This week, Moderna begins a phase three trial of 30,000 people in the U.S. for its coronavirus vaccine — with a $472 million boost from the U.S. government. It’s one of 27 vaccine candidates across the globe that are currently in human trials, an unprecedented race that’s moving forward with remarkable speed, juiced by billions of dollars from world governments, nonprofits and big pharma. The leading vaccine candidates are targeting mass production for the end of this year, and big pharma’s reputation is on the line like never before.
The best-known treatment for COVID-19 is the antiviral drug remdesivir. But a slew of drugs is being thrown at the virus, with 21 existing drugs shown to fight replication of the disease in a lab setting, according to a new study in Nature. U.K. doctors are finding progress with an inhaled version of the drug interferon beta, and a Texas doctor claims to have found the “silver bullet” with a cocktail of his own. Experience over the past four to five months has also bred basic improvements in care, such as putting coronavirus patients on their stomachs to improve oxygen flow.
3. Too Much Testosterone?
Swedish researchers are testing drugs used to treat prostate cancer to see if they’re effective against COVID-19. They’re studying whether too much testosterone is part of the problem — and if cutting off that supply could help against the coronavirus. But remember, the same drugs are also used for temporary chemical castration in humans.
4. Dr. Donald
Get ready to see President Donald Trump touting these advances more regularly. Suffering politically, Trump recently brought back the daily coronavirus briefings in an attempt to show he’s on top of the most important issue in American life. The White House wants him at the podium solo — no Anthony Fauci controversies allowed — to announce the latest wins.
5. No Silver Bullet
As much as Trump may want it, there’s no light-switch moment of “when we have a vaccine.” As Sarah Zhang writes in The Atlantic, an approved vaccine is “only the beginning of a long, slow ramp down” that will rely on the effective production and distribution of the vaccine, and convincing a critical mass of people to take it.
6. How Long Will It Last?
No one has the answer to just how long the immunity produced by any of the vaccines under development will last. Three independent studies — in China, the U.K. and the U.S. — have shown that antibodies decline dramatically within three months. While scientists caution that responses to the virus will vary from person to person, this raises the prospect that we might need to get inoculated every few months.
1. A Cancer Vaccine?
You probably missed it with all the other vaccine news, but researchers in Australia recently reported promising results in preclinical trials for a vaccine that would attack many of our most common cancers, such as breast, ovarian, lung, pancreatic, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, even pediatric leukemia. Next step? Human trials.
2. Protein Power
Stanford bioengineer Jennifer Cochran recently published research showing how alterations to a single protein could regenerate neurons … or restrict the growth of lung tumors. It’s part of the Delaware native’s research to find protein “missiles” that guide cancer drugs to the right place.
China thinks so. It’s leading the world in cutting-edge nanoscience research, using tiny particles to kill proteins responsible for breast cancer and to target, penetrate and alter cells. If this approach is shown to work, it could prove to be a game-changer.
OZY first told you in 2018 about the burgeoning field of personalized immunotherapy, which involves tailoring a treatment toward a cancer’s specific genetic makeup by harnessing the patient’s immune system. This has gotten a lot easier in recent years as gene mapping has become cheaper. This month, researchers in Israel are undertaking the first human trial of what they’re calling “reversed personalized medicine.” Because “decoy receptors” within the bloodstream often block immunotherapy from success, in this novel treatment, doctors filter the receptors out of the bloodstream with a dialysis-like procedure.
race against alzheimer’s
1. The Tau Code
The tau proteins in the brain get entangled in patients with Alzheimer’s, and that in turn aggravates the decline into dementia. Now, scientists are trying to find ways to target these proteins so they don’t tangle. They’re hoping tau-targeting will at the very least delay dementia.
Annelise Barron is best known for creating a synthetic lung surfactant that could one day be used to help premature babies and COVID-19 patients breathe. But the Stanford bioengineer is also at the forefront of developing an immunotherapy treatment for Alzheimer’s that would harness a peptide already within our brains called LL-37 to fight the nefarious amyloid beta peptides that cause the disease.
Are you a painter, photographer, poet or graphic designer? Is creative inspiration the order of your day, every day? If so, enter OZY’s new #OZYStoryArt competition for a $50 gift card to the OZY Store and a chance to be featured on our social media and site! To enter, create something based on your favorite OZY story, post it on Instagram using #OZYStoryArt and DM the post to @ozy by Aug. 3. Get creative — we can’t wait!
Go Behind the Scenes
OZY co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson is now on Instagram. Follow him @ozycarlos for all his latest updates, along with some behind-the-scenes pics from a secret new project we’ve been working on over the past few weeks! Check it out.
1. Shirking Your Inheritance
In a potential breakthrough, three patients with severe inherited diseases have been successfully treated after their bone marrow stem cells were gene-edited with CRISPR technology. The treatments for beta thalassaemia and sickle cell disease mean the patients no longer require blood transfusions, and signal a major step forward for CRISPR — though it also uses chemotherapy, which has substantial side effects.
2. Cancer, Fried Extra CRISPR
Caribou Biosciences CEO Rachel Haurwitz is siccing CRISPR on the big C, with a clinical trial to come later this year that would edit immune cells called T cells to do battle with cancer. But the scientist turned CEO — one of few women in her field — is thinking beyond medicine: Her company is partnering with others to use CRISPR to grow drought-resistant corn and to breed hardier pigs and cows.
Harvard researcher David Liu has developed a new class of DNA base editors that can switch a single letter of DNA with another, opening the door to treatments, and possibly cures, for thousands of genetic diseases caused by one small “typo” in DNA. Think of it as CRISPR 2.0, a new iteration of the powerful gene-editing tool that could alter the genomic structure of mutations associated with diseases like sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, genetic blindness and more. His research this year led to a breakthrough in editing mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell.
Tiny robots in your bloodstream could be the next frontier of medicine. In the future they could carry out diagnostics, organ repair and even perform surgeries from the inside, reducing the extent to which tissues need to be cut. Since nobody wants a bunch of metal bots running around inside them, scientists have created mini robots using frog cells.
For decades, the Silicon Valley company Intuitive Solutions has held lucrative patents on robotic surgery technology, and the pioneering robo surgeon — the Da Vinci — costs around $2.2 million. But as those patents start to expire, a new fleet of companies is jumping into the game. This push could make robotic surgery more accessible, and greater competition could prompt quicker innovation in the field, say experts. For patients, long recovery times might become a thing of the past for a range of surgeries.
A growing number of startups are using artificial intelligence to tailor mental health care to an individual’s needs and circumstances in ways unimaginable five years ago. Some use machine learning and natural language processing, while others rely on human-computer interaction patterns. As America’s mental health crisis balloons, especially amid the pandemic, they could prove to be our saviors.