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COVID-19: The latest coronavirus science news and how the pandemic is impacting our industry

Posted by Abby Edwards on 25-Mar-2020 19:19:01

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the globe, the measures to control the outbreak have been changing our work and personal lives in unprecedented ways. With the situation changing daily, it’s not easy to keep up with the most recent developments. To help you stay in the know, we’ve rounded up the latest coronavirus science and highlighted the impact on our industry so far.

 

First participant receives experimental coronavirus vaccine

Last week saw the dosing of the first participant in a Phase I clinical trial to test an investigational vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine candidate, known as mRNA-1273, was developed by biotechnology company Moderna in collaboration with scientists at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and has already shown promise in animal trials. According to the US National Institute of Health, which announced the start of the 6-week trial on Monday 16th March, the study will enrol 45 healthy adult volunteers with the aim of evaluating different doses of the experimental vaccine for safety and the ability to elicit an immune response.

The vaccine candidate is based on messenger RNA (mRNA), and was developed at speed following the decoding of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in January thanks to the team’s ongoing research into the related coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The newly developed vaccine candidate encodes a stabilised form of the coronavirus’s ‘spike’ proteins (which allow the virus to bind to human cells and gain entry). It’s hoped that mRNA-1273 will direct the expression of this protein within the cells of healthy individuals, providing immune protection against the virus. This Phase I trial shows that great progress is being made and, all being well, will mark the start of further large-scale studies to assess the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. With scientists working around the clock, it could be that a vaccine will be available for global immunisation efforts during 2021, an ambitious timeline.

 

Ongoing drug repurposing efforts show promising results

While we wait for a vaccine to become available, doctors and researchers are racing to find effective treatments, and several pharmaceutical companies have already started to accelerate the
development of experimental drugs. One of the most promising strategies to fast-track potential COVID-19 therapeutics is to repurpose medicines that are already approved for other indications.
By working with drug molecules that are already well understood in terms of their safety profile and behaviour in the body, developers can significantly shorten timelines.

Last week saw a host of established medicines make headlines as potential COVID-19 treatments. On Thursday, US President Donald Trump surprised some health experts by announcing that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the anti-malarial drug chloroquine to treat coronavirus. The FDA later clarified that no approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19 currently exist, however, doctors are able to prescribe the drug for ‘compassionate use’, meaning that they can be used ‘off-label’ in some patients. Chloroquine and its more potent variant hydroxychloroquine have demonstrated promising in-vitro activity against a variety of coronaviruses, and clinical trials in COVID-19 patients are planned.

Meanwhile, the broad-spectrum antiviral drug favipiravir, already approved in Japan for the treatment of some influenza strains, has reportedly shown encouraging safety and efficacy results in clinical trials in China. Other drugs that have gained interest include the arthritis treatment sarilumab and anti-HIV drug lopinavir. At BioStrata we’re very interested in the progress of all these drug repurposing efforts, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on how these develop over the weeks and months ahead.

 

The rise of virtual conferences and trade shows

There’s no denying that COVID-19 is impacting many industries across the globe and forcing organizations to rapidly adapt to stay connected with their networks. For example, the  coronavirus-related travel restrictions and bans on large-scale gatherings have led to the of disruption of most conferences and trade-shows, with key events in the life science calendar such as Analytica, DIA Europe and CPhI Japan 2020 now postponed to later in the year. However, other organizers have chosen to shift to virtual meetings using webinars or live-streaming presentations. BIO-Europe Spring kicks off this week as a virtual event, promising digital keynotes, web-based networking opportunities and even virtual exhibits. We’re excited to see the opportunities digital conferences present, and whether this will encourage more virtual meetings once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

If you’ve been affected by the disruption to trade shows, you can read more about how you can leverage your existing preparations by turning to alternative channels in our recent blog.

 

We’re here to talk about what’s on your mind

We hope you found this roundup useful, let us know if there are any other types of COVID-19 news stories you’d like us to cover. If you have news to share around your commercial activities, partnerships and collaborations that are supporting the fight against COVID-19, you can also access our free press release distribution service and community newsroom here. 

In these challenging and unpredictable times, we understand that things are changing quickly and you might have questions about what the latest coronavirus disruptions could mean for you and your team, and what activities you can and should be doing at this time. We're having to pivot and adapt an incredible speed on a daily basis and our industry veterans are here for you to bounce ideas off, gather feedback and plot your route ahead, completely free of charge, so please do get in touch using the form on this page.