surveys and has been published in a peer-reviewed article by KCL’s academics and in the journal Psychological Medicine.    (PharmaPhorum   June 18, 2020)

Government authorises use of dexamethasone for COVID-19   The UK has authorised immediate use of dexamethasone on the NHS, widening access to the first coronavirus treatment proven to reduce the risk of death. Doctors can now administer the anti-inflammatory to all UK hospitalised COVID-19 patients requiring oxygen, including those on ventilators. The move follows data from the UK RECOVERY trial showing that the drug cut the risk death in COVID-19 patients on ventilation by as much as 35% and patients on oxygen by 20%, reducing the total 28-day mortality rate by 17%. Funded by the UK government, via the National Institute for Health Research and UK Research and Innovation, the Oxford University UK RECOVERY trial is the first clinical trial anywhere in the world to show a treatment provides significant impact in reducing patient mortality. The RECOVERY trial (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) is assessing a range of potential treatments for COVID-19. Over 11,500 patients have been enrolled so far, from over 175 NHS hospitals across the UK.   (PharmaTimes   June 18, 2020)

Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker   Governments are taking a wide range of measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This tool aims to track and compare policy responses around the world, rigorously and consistently. Developed at the University of Oxford, the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) systematically collects information on several different common policy responses that governments have taken to respond to the pandemic on 17 indicators such as school closures and travel restrictions, scores the stringency of such measures, and aggregates these scores into a common Stringency Index. Such information on which governments have taken which measures, and when, can help decision-makers and citizens understand the robustness of governmental responses in a consistent way, aiding efforts to fight the pandemic.  It now has data from more than 160 countries. The data is also used to inform a ‘Lockdown rollback checklist’ which looks at how closely countries meet four of the six WHO recommendations for relaxing ‘lockdown’.  The tool can be accessed here.

G42 and ONT Co-Develop Ultra-Scalable Solution for COVID-19 Detection (UAE)   Group 42 (G42), an AI and cloud computing company based in the United Arab Emirates, and advanced-sequencing company Oxford Nanopore Technologies have developed a population-scale technology that rapidly and accurately detects SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The end-to-end solution will be officially launched within weeks. With ultra-high parallel processing capacity, the new technology has the potential to transform the diagnostics industry globally. This innovation uses the LamPORE assay, which is based on the LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) technique and Oxford Nanopore’s rapid sequencing platform, in combination with the high-throughput automation, sample processing and reporting workflows developed by G42.   (Nanopore Tech   June 9, 2020)

Cambridge researcher confirms reproducibility of high-profile Imperial College coronavirus computational model   The code, script and documentation of the 16 March report group led by Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, which is available on Github, was subject to an independent review led by Dr Stephen Eglen, from University of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.   Eglen co-founded Codecheck last year to help evaluate the computer programs behind scientific studies. The model suggested that there could be up to half a million deaths in the UK if no measures were taken to slow the spread of the virus, and has been cited as one of the main reasons that lockdown went into effect soon after.   (University of Cambridge   June 9, 2020)

Kawasaki-like syndrome linked to COVID-19 in children is a new condition    In April, researchers in the UK and several European countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases recognised a new inflammatory syndrome in children that was similar to Kawasaki disease, a rare syndrome known to affect young children. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers have identified the main symptoms and clinical markers of the new syndrome. This will help clinicians diagnose and treat the condition and researchers to understand it further and find new treatments. The study, led by Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre researchers, involved clinicians and academic partners in hospitals across England, including Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, as well the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at the University of California San Diego.   (Imperial College London   June 8, 2020)

Birmingham designed test confirms COVID-19 as trigger for rare Kawasaki-like syndrome in children   This latest research demonstrates the value of an antibody test, developed by a team at the University of Birmingham, to confirm the diagnosis of children hospitalised with symptoms consistent with PIMS-TS. All of the children tested negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus by PCR. This research was the product of a collaboration between the University of BirminghamBirmingham Health PartnersBirmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation TrustUniversity Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Southampton and The Binding Site Group (Birmingham).   (University of Birmingham   June 5, 2020)

The neurobiology of social distance: why loneliness may be the biggest threat to survival    Never before have we experienced social isolation on a massive scale as we have during the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. A new paper published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences explores the wide-ranging, negative consequences that social isolation has on our psychological well-being and physical health, including decreased life span. The paper was co-authored by Associate Professor Danilo Bzdok (McGill University and Mila Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute) and Emeritus Professor Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford). Through examining a broad range of studies, a full picture emerged of the severe impact that loneliness can have, namely that: having strong interpersonal relationships is critical for survival across the entire lifespan; social isolation is a significant predictor of the risk of death; insufficient social stimulation affects reasoning and memory performances, hormone homeostasis, brain grey/white-matter, connectivity and function, as well as resilience to physical and mental disease; feelings of loneliness can spread through a social network, causing negatively skewed social perception, escalating morbidity and mortality, and, in older people, precipitating the onset of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.   (University of Oxford   June 5, 2020)

Proteins in COVID-19 patients’ blood could predict severity of illness, study finds   Scientists have found 27 key proteins in the blood of people infected with COVID-19 which they say could act as predictive biomarkers for how ill a patient could become with the disease. In research published in the journal Cell Systems, scientists at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute and Germany’s Charite Universitaetsmedizin Berlin found the proteins are present in different levels in COVID-19 patients, depending on the severity of their symptoms. The markers could lead to the development of a test that would help doctors predict how ill a patient might get when infected with the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, they said, and could also provide new targets for the development of potential treatments for the disease.   (Reuters   June 2, 2020)

New COVID-19 database for preclinical therapies   The Academy of Medical Sciences has launched a new database for early stage UK COVID-19 research to boost collaboration and map the preclinical discovery landscape. The aim is to help researchers identify collaborations, share expertise, materials and methods; avoid duplicating effort; and prioritise the most promising research. Researchers from across academia and industry are asked to submit projects to this database through a short optional survey and will publish the results through our new open access database:   http://covidpipeline.acmedsci.ac.uk/   (Academy of Medical Sciences   June 1, 2020)

Black and Asian Groups Are at Higher Risk of Covid-19 Infection   New UK Biobank research, led by the University of Glasgow and published in BMC Medicine, has found that black and south Asian ethnic groups have a higher risk of testing positive with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. These groups were also at a higher risk of testing positive while attending hospital, suggesting they were also at greater risk of severe disease from the virus. These risks remained largely unchanged even when accounting for pre-existing health conditions, health-related behaviours (such as smoking) and the likelihood of working for the health service. However, socioeconomic differences seemed to partly but not wholly explain ethnic differences in COVID-19.   (University of Glasgow   May 29, 2020)

University-led COVID19 drug trial expands into home testing   The trial of an inhaled drug that could prevent worsening of COVID19 in those most at risk is to be expanded to dose patients in the home setting. In March, the University of Southampton and Synairgen (Southampton) began clinical tests of SNG001, an inhaled formulation of the naturally occurring antiviral protein interferon beta 1a on patients with COVID19. This new phase follows receipt of the necessary approvals to expand from the original 100 patients, to include enrolling an additional 120 patients in the home environment.   (University of Southampton   May 26, 2020)

Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to begin phase II/III human trials   University of Oxford researchers have begun recruiting for the next phase in human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine in human volunteers. The phase I trial in healthy adult volunteers began in April. More than 1,000 immunisations have been completed and follow-up is currently ongoing. The next study will enrol up to 10,260 adults and children and will involve a number of partner institutions across the country. The phase II part of the study involves expanding the age range of people the vaccine is assessed in, to include a small number of older adults and children. For these groups, researchers will be assessing the immune response to the vaccine in people of different ages, to find out if there is variation in how well the immune system responds in older people or children. The phase III part of the study involves assessing how the vaccine works in a large number of people over the age of 18. This group will assess how well the vaccine works to prevent people from becoming infected and unwell with COVID-19.   (University of Oxford   May 22, 2020)

Risk factors associated with severe and fatal cases of COVID-19 identified   Age, male sex, obesity, and underlying illness have emerged as risk factors for severe and fatal cases of COVID-19 in the UK, according to the largest cohort study published in the BMJ. According to the Department of Health COVID-19 can be more severe in older people and people with chronic heart, lung, liver and kidney disease, a weakened immune system, diabetes, and some cancers. However, less is known about how the virus exploits age, sex and other underlying health conditions. To address this knowledge gap, ISARIC4C, a consortium of researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London, analysed data from 20,133 patients with COVID-19 admitted to 208 acute care hospitals in England, Wales, and Scotland between 6 February and 19 April 2020.   (University of Liverpool   May 22, 2020)

AstraZeneca Scores $1.2 Billion From US, Signs Up To Deliver Hundreds of Of Millions Of COVID-19 Vaccines   Only days after Moderna reported positive early results for its potential COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca has stolen the spotlight back, scoring a $1.2 billion contribution from the US for development, production and delivery of its potential shot starting this fall.  The vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, contains the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. It isn’t replicating, so it can’t cause an ongoing infection in recipients, AZ says. The company hopes the vaccine can deliver a strong immune response from one dose by triggering the body to produce the spike protein and attack the novel coronavirus upon infection.  AZ has signed up to deliver 400 million doses through its initial supply agreements. The US deal—through the HHS’ BARDA agency—follows a UK pact unveiled Sunday for 100 million total doses.   (FiercePharma   May 21, 2020) 

$1.2 Billion from US to Drugmaker to Pursue Coronavirus Vaccine   The Trump administration announced a grant to AstraZeneca, which has licensed a potential vaccine that is in trials by Oxford University. The deal with AZ is the fourth and by far the largest vaccine research agreement that the department has disclosed. The money will pay for a Phase 3 clinical trial of a potential vaccine in the US this summer with about 30,000 volunteers. The Health & Human Services statement said the agency and AZ “are collaborating to make available at least 300 million doses,” and projected that the first doses could be available as early as October.   (New York Times   May 21, 2020)

UK Hospitals Test Trump’s Theory That Hydroxychloroquine Wards Off COVID-19   The world’s largest trial into hydroxychloroquine as a preventive treatment for COVID-19 is beginning in the UK.  Hydroxychloroquine has had a bad press recently after president Donald Trump announced he was taking it to reduce his chances of picking up the infection, even though it has yet to be proven in this use.  But scientists think that there is a rationale for using hydroxychloroquine as a way of lowering the infection rate, particularly among those likely to be exposed such as healthcare workers.  Already approved to treat malaria and certain inflammatory diseases, hydroxychloroquine has some well-documented side effects, but could prevent the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from entering cells by altering their pH.  The COPCOV trial is being run at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.  (Pharmaphorum   May 21, 2020)

Despite App Delay Johnson Says UK Will Have World Beating Contact Tracing   Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that the UK’s contact tracing will be in place next month, but the NHS’ smartphone app will only play a minor role at that time.  Instead, the government will rely on 25,000 contact tracers who will be able to track 10,000 new cases a day, a low-tech approach based on infected individuals listing all the people they have had prolonged, recent contact with – who would then be contacted by phone or email.  In the absence of a vaccine, tracking and tracing people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been credited with bringing the COVID-19 outbreak under control in countries such as China and South Korea.  Part of that success has been attributed to the use of digital contact tracing using smartphones, however the UK is now downplaying the importance of its mobile app as it pushes its traditional but more labour-intensive approach.  The official stance is now that the mobile app is a complement to old-school contact tracing, rather than the foundation of its system.   (Pharmaphorum   May 21, 2020)

Rolling 50/30 day cycle of lockdown and relaxation could be a useful option for managing COVID-19, model suggests   An alternating cycle of 50 days of strict lockdown followed by 30 days of easing could be an effective strategy for reducing the number of COVID-19-related deaths and admissions to intensive care units, say an international team of researchers led by Cambridge University. It is unclear what the frequency and duration of such dynamic interventions should be and which strategy could be adapted globally across countries with diverse health and economic infrastructures. To address these uncertainties, an international team of researchers from the Global Dynamic Interventions Strategies for COVID-19 Collaborative Group modelled three scenarios across sixteen countries, from Belgium to India, that vary in setting and income. Their results are published today in the European Journal of Epidemiology.   (University of Cambridge   May 20, 2020)

£40 million confirmed for businesses tackling post-COVID-19 impact    UKRI’s Innovate UK has confirmed that over 800 UK R&D-intensive businesses and technology companies will share grant funding of £40 million – double the amount planned – to develop new projects and services designed to boost economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19. Following record-breaking levels of interest, these organisations will drive forward technological advances in areas including delivery services, food manufacturing, retail and transport, addressing new and unique challenges arising from the COVID-19 impact.   (UKRI   May 20, 2020)

After Signing Up to Deliver UK Shots First, AstraZeneca Talks to Supply COVID-19 Vaccines Worldwide  AstraZeneca, partnered with the University of Oxford on a leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate, has already inked a deal to supply millions of doses to the UK. Now, the drugmaker is scouting for partnerships to make the potential vaccine available worldwide.  The drugmaker is in talks with global groups and governments “with the aim of delivering a safe, effective and globally accessible vaccine as quickly as possible,” a spokesman told Reuters. The company will make “every effort we can [to] deliver these doses at no profit while at the same time working on parallel supply chains to supply the world,” the spokesman added.   (FiercePharma   May 19, 2020)

Mayo Clinic selects UK startup’s AI tool to gain insights on Covid’s effect on the heart   A young UK startup, Ultromics (Oxford), is collaborating on a research study with Mayo Clinic to use an FDA-cleared automated echocardiogram assessment and quantification tool to unlock the mysteries of how Covid-19 attacks the heart.  Artificial intelligence in healthcare cut its teeth in radiology with many companies developing algorithms to read MRI and CT scans and catch things that the human eye doesn’t see.   (MedCity News   May 18, 2020)

Oxford University and NIH COVID-19 Vaccine Shows Success In Rhesus Macaques   A new study has shown that a single dose of a potential vaccine to prevent pneumonia caused by COVID-19 is successful in non-human primates.  The research was conducted by the US NIH, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Oxford.  The scientists reveal that a single dose of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, an investigational vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, protected six rhesus macaques from pneumonia caused by COVID-19. Based on these data, a Phase I trial of the candidate vaccine began on 23 April in healthy volunteers in the UK. The vaccine was developed at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute. It uses a replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus to deliver a SARS-CoV-2 protein to induce a protective immune response.   (Drug Target Review   May 18, 2020)

UK Biobank Launches COVID-19 Immunity Study   The UK Biobank is launching a large-scale long-term study to track the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the general population and to understand levels of immunity and the role of genetics. The study is led by the UK Biobank, supported by the Department of Health and Social Care, and was developed by the Wellcome Trust. It aims to enroll 20,000 existing Biobank participants, as well as their adult children and grandchildren, from England, Scotland, and Wales. The plan is to conduct antibody tests to determine what proportion of the population has already been infected, how long immunity lasts, and why the virus affects different people in different ways.   (GenomeWeb   May 18, 2020)

UKRI funding to expose ‘semi-fake news’ and build public’s ‘fake news immunity’   A University of Liverpool led project will attempt to combat the online coronavirus “infodemic” by helping the media and public identify ‘semi-fake news’ and build ‘fake news immunity’, after securing more than £200,000 UKRI funding. The proposal defines semi-fake news as information that does not contain outright mistruths, but instead uses selective existing facts – such as partial scientific results or single anecdotes – to reach false evaluations.   (University of Liverpool   May 18, 2020)

Babylon Makes Coronavirus Antibody Test Available to Anyone in UK   A finger-prick blood test that identifies people previously infected with the new coronavirus – offered by Babylon Health – is now available to anyone in the UK willing to pay a £69 fee.  The test – which Babylon says is being offered at cost – can be taken at home but won’t give an immediate results as the sample needs to be sent for analysis in a laboratory. The digital health specialist has launched the service shortly after two other lab-based antibody tests from heavyweight diagnostics firms Roche and Abbott have been cleared for use by public health bodies in England, Scotland and Wales. These have been described as “game-changing” by the UK government, but NHS use will be reserved for use initially by health and care workers so may not be available to the general public for some time. Experts are also stressing that for the time being at least there’s no way to tell if having antibodies to the virus means you have immunity, and whether or not you can pass the virus on to other people.   (Pharmaphorum   May 15, 2020)  

Balancing the Two   Enabled by the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers in the UK have been able to sift through the medical records of about 17 million people while safeguarding their privacy, the Economist reports. While the researchers used this data to examine which populations — men, older people, and people of fewer means, as they report in a medRxiv preprint — might be more severely affected by COVID-19, the Economist writes that the method the University of Oxford‘s Ben Goldacre and his colleagues employed is also interesting. The approach, dubbed OpenSafely, did not remove or copy patients’ electronic medical records for analysis, but instead examined them in place, logging each query the researchers sent.   (GenomeWeb   May 14, 2020)

First coronavirus antibody test given approval by Public Health England   One hundred per cent accuracy of test developed by Swiss firm Roche has been confirmed by experts at Public Health England’s Porton Down facility last week in a breakthrough that could be key to easing the UK’s lockdown restrictions. The Department of Health is in negotiations with the Swiss healthcare company Roche to buy millions of the kits.   (The Telegraph   May 13, 2020)

Study sets benchmark for cost of repurposed coronavirus drugs   Scientists have warned that the main drugs being repurposed for COVID-19 could end up being too expensive for many people around the world – unless drugmakers are prepared to sell them at cost or close to it. The team  of researchers from the University of Liverpool and Imperial College London in the UK, Australia’s Burnet Institute, and Howard University in the US crunched the numbers on the front-runner coronavirus drugs to see just how much it should cost to manufacture them, and concluded that they could all be made for less than $1.50 per day, and for just cents in some cases. The study is sure to lend ammunition to the emerging debate about just how much the drugs being repurposed for use in COVID-19 will eventually cost if they prove effective in trials, and how much profit – if any – the companies selling them should make.   (PharmaPhorum   May 12, 2020)

Roll-out of coronavirus behaviour change website will help public transition to ‘new normal’   An evidence-based, behaviour change website, already proven successful in reducing infection transmissions for seasonal and swine flu, has been rapidly redeveloped and adapted in response to coronavirus. The researchers behind ‘Germ Defence’ from Universities of Bristol, Bath and Southampton hope that the quick redevelopment of the site for COVID-19 will help the public to shift behaviours. The ‘Germ Defence’ website draws on behaviour change techniques to help users think through and adopt better home hygiene and stronger infection control. Developed by health experts and psychologists, previous research into its effectiveness, involving a study of over 20,000 people, found that users of the site were less likely to catch flu or other viruses; and if they did become ill, on average, their illnesses were shorter and milder.   (University of Bristol   May 11, 2020)

UK rolls out principle trial to evaluate potential COVID-19 treatments in the community   Researchers at the University of Oxford are rolling out a UK trial to assess whether low-risk treatment in the community can help to reduce symptoms of COVID-19 in older patients, help them to recover more quickly, and so reduce the need for hospitalization. The Platform Randomized Trial of Interventions against COVID-19 in Older People (PRINCIPLE) study will initially evaluate the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, including those aged 50–64 years who have certain pre-existing illnesses, and any individual aged over 65 years who has had COVID-19 symptoms for less than 15 days.   (Genetic Engineering News   May 12, 2020)  

GSK taps experimental arthritis antibody to calm cytokine storm hitting COVID-19 patients   GlaxoSmithKline is hard at work with partner Sanofi in getting a vaccine tested for COVID-19, but this morning it said it was now also entering the race to treat patients already hit with the disease. Specifically, GSKsays it has “identified” a monoclonal antibody from its pipeline, anti-GM-CSF (granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor) otilimab, as a “potential treatment for patients who have been hospitalised with severe pulmonary complications related to COVID-19.” It plans to start midstage testing in the coming weeks in around 800 patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The drug is already in trials for arthritis, but like other meds, including some repurposed efforts, GSK hopes its therapy can help those with COVID-19 who are hit with a secondary complication known as a cytokine storm. This can be fatal and comes as a result of an overreaction of the body’s immune system; it’s also seen in other infections such as influenza.   (FierceBiotech   May 7, 2020)

US, UK security agencies warn state-based hackers targeting healthcare, medical research   Cybersecurity authorities in the US and UK are warning that nation-state hackers are after intellectual property and medical research related to COVID-19 treatments. In a joint alert, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre warned that advanced persistent threat groups are attacking healthcare policy makers and medical research organizations to steal information about efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.   (FierceHealthcare   May 6, 2020)

AI tool spots 59 possible COVID-19 drugs in UK Biobank data   Scientists at UK biotech PrecisionLife (Oxford) say they have used the UK Biobank to identify human genes that can increase the risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19, and find drugs that could treat the disease. The UK Biobank – which has DNA and other samples from 500,000 volunteers as well as detailed health information – was mined by the researchers to see if they could find genetic differences to explain why some people develop severe illness when infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They found no fewer than 59 drug candidates that might be repurposed as treatments to increase the survival rate of the roughly two-thirds of patients who develop sepsis while suffering from severe COVID-19.   (Pharmaphorum   May 6, 2020)

UK says coronavirus contact tracing app could be nationwide in weeks   Testing of an NHS contact-tracing app that could help the UK emerge from lockdown is now underway in the Isle of Wight, starting with NHS workers and council staff. The smartphone app developed by NHSX is part of the UK’s ‘test, track, trace’ strategy to relax social distancing measures. If the first phase of implementation is successful it could be rolled out across England by the middle of May, and nationwide within the next few weeks. As an easing of the lockdown is considered to help limit damage to the economy, the plan is to combine widespread testing with contact-tracing to monitor and reduce any future COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the government.   (PharmaPhorum   May 6, 2020)

SARS-COV-2 has not mutated into different types, new research confirms   Recent research had suggested that more than one type of SARS-CoV-2 was now circulating in the pandemic, with one strain being more aggressive and causing more serious illness than the other. Now, using analysis of SARS-CoV-2 virus samples from the pandemic, scientists at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research have been able to show that only one type of the virus is currently circulating.   (University of Glasgow   May 6, 2020)

AI-based precision medicine mining of UK Biobank finds 13 human COVID risk genes   Data scientists from UK-headquartered AI precision medicine company, PrecisionLife (Oxford), have used their proprietary AI enabled precision medicine platform to identify 59 repurposing drug candidates that could be used to develop new therapeutic strategies to increase the survival rate of patients who develop sepsis while suffering from severe COVID-19. PrecisionLife analysed patient datasets compiled by UK Biobank.   (Automation Magazine   May 6, 2020)

Covid virus images shared for global science community   Scientists at the University of Dundee and the EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) have published online some of the largest and highest resolution images yet recorded of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic.   (Life sciences in Scotland   May 4, 2020)

Drug trial aims to treat severe outcome of COVID-19   The University of Dundee is leading a major new clinical trial of a drug it is hoped may help to prevent the worst ravages of COVID-19. Researchers from the University’s School of Medicine are partnering with global biopharmaceutical company Insmed Incorporated to conduct trials of brensocatib (formerly known as INS1007), a drug being developed to treat lung inflammation, in COVID-19 patients. Insmed will provide funding and clinical drug supply for the STOP-COVID19 (Superiority Trial of Protease inhibition in COVID-19) trial. The Dundee researchers will explore whether brensocatib can reduce the incidence of acute lung injury and prevent mechanical ventilation. It is hoped that the treatment will also lead to patients spending fewer days dependent on oxygen and shorter periods of time in hospital, reducing the burden on healthcare systems.   (Life sciences in Scotland   May 4, 2020)

Inhaled interferon beta being tried in COVID-19 patients   A new drug developed by UK scientists to treat Covid-19 patients is being trialled at University Hospital Southampton. Developed by UK bio-tech company Synairgen (Southampton), it uses a protein called interferon beta, which our bodies produce when we get a viral infection. Initial results from the trial are expected by the end of June. There are currently few effective treatments for coronavirus with doctors relying on patients’ immune systems.   (BBC   May 4, 2020)

January? Autumn? Doctors Debate Arrival for COVID Vaccine  Researchers continue to debate how fast a coronavirus vaccine may be available as states and nations look for a fast track to recovery from the pandemic’s economic toll, with January or even the fall now on the timetable. British scientists hope to see a “signal” on whether their vaccine candidate is working by June, John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford University. The chances are “pretty good” of a vaccine within the year, Bell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He downplayed a colleague’s suggestion that there’s an 80% chance, though. Vaccines can typically take at least several years to develop.   (Bloomberg   May 3, 2020)

Study of more than 16,700 COVID-19 patients identifies characteristics of severe disease   To answer many urgent questions about the characteristics of people who are most severely affected by the virus and what happens to them in hospital, a study – called ‘ISARIC4C’ – has analysed data obtained from 16,749 COVID-19 hospital patients in the UK. The study is led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, University of Liverpool, and Imperial College London, and was funded by UKRI as part of the UKRI/DHSC/NIHR COVID-19 rapid research response. The analysis found that, overall, 49% of the COVID-19 hospital patients were discharged alive, 33% had died and 17% continued to receive care at date of reporting. Admission to high dependency or intensive care units was required for 17% of patients and of these, 31% were discharged alive, 45% died and 24% continued to receive care at the reporting date. Of those receiving mechanical ventilation, 20% were discharged alive, 53% died and 27% remained in hospital. The commonest comorbidities were chronic cardiac disease (29%), uncomplicated diabetes (19%), non-asthmatic chronic pulmonary disease (19%) and asthma (14%); however 47% had no documented reported comorbidity.   (UKRI   April 30, 2020)

GSK sees ‘modest’ impact on trials, getting head down for ‘busy few months’ on COVID-19 work   GlaxoSmithKline is following suit with fellow British Big Pharma AstraZeneca in downplaying the overall risk to its trials during the pandemic. AZ said in its financials this week that it wasn’t expecting much of a hit on its late-stage trials, many of which are focused around its checkpoint inhibitor cancer drug Imfinzi. Now, GSK is saying it’s also confident it won’t be too hard done by in terms of trial delays, with Chief Scientific Officer Hal Barron saying in its first-quarter results this is due to “the ability for us to come up with somewhat novel ways of doing these trials, we’re confident that the impact is modest.”   (FiercePharma   April 30, 2020)

The Oxford lab leading the race for a coronavirus vaccine says it hopes to get an idea of whether it works on humans in mid-June   The University of Oxford team racing to find a coronavirus vaccine say it hopes to get an early idea of whether it works on humans in mid-June [per John Bell, a regius professor of medicine at the university]. Human trials of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (funded by UK government) began in Oxford on April 23, following successful tests on rhesus macaque monkeys in late March. John Bell also announced a partnership with the British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca meant to help scale up production should the vaccine be approved.  (Business Insider   April 30, 2020)

Are you more likely to die of covid-19 if you live in a polluted area?   Marco Travaglio and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge overlaid nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO) levels from more than 120 monitoring stations across England with figures on coronavirus infections and deaths. They found a link between poor air quality and the lethality of covid-19 in those areas.   (New Scientist   April 30, 2020)

UK initiative aims to cut COVID-19 drug development to a few weeks   A new UK trial initiative aims to cut the design phase of clinical studies for potential COVID-19 drugs from around 18 months to a few weeks. The ACCORD-2 collaboration is examining the effectiveness of repurposed medicines, potential new drugs, and as yet unlicensed therapies in treating COVID-19 patients. Drug compounds that demonstrate effectiveness and safety in the early clinical trials stage will then be moved rapidly onto large-scale research platforms such as the Randomised Evaluation of COVID Therapy (RECOVERY) trial. The study is funded by the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care and UK Research and Innovation.   (Pharmaphorum   April 29, 2020)

Why it’ll still be a long time before we get a coronavirus vaccine   Trials of experimental coronavirus vaccines are already under way, but it’s still likely to be years before one is ready and vaccination may not even be possible.  Many UK newspapers recently celebrated the first volunteer to receive an injection as part of a safety trial of an experimental coronavirus vaccine led by the University of Oxford, involving 1100 adults, half of whom will receive the vaccine while the other half will get a meningitis vaccine as a control. But while there are claims that it could be possible for a vaccine to be ready within a year, the chances of this happening remain slim.   (New Scientist   April 29, 2020)

The world’s largest vaccine maker is producing 40 million units of a coronavirus vaccine on trial in Oxford, without knowing whether it works   At its own risk and cost, the Serum Institute of India says it will produce 5 million units of the (University of Oxford ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) vaccine a month, for six months, to get ahead of demand.   (Business Insider   April 27, 2020)

Study of twins reveals genetic effect on COVID-19 symptoms   Symptoms of Covid-19 appear to be partly down to genetic makeup, researchers at King’s College London have discovered. The finding is based on data collected through the Covid-19 Symptom Tracker app, launched by the team last month. While members of the public are encouraged to use the app to track how they feel day to day, the team also asked thousands of twins in the UK, who were already part of another research project, to use the app and record whether they had symptoms or not.   (The Guardian   April 27, 2020)

AstraZeneca‘s fast-rising diabetes med Farxiga jumps into the COVID-19 fray   AstraZeneca‘s high-profile SGLT2 diabetes med Farxiga is looking at a bright future with big FDA decisions in heart failure and kidney disease right around the corner. Now, AZ is testing it as a potential coronavirus therapy, too. AstraZeneca has launched a phase 3 trial evaluating Farxiga as a treatment for severe COVID-19 patients with cardiovascular, metabolic or kidney risk factors that increase the probability of severe complications, including organ failure.  (FiercePharma   April 23, 2020)

UK digital firms help train new medical recruits to fight COVID-19   Healthtech startups Patchwork Health (London) and Medics.Academy have joined forces to produce a tool to help newly-qualified doctors and returning retired doctors get trained for the effort against COVID-19. Tens of thousands of recently retired NHS workers and thousands of newly-qualified medical students have already put themselves forward to fill the NHS’s hospital staffing gaps as the UK reaches its coronavirus pandemic peak. Patchwork has already assisted with this via its free digital recruitment tool and is now offering specially designed courses to help the new recruits with their training. One course is aimed at the newly-qualified junior doctors, and the second is for recent retirees returning to service. These educational programmes will serve the dual purposes of rapidly preparing staff to re-enter the NHS and equipping new starters with essential skills.   (Pharmaphorum   April 23, 2020)

Key nose cells identified as likely COVID-19 entry points   Two cell types in the nose have been identified as likely infection points for COVID19. Cells in eyes and some other organs also contain the viral-entry proteins Knowing which cell types are important for virus transmission provides a basis for developing potential treatments to reduce the spread of the virus. The identification of these cells by researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, University Medical Centre Groningen, University Cote d’Azur and CNRS, Nice and their collaborators, as part of the Human Cell Atlas Lung Biological Network, could help explain the high transmission rate of COVID-19.   (Wellcome Sanger   April 23, 2020)

British scientist to head UN task force distributing Covid-19 vaccine as US blocks G20 agreement   One of Britain’s most influential pharmaceutical bosses has been appointed to lead a global task force which is hoped will speed the equitable distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine around the world. Sir Andrew Witty, a former chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, is set to lead an expert body that will organise the global effort to boost vaccine manufacturing capacity and ensure a vaccine is effectively and fairly distributed.   (The Telegraph   April 22, 2020)

Government launches coronavirus vaccine taskforce as human clinical trials start   The UK Government has launched a new coronavirus vaccine taskforce to drive forward, expedite and co-ordinate efforts to research and then produce a coronavirus vaccine. It has also announced additional financial support to fast-track coronavirus vaccine development as human clinical trials are expected to start this week. The coronavirus vaccine taskforce, led by the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan van Tam, will support efforts to rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible by providing industry and research institutions with the resources and support needed. This includes reviewing regulations and scaling up manufacturing, so that when a vaccine becomes available, it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.   (PharmaField   April 22, 2020)

A British Call to Arms to Crack COVID-19   Much like the Bletchley Park codebreakers helped win World War II by breaking the German Enigma Code, a swiftly-recruited, specialist-volunteer team from Barts Health, Queen Mary University of London and Genomics England is assembling at Charterhouse Square in Central London to decipher the highly-complex, virulent-virus COVID-19. Led by Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Chief Scientist at Genomics England, a corps of medical codebreakers and outreach researchers—nurses, doctors, clinical scientists, specialists in infectious diseases, administrators and disaster relief specialists—has begun collecting blood, gathering demographic details, and offering clinical trials to patients. The data will be amassed to fuel code-breaking activities and inform which trials should proceed. (BELS blog April 23, 2020)

Sixth Coronavirus vaccine trial begins at UK’s Oxford University   The UK government is throwing £42.5 million at two potential coronavirus vaccine candidates as it steps up efforts to fight the pandemic, as Oxford University scientists began the sixth clinical study of a potential coronavirus vaccine. Although there are some signs that the UK could be passing the peak of its outbreak, it has been hit hard by the virus with more than 18,000 deaths attributed to the COVID-19 disease so far. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also faced criticism for a seemingly slow and lackadaisical response to the virus, particularly in the early stages of the outbreak. With this in mind the government is investing in two British projects attempting to find vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Oxford University’s phase 1/2 trial is starting this week and will get £40 million in funding from the government. Imperial College’s trial will get £22.5 million, allowing for the setup of a phase 2 study and the planning stage of a phase 3 trial if results are favourable.   (Pharmaphorum   April 22, 2020)

Sensyne launches ‘good neighbour’ app to monitor COVID-19    UK digital health company Sensyne (Oxford) has launched a free coronavirus health monitor that people can use to monitor their own symptoms, as well as those of family members, loved ones or neighbours.  CVm-Health is a web-based app that has been designed so that it can include the most vulnerable in society, including people with limited or no access to the Internet or who are not “tech-savvy”, says Sensyne. It allows registered users to record and manage their vital signs, symptoms and medications from home, and also to support their neighbours and community by monitoring symptoms on their behalf. Users volunteer to help look after others remotely, making health information on those they help easier to review and assess whether help is needed by the healthcare services.  (Pharmaphorum   April 22, 2020)

Thousands sign up to large-scale COVID-19 trial in UK   Thousands of patients have signed up in a few days to support a large-scale NHS trial for potential treatments for COVID-19 in the UK, one of the countries worst hit by the global pandemic. The chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, have written to all doctors encouraging them to take part in a series of national randomised trials as the hunt for new medicines to treat the coronavirus pandemic continues apace. RECOVERY tests what have become the ‘usual suspects’ in the effort against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, although with more than 5,000 patients at more than 130 NHS hospitals it will be the largest of its kind in the world. With that number of patients doctors will be able to see considerable details about efficacy and side effects of the various treatments, which are all approved for use with other diseases.   (Pharmaphorum   April 21, 2020)

Oxford Uni coronavirus vaccine trial could begin this week   University of Oxford researchers are due to start dosing healthy volunteers in a clinical trial of their coronavirus vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 this week, which is already in full production. The trial will enrol 510 people between 18 and 55 and provide an initial assessment of the vaccine’s safety, as well as its ability to generate an immune response against the spike or ‘S’ protein found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It will be compared against a control injection. The lead researcher working on the project, Professor Sarah Gilbert, told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC yesterday that it is quite likely that people infected with the coronavirus will have only a limited duration of immunity. That makes having an effective vaccine that can provide long-term protection even more important, to avoid SARS-CoV-2 re-emerging as a threat in future.   (Pharmaphorum   April 20, 2020)

British government enlists AstraZeneca, BIA for new pandemic vaccine taskforce   While more than 70 vaccine candidates are speeding their way through the early cycles of development, the British government has set up a new taskforce aimed at boosting the development of a shot against COVID-19—and it’s enlisting AstraZeneca to help. The British drugmaker will join representatives from government, academia and industry, including the government’s so-called “Life Sciences Champion” Sir John Bell, as well as the Wellcome Trust. Sir Patrick Vallance, former GSK R&D head and now the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, will lead the taskforce. It’s also working closely with the UK Bioindustry Association, which represents biotechs in the UK and has itself set up an industry-led group, also aimed at boosting vaccine development and manufacturing.   (Fierce Biotech   April 18, 2020) 

Medovate strikes US distribution agreements for anaesthesia product   Medical device developer Medovate (Cambridge UK) has concluded agreements with three US-based companies to act as the exclusive distributors for its FDA approved SAFIRA (SAFer Injection for Regional Anaesthesia) innovation across the US. …Developed in collaboration with anaesthetists in the NHS, Medovate hopes SAFIRA can radically advance standard clinical practice. Regional anaesthesia procedures are widely used to make a specific part of the body numb to relieve pain or allow surgical procedures to be carried out. The SAFIRA device incorporates a unique safety feature that helps reduce the risk of nerve damage by preventing anaesthetic being injected at pressures which are too high. In addition, SAFIRA allows for significant time and cost savings. Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, recent publications have recommended regional anaesthesia should be considered whenever surgery is planned for a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient. This is because regional anaesthesia preserves respiratory function and avoids aerosolisation and hence potential viral transmission of COVID-19 compared to general anaesthesia. With current pressures on healthcare increasing rapidly, SAFIRA could help considerably as their system enables the procedure to be carried out by one person, thus further reducing viral infection risk than the current two-person practice.    (Med-Tech News   April 17, 2020)

Coronoavirus: world’s biggest trial of drug to treat COVID-19 begins in UK   The world’s biggest trial of drugs to treat Covid-19 patients has been set up in the UK at unprecedented speed, and hopes to have some answers within weeks. The Recovery TrialRandomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (Oxford) has recruited over 5,000 patients in 165 NHS hospitals around the UK in a month, ahead of similar trials in the US and Europe, which have a few hundred.   [Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at Oxford University, who previously led Ebola drug trials in west Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is leading the trial.]   (The Guardian   April 17, 2020)

UK’s coronavirus science advice won’t be be published until pandemic ends   Key scientific data and advice the UK government is using to guide its covid-19 response won’t be published until the pandemic ends. Documents used to make decisions and the minutes of meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) will only be made public when the current outbreak is brought under control, according to Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser. In a letter sent earlier this month to MP Greg Clark, who chairs the House of Commons science and technology committee, Vallance said: “Once SAGE stops convening on this emergency the minutes of relevant SAGE meetings, supporting documents and the names of participants (with their permission) will be published.”   (New Scientist   April 17, 2020)

Oxford set to start first UK coronavirus vaccine trial   The first UK vaccine candidate to prevent coronavirus infection is set to begin clinical testing in human volunteers next week. Its developers at the University of Oxford hope to have 1m vaccine doses ready by September to carry out large-scale clinical trials during the autumn and, if all goes well, to produce 100m doses by the end of the year.   (Financial Times   April 17, 2020)

Medovate strikes US distribution agreements for anaesthesia product   Medical device developer Medovate (Cambridge UK) has concluded agreements with three US-based companies to act as the exclusive distributors for its FDA approved SAFIRA (SAFer Injection for Regional Anaesthesia) innovation across the US. …Developed in collaboration with anaesthetists in the NHS, Medovate hopes SAFIRA can radically advance standard clinical practice. Regional anaesthesia procedures are widely used to make a specific part of the body numb to relieve pain or allow surgical procedures to be carried out. The SAFIRA device incorporates a unique safety feature that helps reduce the risk of nerve damage by preventing anaesthetic being injected at pressures which are too high.    (Med-Tech News   April 17, 2020)

Digital twin technology could help monitor critical care units   Digital twin technology firm Iotics (London) has launched its CriticalCare Project to help provide the real-time status of critical care availability across the UK. The technology also has the potential to add new sources of data for test results, ventilator utilisation, patient administration and more. Iotics’ digital twin technology enables interactions between any asset – people, places or things – with access to all data and controls associated with them.  (Med-Tech News   April 17, 2020)

Sir Andrew Witty to co-lead WHO COVID-19 vaccine effort   Ex-GlaxoSmithKline chief Sir Andrew Witty is to lead co-lead the World Health Organisation effort to speed up development of a COVID-19 vaccine. UnitedHealth, of which Sir Andrew is currently president, announced that he would take a leave of absence from the firm while leading the initiative, and that he is expected to return to the company at year end.   (PharmaTimes   April 16, 2020)

Sosei Heptares to apply its Structure-based Drug Design Expertise in New COVID-19 R&D Program   Sosei Heptares (Cambridge UK) will apply its unique structure-based drug design platform and capabilities to the global research efforts to discover drugs targeting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and to treat COVID-19. The Company has initiated a new R&D program to identify novel compounds that block the activity of the SARS-CoV-2 MPro protease (Nsp5), which has been designated as an important potential target for drug development1-4. The Mpro protease cleaves a polyprotein encoded by the viral genome into 12 non-structural proteins (Nsp4-Nsp16) some of which play crucial roles in viral replication1-4.   (Press release   April 14, 2020)

Healthtech player develops three solutions in response to COVID-19   Tunstall Healthcare (Doncaster) has developed three propositions to respond to the current COVID-19 emergency and bolster contingency plans for similar scenarios in the future. The software, hardware and services company’s primary propositions aim to either support individuals in the care system directly, or provide solutions for NHS, Local Authorities and Housing Associations.  The Tunstall Integrated Care Platform enables remote health monitoring. Patients download an app which allows them to record vital signs readings and answer health questionnaires at home. Clinicians can then remotely review the data via an online portal. This solution supports management of chronic illness and can provide support for patients recently discharged from hospital.   (Med-Tech News   April 14, 2020)

UK BioBank Makes Infection and Health Data Available to Tackle COVID-19   Crucial new data on the health of 500,000 UK Biobank participants are being made available to scientists tackling the COVID-19 emergency. The pioneering UK Biobank resource, which follows the health of 500,000 volunteers in England, Scotland and Wales, is well placed to help answer a wide range of questions about the pandemic, say researchers. Results of COVID-19 tests for UK Biobank participants, including confirmed cases, are being provided through Public Health England, and will shortly be available for research. Other data will be available soon. • GP (primary care) data on a monthly basis for COVID-19 related research. It will be provided via GP system suppliers EMIS Health and TPP which cover about 95% of GP practices in England, and similar updates from Wales and Scotland are expected. • Hospital episodes (HES) data and death data on a monthly basis. •  Intensive care (ICNARC) data. The data will be available to researchers who have approval to use the UK Biobank resource and are undertaking health-related research in the public good. As always, the research will not identify UK Biobank participants.   (UK BioBank   April 14, 2020)

Institutions form UK Coronavirus testing consortium   The “UK Rapid Test Consortium, UK-RTC” comprises Oxford University, BBI Solutions, Abingdon Health (York), CIGA Healthcare (Ballymena), Omega Diagnostics (Scotland) and has been launched to design and develop a new antibody test to determine whether people have developed immunity after contracting the virus. As part of the government’s National Testing Plan, the expertise and resources of the UK’s life sciences industries are being pooled to build a large British diagnostics industry as quickly as possible. All existing antibody tests that have gone through the validation process have not proven accurate enough, therefore the government is backing efforts to develop a home-grown test.   (Med-Tech News   April 14, 2020)

GSK and Sanofi join forces to work on coronavirus vaccine   Two of the world’s biggest vaccine companies have joined forces in an “unprecedented” collaboration to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, which combined have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world, are working together on a hi-tech vaccine they say could be in human trials within months. The pairing is significant because, if successful, the two companies have the capacity to manufacture the hundreds of millions of doses that are likely to be required worldwide.   (The Guardian   April 14, 2020)

AZ to test Calquence for COVID-19   AstraZeneca has unveiled plans for a randomised, global clinical trial [to be launched in record time] to test whether Calquence (acalabrutinib) could be used to treat the exaggerated immune response (cytokine storm) linked with COVID-19 infection in severely ill patients. Calquence is a next-generation, highly selective BTK inhibitor currently used to treat certain types of blood cancers. The CALAVI trial was designed on the back of “strong scientific evidence” supporting the role of the Bruton’s tyrosine kinase pathway in the production of inflammatory cytokines and on encouraging early clinical data.   (PharmaTimes   April 14, 2020)

UK will go ahead with contact-tracing app, says Hancock   UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed the government plans to use an app that will warn people if they have been in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus. The move follows calls for so-called contact-tracing apps to be used widely across the UK population to try to curb the spread of the virus and make it easier for the country to move out of lockdown before the economy is crippled. Hancock said that a new NHS smartphone app for contact tracing is being developed with “the world’s leading tech companies.”   (PharmaPhorum   April 13, 2020)

Coronavirus: UK gives £200m in aid to developing nations  The money will mean more help for refugee camps – including new hand-washing stations. International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said boosting fragile health systems overseas would help prevent a “second wave” of infections hitting the UK. The latest donation brings Britain’s total contribution to the global effort to halt the pandemic to £744m. It makes the UK one of the biggest donors to the worldwide fight against the virus, according to the Department for International Development.   (BBC   April 12, 2020)

Thermo Fisher agrees to supply UK coronavirus tests    Thermo Fisher, the US scientific equipment maker, will be able to supply all the coronavirus tests needed to ramp up screening in the UK to 100,000 a day, said the company’s chief operating officer, as the government opened the “biggest diagnostic lab network in British history”.   Mark Stevenson [a BELS community member] told the BBC’s Today programme the company had agreed with the government to supply “more than 100,000 tests per day” and would scale up its manufacturing capacity to enable the kits to be manufactured in the UK.   (FinancialTimes   April 10, 2020) 

Coronavirus: UK patients join world’s largest clinical trial in search for cure   The first British coronavirus patients have been recruited to the largest clinical trial in the world to investigate existing medicines such as HIV and anti-malarial drugs which might be effective against Covid-19. The Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 therapy, or Recovery, trial has been rolled out across the UK. [2700 patients have already been enrolled. The initiative’s] 157 trial centres are being coordinated nationally by researchers from the University of Oxford.   (iNews   April 10, 2020)

Pharma given COVID-19 test ‘call to arms’ by health secretary   UK health secretary Matt Hancock has asked pharma and biotech firms to help the country find antibody tests that work against COVID-19 in a bid to find an exit strategy from the lockdown that is crippling the country’s economy. Hancock has asked the companies in a conference call to help identify and mass-produce a fingerprick test that can accurately indicate whether someone has had the virus and recovered from it and is able to go back to work. The UK has been criticised for its slow start to beginning tests against the coronavirus – at the moment there is capacity to test 14,000 people a day with NHS workers, those in hospital, care homes or prisons prioritised. In contrast, Germany was able to conduct 50,000 coronavirus tests daily at the beginning of this month, with plans to keep increasing this number. Hancock has set a target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day in the UK by the end of the month, made up of a combination of lab tests for the presence of the virus, and fingerprick tests to see whether antibodies against the virus are present and patients are therefore likely to be immune.   (PharmaPhorum   April 9, 2020)

Tiziana develops delivery tech for COVID-19 treatment   Tiziana Life Sciences (London) says it has developed an investigational new technology that it hopes will ultimately be used to treat COVID-19 infections. This technology enables direct delivery of anti-IL-6 receptor (anti-IL-6R) monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) into the lungs using a handheld inhaler or nebuliser. Development of this novel technology is a step forward toward expediting development of TZLS-501, a fully-human anti-IL6R mAb for treatment of patients infected with COVID-19.   (PharmaTimes   April 9, 2020)

AstraZeneca targets summer start for COVID-19 antibody trial   AstraZeneca has outlined its multipronged approach to the development of antibodies against the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Big Pharma is applying its own discovery capabilities to the task and helping evaluate candidates identified by academic partners in China and the US.  As part of DARPA’s Pandemic Preparedness Platform program, AZ developed capabilities to discover antibodies against emerging viral threats. AZ first revealed it had joined the race to develop coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies several weeks ago, going on to say it had put more than 50 experts in fields such as virology and immunology on the case around the start of the month. Now, AZ has provided the most detailed breakdown of its activities so far. While other R&D shops are focusing on one source of antibodies, such as people who have recovered from COVID-19, AZ is assessing candidates from three different sources.   (FierceBiotech   April 8, 2020)

Oxford Biomedica joins consortium for promising COVID-19 vaccine   UK gene and cell therapy group Oxford Biomedica has joined a Consortium led by the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, to rapidly develop, scale-up and manufacture a potential vaccine candidate for COVID-19, called ChAdOx1 nCov-19. According to the firm, the vaccine is one of the leading candidates currently in development globally, and is expected to be the UK’s first COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials later this month, having shown to generate a strong immune response from one dose and it has demonstrated a good safety profile in pre-clinical and clinical trials conducted to date.   (PharmaTimes   April 8, 2020)

Cancer charities say coronavirus shortfall will set back research   The UK’s best-known cancer charity has become the latest victim of the multibillion pound fundraising crisis sweeping the voluntary sector as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, warning that a shortfall of donations will set back progress on fighting the disease. Cancer Research UK announced it is to drastically scale back its research plans after the cancellation of a range of fundraising events and the closure of charity shops meant it will lose up to a quarter of its donated income over the next 12 months – about £120m. Meanwhile, Macmillan Cancer Support, the UK’s second biggest cancer charity, said the wipeout in fundraising events meant it now expected to lose up to half its fundraising income this year – about £100m – due to the wipeout of established fundraising events at a time when pressure on its services was growing.   (The Guardian   April 7, 2020)

GSK and AstraZeneca collaborate on coronavirus testing centre   Two of Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical firms have joined forces to ramp up coronavirus testing as the country battles Covid-19. GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca will work with the University of Cambridge on a new centre at the institution’s Anne McLaren Laboratory as part of a target to hit 100,000 tests a day by the end of this month.    (The Telegraph   April 7, 2020)

GSK buys $250m biotech stake in hunt for Covid-19 treatment   GlaxoSmithKline is investing $250m in San Francisco-based start-up Vir Biotechnology to develop antibodies that could be used to treat coronavirus. …Vir already has two viral antibodies for Covid-19 that were developed from a patient who had Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Sars, although other antibodies can be produced artificially.   (Financial Times   April 6, 2020)

Healx AI mines combination drug treatments for COVID-19   AI-powered rare disease specialist Healx (Cambridge UK) is using its platform to develop drug combinations from approved products to contribute towards global efforts to find treatments for COVID-19.  Combination therapy candidates will be available in May for preclinical testing. The focus on combination therapies, where two or more drugs simultaneously target different aspects of the disease pathology, has the potential to ensure a more effective treatment, according to Healx.   (Business Weekly UK   April 6, 2020)

NICE publishes four more rapid guidelines in response to pandemic   The NICE guidelines, which are designed to maximise the safety of patients whilst enabling services to make the best use of NHS resources, cover the management of patients with severe asthma, pneumonia, rheumatological autoimmune, inflammatory and metabolic bone disorders and the management of COVID-19 symptoms in the community.   (PharmaTimes   April 6, 2020)

GSK to collaborate with Chinese biotech on COVID-19 vaccine   GlaxoSmithKline has announced plans to collaborate with China’s Xiamen Innovex on a potential vaccine to treat the COVID-19 coronavirus. The companies are testing a recombinant protein-based coronavirus vaccine candidate, known as COVID-19 XWG-03, which is being developed by Innovax with Xiamen University. GSK will provide Innovax with the adjuvant need for a preclinical test of the vaccine which is based on a series of truncated S (spike) proteins from the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes the respiratory disease known as COVID-19.   (PharmaPhorum   April 6, 2020)

GSK allies with Innovax for COVID-19 vaccine R&D project   GlaxoSmithKline has teamed up with Xiamen Innovax Biotech to evaluate a vaccine against the novel coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreement gives Innovax access to GSK’s AS03 adjuvant to enhance the immune response triggered by its recombinant protein-based vaccine. GSK teamed up with Innovax last year to develop a human papillomavirus vaccine, tapping into the work of the Chinese biotech to drive its search for a successor to Cervarix.   (FierceBiotech   April 3, 2020)

GSK buys $250m biotech stake in hunt for Covid-19 treatment   GlaxoSmithKline is investing $250m in San Francisco-based start-up Vir Biotechnology to develop antibodies that could be used to treat coronavirus. …Vir already has two viral antibodies for Covid-19 that were developed from a patient who had Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Sars, although other antibodies can be produced artificially.   (Financial Times   April 6, 2020)

Wellcome seeks $8bn from business to fight coronavirus   Wellcome Trust is calling on international businesses to donate $8bn for the scientific fight against coronavirus, saying it is the ‘world’s best exit strategy’ from the lockdowns that have shaken global economies. The global medical research foundation on Tuesday launched ‘Covid-zero,’ a campaign to convince large corporations that it is in their best interest to fund the hunt for a vaccine, treatments, and testing for coronavirus. The Trust is working with the World Economic Forum, industry networks and philanthropic partners to persuade chief executives of large multinationals to invest by the end of April.   (Financial Times   April 6, 2020)

GSK, AstraZeneca in Talks to Help UK Government on Virus Tests    GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are in talks to set up a lab to explore new ways of testing for the coronavirus to help overcome shortages of diagnostic materials, according to a person with knowledge of the plans. The drugmakers will evaluate the use of different raw materials needed to carry out the tests and use their know-how and resources to help other companies or the NHS increase production, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the details of the discussions aren’t yet public.   (Bloomberg   April 3, 2020)

Rapid COVID-19 diagnostic test developed by Cambridge team to be deployed in hospitals   A new rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19 developed by Diagnostics for the Real World, a University of Cambridge spinout company, and capable of diagnosing the infection in under 90 minutes, is being deployed at Cambridge hospitals, ahead of being launched in hospitals nationwide. The SAMBA II machines, developed by Diagnostics for the Real World, provide a simple and accurate system for the diagnosis of infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. They will be used by healthcare workers at point-of-care in order to rapidly diagnose patients, directing those who test positive for the infection to dedicated wards. They can also help identify which healthcare workers are infected, enabling those who test negative to return to the front line.   (University of Cambridge   April 2, 2020)

Gilead initiates two studies of remdesivir for Covid-19 in UK   Gilead Sciences has launched two Phase III clinical trials of its investigational antiviral drug remdesivir in the UK to treat Covid-19 patients. The two studies will be conducted at 15 sites in the country, primarily in England and Scotland. One of the trials will involve patients with moderate symptoms and the other will enrol patients in a serious condition.   (Clinical Trials Arena   April 2, 2020)

The race to develop Covid-19 drugs and vaccines is on — here’s what’s happening in the UK   Gilead is preparing to trial its antiviral remdesivir to patients in England and Scotland. Synairgen (Southampton) is trialing an inhaled formulation of interferon-beta-1a SNG001. Government confirmed that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have not been sanctioned for use against the virus but trials are underway. Oxford University scientists are exploring whether certain drugs can be repurposed, such as HIV drug lopinavir-ritonavir and the steroid dexamethasone. Oxford researchers may also be honing in on a vaccine, a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1). University of Cambridge researchers are working with spinoff DIOSynVax (Cambridge UK) on a vaccine.    (EndPoints   April 1, 2020)

Smith+Nephew set to mass produce new ventilator from Oxford, King’s College London   Smith+Nephew is contracting with the UK government to build a new ventilator specifically designed for the large-scale production needed to combat the spread of COVID-19. Developed through a collaboration including the company, the University of Oxford and King’s College London, the OxVent device is currently being reviewed by the MHRA. Smith+Nephew plans to begin production as soon as it is authorized at its facility in Hull, England.   (FierceBiotech   April 1, 2020)

Inoculating the World May Mean Reviving Old Curbs on Patents   German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the coronavirus as the greatest challenge facing her country since the end of World War II. Germany’s parliament took that message to heart as part of a package to fight the virus, extending powers to suspend patent rights, a tool last used in the country in 1949. Governments around the world are reviving rarely used legislation or pledging new measures to ensure that they have the drugs they need to battle the pandemic. Israel last month invoked an emergency patent-suspension clause in its 1967 code for the first time, allowing it to import a generic version of AbbVie’s Kaletra, which has shown signs of combating coronavirus. In the UK, so-called Crown Use rules allow the government to suspend protections it would normally grant a patent’s holder. Those have been used just a handful of times by the British government since 1945 but that could change.   (Bloomberg   April 1, 2020)

EUSA Pharma reports data of siltuximab in coronavirus trial   EUSA Pharma (Hemel Hempstead) has reported preliminary results from the SISCO study of siltuximab for the treatment of patients with Covid-19. Siltuximab is an interleukin (IL)-6 targeted monoclonal antibody indicated to treat multicentric Castleman disease in patients without HIV or human herpesvirus-8. Amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the drug is being assessed as a potential treatment for serious respiratory complications caused by the novel coronavirus. According to interim findings from the first 21 patients who were followed for up to seven days, siltuximab led to clinical improvement in seven patients with decreased need for oxygen support. The condition of nine participants stabilised without any clinically relevant changes.   (Clinical Trials Arena   April 2, 2020)

Synairgen doses first patients with COVID-19 drug   Synairgen (Southampton) has started dosing patients in its Phase 2 trial of SNG001, an inhaled forumulation of interferon beta-1a that aims to treat coronavirus infections. The drug is already widely used in an injectable form for multiple sclerosis, and Synairgen has already tested its inhaled version in clinical trials involving more than 200 asthma patients with a cold or flu infection, showing improvements in lung function.   (PharmaPhorum   March 31, 2020)

New coronavirus study reveals increased risks from middle age   The first comprehensive study (Imperial College London) of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisations in mainland China has revealed in stark detail the increase in risk for coronavirus patients once they reach middle age. The analysis found that while the overall death rate for confirmed cases was 1.38%, the rate rose sharply with age – from 0.0016% in the under 10s, to 7.8% in 80s and over. The study showed only 0.04% of 10 to 19-year-olds required hospital care compared with more than 18% of those in their 80s and above. Dramatic rises were seen among middle-aged groups too, with 4% of people in their 40s needing hospital treatment and more than 8% of patients in their 50s. The authors warn that since half to 80% of the global population could be infected with COVID-19, the number of people needing hospital treatment is likely to overrun even the most modern healthcare services.   (The Guardian   March 30, 2020)

UK’s NIHR Clinical Research Network Shuts Down Clinical Trials in the UK Due to COVID-19   With more than 12,000 cases and over 500 deaths, the NIHR Clinical Research Network has paused all clinical trials to redeploy medical staff to the COVID-19 battle.  This NIHR CRN pause will allow for the government agency to redirect focus, resources, and talent toward priority COVID-19 clinical research, enabling the clinical and epidemiological evidence to be gathered to help guide UK policy while supporting the pursuit of novel vaccines and treatments. …The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the UKs regulatory body over drugs, diagnostics, and devices, shall continue to operate and offer approvals for studies with a priority model now in place.   (TrialSiteNews   March 28, 2020)

National Robotarium experts begin work on conversational robot for healthcare   AI and robotics experts from the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh), have started work on a multi-user conversational robot for healthcare. Part of a multimillion-pound collaborative project involving experts from eight European and Asian institutions, SPRING (Socially Pertinent Robots in Gerontological Healthcare), a four-year project funded by Horizon2020, will develop Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) with the capacity to perform multi-person interactions and open domain social conversation for the first time in a healthcare setting. The work builds on the success of Heriot-Watt University’s Amazon Alexa Prize conversational AI system ‘Alana’. The project will focus on supporting elderly patients by carefully coupling scientific findings and user-focussed technological developments to bring social robots into gerontological healthcare.   (Med-Tech News   March 27, 2020)

UK Government Invests $28M in FIND to Support SARS-CoV-2 Test Development   The UK government will invest £23 million ($28 million) in the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) to support the development of rapid tests for SARS-CoV-2, especially in low- and middle-income countries. The investment was made through the UK Department for International Development, both to address the global pandemic immediately as well as to build the infrastructure for managing future health crises.   (GenomeWeb   March 27, 2020)

NIHR’s response to COVID-19  —  New single point of entry to prioritise COVID-19 studies   The UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funding and helping to deliver a range of “rapid response” research to better understand and tackle COVID-19, including research into vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, and real-time collection of samples and data from people undergoing treatment in hospitals.  NIHR is establishing and implementing a single, national process that will allow the Chief Medical Officer / Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England to draw on expert advice to prioritise the COVID-19 studies which hold the most potential for tackling the challenges we face. This process will cover funded studies, irrespective of whether they are funded by the public sector, industry or charities and also, in partnership with UKRI, studies that require funding. It aims to prevent duplication of effort and to ensure that the capacity of the health and care system to support research is not exceeded.   (NIHR   March 26, 2020)

Oxford University Developing Molecular Point-of-Care Coronavirus Test   University of Oxford researchers are developing a molecular diagnostic test for COVID-19 that provides results within 30 minutes and holds potential for future at-home use.   The test, which recognizes SARS-CoV-2 RNA and RNA fragments, could be ready in a few weeks for global regulatory authorities to assess whether it can be used in clinical practice to detect the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, Zhanfeng Cui, one of the test’s developers, said in an interview. Using reverse transcription LAMP, an isothermal amplification technique, the diagnostic test provides results faster than RT-PCR technologies used in many diagnostic testing laboratories, Cui said. It uses a colorimetric indicator that is conjugated within a reagent to produce a visible color change in response to a positive result.   (GenomeWeb   March 26, 2020)

Babylon Health launches Covid-19 care assistant in UK   Babylon Health (London) has launched a new service to provide people with updated information about coronavirus, check symptoms and help them get appropriate assistance. Care Assistant allows users to log their symptoms and offers advice to those who may have contracted coronavirus to keep them safe and prevent them from spreading the illness further. People who are ill are offered treatment plans based on the latest NHS guidance and encouraged to log their symptoms so they can record how quickly they’re getting better or worse. Anyone who is more seriously ill is fast-tracked to a GP or hospital as needed, Babylon said.   (DigitalHealth   March 26, 2020)

UK launches whole genome sequence alliance to map spread of coronavirus   The Government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser have backed the UK’s leading clinicians and scientists to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing. Through a £20 million investment, the consortium will look for breakthroughs that help the UK respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives. COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium – comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and numerous academic institutions – will deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government. Samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres which currently includes Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield. By looking at the whole virus genome in people who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, scientists can monitor changes in the virus at a national scale to understand how the virus is spreading and whether different strains are emerging.   (Wellcome Sanger Institute   March 23, 2020)

Oxford University prepares for coronavirus vaccine trial   Scientists from the University of Oxford say they have identified a potential vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that is the cause of the COVID-19 epidemic and are working towards the first clinical trials. The vaccine contains the genetic sequence of the “spike” protein found on the outside of the coronavirus. After vaccination, the surface spike protein of the coronavirus is produced, which primes the immune system to attack the coronavirus if it later infects the body.   (PharmaPhorum   March 23, 2020)

COVID-19 vaccine & therapy research boosted by six new projects in rapid response   Six new studies into the novel coronavirus have been funded by the UK government, including testing a vaccine, developing therapies and improving understanding of how to treat COVID-19. This first round of projects receive £10.5 million as part of the £20 million ‘rapid response’ funded by UKRI and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the NIHR. ▪Researchers at University of Edinburgh, Imperial College and University of Liverpool will collect samples and data from COVID-19 patients in the UK to answer many urgent questions about the virus and provide real-time information, which could help to control the outbreak and improve treatment for patients. ▪A team at Oxford University is already developing a new vaccine against the COVID-19, as they initiated vaccine development as soon as the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus was released.  ▪A clinical trial led by University of Oxford started in the UK to test if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19. ▪Another University of Oxford team is aiming to develop manufacturing processes for producing adenovirus vaccines at a million-dose scale, so that - if clinical trials are successful – a vaccine could be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible. ▪Researchers at Imperial College London will develop antibodies that target the novel coronavirus with the aim of developing a new therapy for COVID-19.  ▪Researchers at Queens University Belfast will test a library of approximately 1,000 drugs on cells in the laboratory to determine if any can reduce the toxic effects of novel coronavirus infection.   (UKRI   March 23, 2020)

GSK, Clover collaborate to assess protein-based coronavirus vaccine candidate   GlaxoSmithKline has collaborated with Chinese firm Clover Biopharmaceuticals to assess a coronavirus vaccine candidate with the pandemic adjuvant system. Under the research collaboration, the companies will evaluate Clover’s protein-based coronavirus vaccine candidate (COVID-19 S-Trimer) with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant system. GSK’s pandemic adjuvant system will help further assess COVID-19 S-Trimer in preclinical studies. With advanced in-house, commercial-scale cGMP biomanufacturing capabilities in China, Clover intends to scale-up and manufacture large-quantities of a new coronavirus vaccine.   (Pharmaceutical Business Review   February 25, 2020)