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Thriving Vaccines and Research: Weizmann Institute Coronavirus Research Development

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc.

In early February, Prof. Eran Segal updated in one of his tweets and mentioned that “We say with caution, the magic has started.”

The article reported that this statement by Prof. Segal was due to decreasing cases of COVID-19, severe infection cases and hospitalization of patients by rapid vaccination process throughout Israel. Prof. Segal emphasizes in another tweet to remain cautious over the country and informed that there is a long way to cover and searching for scientific solutions.

A daylong webinar entitled “COVID-19: The epidemic that rattles the world” was a great initiative by Weizmann Institute to share their scientific knowledge about the infection among the Israeli institutions and scientists. Prof. Gideon Schreiber and Dr. Ron Diskin organized the event with the support of the Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund and Israel Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The speakers were invited from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv University, the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), and Kaplan Medical Center who addressed the molecular structure and infection biology of the virus, treatments and medications for COVID-19, and the positive and negative effect of the pandemic.

The article reported that with the emergence of pandemic, the scientists at Weizmann started more than 60 projects to explore the virus from different range of perspectives. With the help of funds raised by communities worldwide for the Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund supported scientists and investigators to elucidate the chemistry, physics and biology behind SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Prof. Avi Levy, the coordinator of the Weizmann Institute’s coronavirus research efforts, mentioned “The vaccines are here, and they will drastically reduce infection rates. But the coronavirus can mutate, and there are many similar infectious diseases out there to be dealt with. All of this research is critical to understanding all sorts of viruses and to preempting any future pandemics.”

The following are few important projects with recent updates reported in the article.

Mapping a hijacker’s methods

Dr. Noam Stern-Ginossar studied the virus invading strategies into the healthy cells and hijack the cell’s systems to divide and reproduce. The article reported that viruses take over the genetic translation system and mainly the ribosomes to produce viral proteins. Dr. Noam used a novel approach known as ‘ribosome profiling’ as her research objective and create a map to locate the translational events taking place inside the viral genome, which further maps the full repertoire of viral proteins produced inside the host.

She and her team members grouped together with the Weizmann’s de Botton Institute and researchers at IIBR for Protein Profiling and understanding the hijacking instructions of coronavirus and developing tools for treatment and therapies. Scientists generated a high-resolution map of the coding regions in the SARS-CoV-2 genome using ribosome-profiling techniques, which allowed researchers to quantify the expression of vital zones along the virus genome that regulates the translation of viral proteins. The study published in Nature in January, explains the hijacking process and reported that virus produces more instruction in the form of viral mRNA than the host and thus dominates the translation process of the host cell. Researchers also clarified that it is the misconception that virus forced the host cell to translate its viral mRNA more efficiently than the host’s own translation, rather high level of viral translation instructions causes hijacking. This study provides valuable insights for the development of effective vaccines and drugs against the COVID-19 infection.

Like chutzpah, some things don’t translate

Prof. Igor Ulitsky and his team worked on untranslated region of viral genome. The article reported that “Not all the parts of viral transcript is translated into protein- rather play some important role in protein production and infection which is unknown.” This region may affect the molecular environment of the translated zones. The Ulitsky group researched to characterize that how the genetic sequence of regions that do not translate into proteins directly or indirectly affect the stability and efficiency of the translating sequences.

Initially, scientists created the library of about 6,000 regions of untranslated sequences to further study their functions. In collaboration with Dr. Noam Stern-Ginossar’s lab, the researchers of Ulitsky’s team worked on Nsp1 protein and focused on the mechanism that how such regions affect the Nsp1 protein production which in turn enhances the virulence. The researchers generated a new alternative and more authentic protocol after solving some technical difficulties which included infecting cells with variants from initial library. Within few months, the researchers are expecting to obtain a more detailed map of how the stability of Nsp1 protein production is getting affected by specific sequences of the untranslated regions.

The landscape of elimination

The article reported that the body’s immune system consists of two main factors- HLA (Human Leukocyte antigen) molecules and T cells for identifying and fighting infections. HLA molecules are protein molecules present on the cell surface and bring fragments of peptide to the surface from inside the infected cell. These peptide fragments are recognized and destroyed by the T cells of the immune system. Samuels’ group tried to find out the answer to the question that how does the body’s surveillance system recognizes the appropriate peptide derived from virus and destroy it. They isolated and analyzed the ‘HLA peptidome’- the complete set of peptides bound to the HLA proteins from inside the SARS-CoV-2 infected cells.

After the analysis of infected cells, they found 26 class-I and 36 class-II HLA peptides, which are present in 99% of the population around the world. Two peptides from HLA class-I were commonly present on the cell surface and two other peptides were derived from coronavirus rare proteins- which mean that these specific coronavirus peptides were marked for easy detection. Among the identified peptides, two peptides were novel discoveries and seven others were shown to induce an immune response earlier. These results from the study will help to develop new vaccines against new coronavirus mutation variants.

Gearing up ‘chain terminators’ to battle the coronavirus

Prof. Rotem Sorek and his lab discovered a family of enzymes within bacteria that produce novel antiviral molecules. These small molecules manufactured by bacteria act as ‘chain terminators’ to fight against the virus invading the bacteria. The study published in Nature in January which reported that these molecules cause a chemical reaction that halts the virus’s replication ability. These new molecules are modified derivates of nucleotide which integrates at the molecular level in the virus and obstruct the works.

Prof. Sorek and his group hypothesize that these new particles could serve as a potential antiviral drug based on the mechanism of chain termination utilized in antiviral drugs used recently in the clinical treatments. Yeda Research and Development has certified these small novel molecules to a company for testing its antiviral mechanism against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Such novel discoveries provide evidences that bacterial immune system is a potential repository of many natural antiviral particles.

Resolving borderline diagnoses

Currently, Real-time Polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is the only choice and extensively used for diagnosis of COVID-19 patients around the globe. Beside its benefits, there are problems associated with RT-PCR, false negative and false positive results and its limitation in detecting new mutations in the virus and emerging variants in the population worldwide. Prof. Eran Elinavs’ lab and Prof. Ido Amits’ lab are working collaboratively to develop a massively parallel, next-generation sequencing technique that tests more effectively and precisely as compared to RT-PCR. This technique can characterize the emerging mutations in SARS-CoV-2, co-occurring viral, bacterial and fungal infections and response patterns in human.

The scientists identified viral variants and distinctive host signatures that help to differentiate infected individuals from non-infected individuals and patients with mild symptoms and severe symptoms.

In Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Profs. Elinav and Amit are performing trails of the pipeline to test the accuracy in borderline cases, where RT-PCR shows ambiguous or incorrect results. For proper diagnosis and patient stratification, researchers calibrated their severity-prediction matrix. Collectively, scientists are putting efforts to develop a reliable system that resolves borderline cases of RT-PCR and identify new virus variants with known and new mutations, and uses data from human host to classify patients who are needed of close observation and extensive treatment from those who have mild complications and can be managed conservatively.

Moon shot consortium refining drug options

The ‘Moon shot’ consortium was launched almost a year ago with an initiative to develop a novel antiviral drug against SARS-CoV-2 and was led by Dr. Nir London of the Department of Chemical and Structural Biology at Weizmann, Prof. Frank von Delft of Oxford University and the UK’s Diamond Light Source synchroton facility.

To advance the series of novel molecules from conception to evidence of antiviral activity, the scientists have gathered support, guidance, expertise and resources from researchers around the world within a year. The article reported that researchers have built an alternative template for drug-discovery, full transparency process, which avoids the hindrance of intellectual property and red tape.

The new molecules discovered by scientists inhibit a protease, a SARS-CoV-2 protein playing important role in virus replication. The team collaborated with the Israel Institute of Biological Research and other several labs across the globe to demonstrate the efficacy of molecules not only in-vitro as well as in analysis against live virus.

Further research is performed including assaying of safety and efficacy of these potential drugs in living models. The first trial on mice has been started in March. Beside this, additional drugs are optimized and nominated for preclinical testing as candidate drug.

Source: https://www.weizmann.ac.il/WeizmannCompass/sections/features/the-vaccines-are-here-and-research-abounds

Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Identification of Novel genes in human that fight COVID-19 infection

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc. (ept. 5/2021)

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/04/19/identification-of-novel-genes-in-human-that-fight-covid-19-infection/

Fighting Chaos with Care, community trust, engagement must be cornerstones of pandemic response

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc. (ept. 5/2021)

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/04/13/fighting-chaos-with-care/

T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/03/30/t-cells-recognize-recent-sars-cov-2-variants/

Need for Global Response to SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/02/12/need-for-global-response-to-sars-cov-2-viral-variants/

Mechanistic link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and increased risk of stroke using 3D printed models and human endothelial cells

Reporter: Adina Hazan, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2020/12/28/mechanistic-link-between-sars-cov-2-infection-and-increased-risk-of-stroke-using-3d-printed-models-and-human-endothelial-cells/

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Identification of Novel genes in human that fight COVID-19 infection

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, B.Sc., M.Sc. (ept. 5/2021)

Scientists have recognized human genes that fight against the SARS-CoV-2 viral infection. The information about genes and their function can help to control infection and aids the understanding of crucial factors that causes severe infection. These novel genes are related to interferons, the frontline fighter in our body’s defense system and provide options for therapeutic strategies.

The research was published in the journal Molecular Cell.

Sumit K. Chanda, Ph.D., professor and director of the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys reported in the article that they focused on better understanding of the cellular response and downstream mechanism in cells to SARS-CoV-2, including the factors which causes strong or weak response to viral infection. He is the lead author of the study and explained that in this study they have gained new insights into how the human cells are exploited by invading virus and are still working towards finding any weak point of virus to develop new antivirals against SARS-CoV-2.

With the surge of pandemic, researchers and scientists found that in severe cases of COVID-19, the response of interferons to SARS-CoV-2 viral infection is low. This information led Chanda and other collaborators to search for interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), are genes in human which are triggered by interferons and play important role in confining COVID-19 infection by controlling their viral replication in host.

The investigators have developed laboratory experiments to identify ISGs based on the previous knowledge gathered by the outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 from 2002-2004 which was similar to COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The article reports that Chanda mentioned “we found that 65 ISGs controlled SAR-CoV-2 infection, including some that inhibited the virus’ ability to enter cells, some that suppressed manufacture of the RNA that is the virus’s lifeblood, and a cluster of genes that inhibited assembly of the virus.” They also found an interesting fact about ISGs that some of these genes revealed control over unrelated viruses, such as HIV, West Nile and seasonal flu.

Laura Martin-Sancho, Ph.D., a senior postdoctoral associate in the Chanda lab and first author of the study reported in the article that they identified 8 different ISGs that blocked the replication of both SARS-CoV-1 and CoV-2 in the subcellular compartments responsible for packaging of proteins, which provide option to exploit these vulnerable sites to restrict infection. They are further investigating whether the genetic variability within the ISGs is associated with COVID-19 severity.

The next step for researchers will be investigating and observing the biology of variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are evolving and affecting vaccine efficacy. Martin-Sancho mentioned that their lab has already started gathering all the possible variants for further investigation.

“It’s vitally important that we don’t take our foot off the pedal of basic research efforts now that vaccines are helping control the pandemic,” reported in the article by Chanda.

“We’ve come so far so fast because of investment in fundamental research at Sanford Burnham Prebys and elsewhere, and our continued efforts will be especially important when, not if, another viral outbreak occurs,” concluded Chanda.

Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-04-covid-scientists-human-genes-infection.html

Reference: Laura Martin-Sancho et al. Functional Landscape of SARS-CoV-2 Cellular Restriction, Molecular Cell (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.04.008

Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

Fighting Chaos with Care, community trust, engagement must be cornerstones of pandemic response

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/04/13/fighting-chaos-with-care/

Mechanism of Thrombosis with AstraZeneca and J & J Vaccines: Expert Opinion by Kate Chander Chiang & Ajay Gupta, MD

Reporter & Curator: Dr. Ajay Gupta, MD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/04/14/mechanism-of-thrombosis-with-astrazeneca-and-j-j-vaccines-expert-opinion-by-kate-chander-chiang-ajay-gupta-md/

T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/03/30/t-cells-recognize-recent-sars-cov-2-variants/

Need for Global Response to SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/02/12/need-for-global-response-to-sars-cov-2-viral-variants/

Mechanistic link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and increased risk of stroke using 3D printed models and human endothelial cells

Reporter: Adina Hazan, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2020/12/28/mechanistic-link-between-sars-cov-2-infection-and-increased-risk-of-stroke-using-3d-printed-models-and-human-endothelial-cells/

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Fighting Chaos with care, community trust, engagement must be cornerstones of pandemic response

Reporter: Amandeep Kaur, BSc, MSc (Exp. 6/2021)

According to the Global Health Security Index released by Johns Hopkins University in October 2019 in collaboration with Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the United States was announced to be the best developed country in the world to tackle any pandemic or health emergency in future.

The table turned within in one year of outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. By the end of March 2021, the country with highest COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world was United States. According to the latest numbers provided by World Health Organization (WHO), there were more than 540,000 deaths and more than 30 million confirmed cases in the United States.

Joia Mukherjee, associate professor of global health and social medicine in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School said,

“When we think about how to balance control of an epidemic over chaos, we have to double down on care and concern for the people and communities who are hardest hit”.

She also added that U.S. possess all the necessary building blocks required for a health system to work, but it lacks trust, leadership, engagement and care to assemble it into a working system.

Mukherjee mentioned about the issues with the Index that it undervalued the organized and integrated system which is necessary to help public meet their needs for clinical care. Another necessary element for real health safety which was underestimated was conveying clear message and social support to make effective and sustainable efforts for preventive public health measures.

Mukherjee is a chief medical officer at Partners In Health, an organization focused on strengthening community-based health care delivery. She is also a core member of HMS community members who play important role in constructing a more comprehensive response to the pandemic in all over the U.S. With years of experience, they are training global health care workers, analyzing the results and constructing an integrated health system to fight against the widespread health emergency caused by coronavirus all around the world.

Mukherjee encouraged to strengthen the consensus among the community to constrain this infectious disease epidemic. She suggested that validation of the following steps are crucial such as testing of the people with symptoms of infection with coronavirus, isolation of infected individuals by providing them with necessary resources and providing clinical treatment and care to those people who are in need. Mukherjee said, that community engagement and material support are not just idealistic goal rather these are essential components for functioning of health care system during an outburst of coronavirus.

Continued alertness such as social distancing and personal contact with infected individual is important because it is not possible to rapidly replace the old-school public health approaches with new advanced technologies like smart phone applications or biomedical improvements.

Public health specialists emphasized that the infection limitation is the only and most vital strategy for controlling the outbreak in near future, even if the population is getting vaccinated. It is crucial to slowdown the spread of disease for restricting the natural modification of more dangerous variants as that could potentially escape the immune protection mechanism developed by recently generated vaccines as well as natural immune defense systems.

Making Crucial connections

The treatment is more expensive and complicated in areas with less health facilities, said Paul Farmer, the Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard and chair of the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine. He called this situation as treatment nihilism. Due to shortage of resources, the maximum energy is focused in public health care and prevention efforts. U.S. has resources to cope up with the increasing demand of hospital space and is developing vaccines, but there is a form of containment nihilism- which means prevention and infection containment are unattainable- said by many experts.

Farmer said, integration of necessary elements such as clinical care, therapies, vaccines, preventive measures and social support into a single comprehensive plan is the best approach for a better response to COVID-19 disease. He understands the importance of community trust and integrated health care system for fighting against this pandemic, as being one of the founders of Partners In Health and have years of experience along with his colleagues from HMS and PIH in fighting epidemics of HIV, Ebola, cholera, tuberculosis, other infectious and non-infectious diseases.

PIH launched the Massachusetts Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC), which is an initiative of contact tracing statewide in partnership with several other state bodies, local boards of Health system and PIH. The CTC was setup in April 2020 in U.S. by Governor Charlie Baker, with leadership from HMS faculty, to build a unified response to COVID-19 and create a foundation for a long-term movement towards a more integrated community-based health care system.

The contact tracing involves reaching out to individuals who are COVID-19 positive, then further detect people who came in close contact with infected individuals and screen out people with coronavirus symptoms and encourage them to seek testing and take necessary precautions to break the chain of infection into the community.

In the initial phase of outbreak, the CTC group comprises of contact tracers and health care coordinators who spoke 23 different languages, including social workers, public health practitioners, nurses and staff members from local board health agencies with deep links to the communities they are helping. The CTC worked with 339 out of 351 state municipalities with local public health agencies relied completely on CTC whereas some cities and towns depend occasionally on CTC backup. According to a report, CTC members reached up to 80 percent of contact tracking in hard-hit and resource deprived communities such as New Bedford.

Putting COVID-19 in context

Based on generations of experience helping people surviving some of the deadliest epidemic and endemic outbreaks in places like Haiti, Mexico, Rwanda and Peru, the staff was alert that people with bad social and economic condition have less space to get quarantined and follow other public health safety measures and are most vulnerable people at high risk in the pandemic situation.

Infected individuals or individuals at risk of getting infected by SARS-CoV-2 had many questions regarding when to seek doctor’s help and where to get tested, reported by contact tracers. People were worried about being evicted from work for two weeks and some immigrants worried about basic supplies as they were away from their family and friends.

The CTC team received more than 7,000 requests for social support assistance in the initial three months. The staff members and contact tracers were actively connecting the resourceful individuals with the needy people and filling up the gap when there was shortage in their own resources.

Farmer said, “COVID is a misery-seeking missile that has targeted the most vulnerable.”

The reality that infected individuals concerned about lacking primary household items, food items and access to childcare, emphasizes the urgency of rudimentary social care and community support in fighting against the pandemic. Farmer said, to break the chain of infection and resume society it is mandatory to meet all the elementary needs of people.

“What kinds of help are people asking for?” Farmer said and added “it’s important to listen to what your patients are telling you.”

An outbreak of care

The launch of Massachusetts CTC with the support from PIH, started receiving requests from all around the country to assist initiating contact tracing procedures. In May, 2020 the organization announced the launch of a U.S. public health accompaniment to cope up with the asked need.

The unit has included team members in nearly 24 states and municipal health departments in the country and work in collaboration with local organizations. The technical support on things like choosing and implementing the tools and software for contact tracing was provided by PIH. To create awareness and provide new understanding more rapidly, a learning collaboration was established with more than 200 team members from more than 100 different organizations. The team worked to meet the needs of population at higher risk of infection by advocating them for a stronger and more reliable public health response.

The PIH public health team helped to train contact trackers in the Navajo nation and operate to strengthen the coordination between SARS-CoV-2 testing, efforts for precaution, clinical health care delivery and social support in vulnerable communities around the U.S.

“For us to reopen our schools, our churches, our workplaces,” Mukherjee said, “we have to know where the virus is spreading so that we don’t just continue on this path.”

SOURCE:

https://hms.harvard.edu/news/fighting-chaos-care?utm_source=Silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_term=field_news_item_1&utm_content=HMNews04052021

Other related articles were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, including the following:

T cells recognize recent SARS-CoV-2 variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/03/30/t-cells-recognize-recent-sars-cov-2-variants/

The WHO team is expected to soon publish a 300-page final report on its investigation, after scrapping plans for an interim report on the origins of SARS-CoV-2 — the new coronavirus responsible for killing 2.7 million people globally

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/03/27/the-who-team-is-expected-to-soon-publish-a-300-page-final-report-on-its-investigation-after-scrapping-plans-for-an-interim-report-on-the-origins-of-sars-cov-2-the-new-coronavirus-responsibl/

Need for Global Response to SARS-CoV-2 Viral Variants

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/02/12/need-for-global-response-to-sars-cov-2-viral-variants/

Mechanistic link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and increased risk of stroke using 3D printed models and human endothelial cells

Reporter: Adina Hazan, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2020/12/28/mechanistic-link-between-sars-cov-2-infection-and-increased-risk-of-stroke-using-3d-printed-models-and-human-endothelial-cells/

Artificial intelligence predicts the immunogenic landscape of SARS-CoV-2

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/02/04/artificial-intelligence-predicts-the-immunogenic-landscape-of-sars-cov-2/

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Cryo-EM disclosed how the D614G mutation changes SARS-CoV-2 spike protein structure.

Reporter: Dr. Premalata Pati, Ph.D., Postdoc

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has had a major impact on human health globally; infecting a massive quantity of people around 136,046,262 (John Hopkins University); causing severe disease and associated long-term health sequelae; resulting in death and excess mortality, especially among older and prone populations; altering routine healthcare services; disruptions to travel, trade, education, and many other societal functions; and more broadly having a negative impact on peoples physical and mental health.

It’s need of the hour to answer the questions like what allows the variants of SARS-CoV-2 first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil to spread so quickly? How can current COVID-19 vaccines better protect against them?

Scientists from the Harvard Medical School and the Boston Children’s Hospital help answer these urgent questions. The team reports its findings in the journal “Science a paper entitled Structural impact on SARS-CoV-2 spike protein by D614G substitution. The mutation rate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has rapidly evolved over the past few months, especially at the Spike (S) protein region of the virus, where the maximum number of mutations have been observed by the virologists.

Bing Chen, HMS professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s, and colleagues analyzed the changes in the structure of the spike proteins with the genetic change by D614G mutation by all three variants. Hence they assessed the structure of the coronavirus spike protein down to the atomic level and revealed the reason for the quick spreading of these variants.


This model shows the structure of the spike protein in its closed configuration, in its original D614 form (left) and its mutant form (G614). In the mutant spike protein, the 630 loop (in red) stabilizes the spike, preventing it from flipping open prematurely and rendering SARS-CoV-2 more infectious.

Fig. 1. Cryo-EM structures of the full-length SARS-CoV-2 S protein carrying G614.

(A) Three structures of the G614 S trimer, representing a closed, three RBD-down conformation, an RBD-intermediate conformation and a one RBD-up conformation, were modeled based on corresponding cryo-EM density maps at 3.1-3.5Å resolution. Three protomers (a, b, c) are colored in red, blue and green, respectively. RBD locations are indicated. (B) Top views of superposition of three structures of the G614 S in (A) in ribbon representation with the structure of the prefusion trimer of the D614 S (PDB ID: 6XR8), shown in yellow. NTD and RBD of each protomer are indicated. Side views of the superposition are shown in fig. S8.

IMAGE SOURCE: Bing Chen, Ph.D., Boston Children’s Hospital, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2021/03/16/science.abf2303

The work

The mutant spikes were imaged by Cryo-Electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which has resolution down to the atomic level. They found that the D614G mutation (substitution of in a single amino acid “letter” in the genetic code for the spike protein) makes the spike more stable as compared with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. As a result, more functional spikes are available to bind to our cells’ ACE2 receptors, making the virus more contagious.


Fig. 2. Cryo-EM revealed how the D614G mutation changes SARS-CoV-2 spike protein structure.

IMAGE SOURCE:  Zhang J, et al., Science

Say the original virus has 100 spikes,” Chen explained. “Because of the shape instability, you may have just 50 percent of them functional. In the G614 variants, you may have 90 percent that is functional. So even though they don’t bind as well, the chances are greater and you will have an infection

Forthcoming directions by Bing Chen and Team

The findings suggest the current approved COVID-19 vaccines and any vaccines in the works should include the genetic code for this mutation. Chen has quoted:

Since most of the vaccines so far—including the Moderna, Pfizer–BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca vaccines are based on the original spike protein, adding the D614G mutation could make the vaccines better able to elicit protective neutralizing antibodies against the viral variants

Chen proposes that redesigned vaccines incorporate the code for this mutant spike protein. He believes the more stable spike shape should make any vaccine based on the spike more likely to elicit protective antibodies. Chen also has his sights set on therapeutics. He and his colleagues are further applying structural biology to better understand how SARS-CoV-2 binds to the ACE2 receptor. That could point the way to drugs that would block the virus from gaining entry to our cells.

In January, the team showed that a structurally engineered “decoy” ACE2 protein binds to SARS-CoV-2 200 times more strongly than the body’s own ACE2. The decoy potently inhibited the virus in cell culture, suggesting it could be an anti-COVID-19 treatment. Chen is now working to advance this research into animal models.

Main Source:

Abstract

Substitution for aspartic acid by glycine at position 614 in the spike (S) protein of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 appears to facilitate rapid viral spread. The G614 strain and its recent variants are now the dominant circulating forms. We report here cryo-EM structures of a full-length G614 S trimer, which adopts three distinct prefusion conformations differing primarily by the position of one receptor-binding domain. A loop disordered in the D614 S trimer wedges between domains within a protomer in the G614 spike. This added interaction appears to prevent premature dissociation of the G614 trimer, effectively increasing the number of functional spikes and enhancing infectivity, and to modulate structural rearrangements for membrane fusion. These findings extend our understanding of viral entry and suggest an improved immunogen for vaccine development.

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2021/03/16/science.abf2303?rss=1

Other Related Articles published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal include the following:

COVID-19-vaccine rollout risks and challenges

Reporter : Irina Robu, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/02/17/covid-19-vaccine-rollout-risks-and-challenges/

COVID-19 Sequel: Neurological Impact of Social isolation been linked to poorer physical and mental health

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/03/30/covid-19-sequel-neurological-impact-of-social-isolation-been-linked-to-poorer-physical-and-mental-health/

Comparing COVID-19 Vaccine Schedule Combinations, or “Com-COV” – First-of-its-Kind Study will explore the Impact of using eight different Combinations of Doses and Dosing Intervals for Different COVID-19 Vaccines

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2021/02/08/comparing-covid-19-vaccine-schedule-combinations-or-com-cov-first-of-its-kind-study-will-explore-the-impact-of-using-eight-different-combinations-of-doses-and-dosing-intervals-for-diffe/

COVID-19 T-cell immune response map, immunoSEQ T-MAP COVID for research of T-cell response to SARS-CoV-2 infection

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2020/11/20/covid-19-t-cell-immune-response-map-immunoseq-t-map-covid-for-research-of-t-cell-response-to-sars-cov-2-infection/

Tiny biologic drug to fight COVID-19 show promise in animal models

Reporter : Irina Robu, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2020/10/11/tiny-biologic-drug-to-fight-covid-19-show-promise-in-animal-models/

Miniproteins against the COVID-19 Spike protein may be therapeutic

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2020/09/30/miniproteins-against-the-covid-19-spike-protein-may-be-therapeutic/

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From Cell Press:  New Insights on the D614G Strain of COVID: Will a New Mutated Strain Delay Vaccine Development?

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

Two recent articles in Cell Press, both peer reviewed, discuss the emergence and potential dominance of a new mutated strain of COVID-19, in which the spike protein harbors a D614G mutation.

In the first article “Making Sense of Mutation: What D614G means for the COVID-19 pandemic Remains Unclear”[1] , authors Drs. Nathan Grubaugh, William Hanage, and Angela Rasmussen discuss the recent findings by Korber et al. 2020 [2] which describe the potential increases in infectivity and mortality of this new mutant compared to the parent strain of SARS-CoV2.  For completeness sake I will post this article as to not defer from their interpretations of this important paper by Korber and to offer some counter opinion to some articles which have surfaced this morning in the news.

Making sense of mutation: what D614G means for the COVID-19 pandemic remains unclear

 

Nathan D. Grubaugh1 *, William P. Hanage2 *, Angela L. Rasmussen3 * 1Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT 06510, USA 2Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA 3Center for Infection and Immunity, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY 10032, USA Correspondence: grubaughlab@gmail.com

 

Abstract: Korber et al. (2020) found that a SARS-CoV-2 variant in the spike protein, D614G, rapidly became dominant around the world. While clinical and in vitro data suggest that D614G changes the virus phenotype, the impact of the mutation on transmission, disease, and vaccine and therapeutic development are largely unknown.

Introduction: Following the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in China in late 2019, and the rapid expansion of the COVID19 pandemic in 2020, questions about viral evolution have come tumbling after. Did SARS-CoV-2 evolve to become better adapted to humans? More infectious or transmissible? More deadly? Virus mutations can rise in frequency due to natural selection, random genetic drift, or features of recent epidemiology. As these forces can work in tandem, it’s often hard to differentiate when a virus mutation becomes common through fitness or by chance. It is even harder to determine if a single mutation will change the outcome of an infection, or a pandemic. The new study by Korber et al. (2020) sits at the heart of this debate. They present compelling data that an amino acid change in the virus’ spike protein, D614G, emerged early during the pandemic, and viruses containing G614 are now dominant in many places around the world. The crucial questions are whether this is the result of natural selection, and what it means for the COVID-19 pandemic. For viruses like SARS-CoV-2 transmission really is everything – if they don’t get into another host their lineage ends. Korber et al. (2020) hypothesized that the rapid spread of G614 was because it is more infectious than D614. In support of their hypothesis, the authors provided evidence that clinical samples from G614 infections have a higher levels of viral RNA, and produced higher titers in pseudoviruses from in vitro experiments; results that now seem to be corroborated by others [e.g. (Hu et al., 2020; Wagner et al., 2020)]. Still, these data do not prove that G614 is more infectious or transmissible than viruses containing D614. And because of that, many questions remain on the potential impacts, if any, that D614G has on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors note that this new G614 variant has become the predominant form over the whole world however in China the predominant form is still the D614 form.  As they state

“over the period that G614 became the global majority variant, the number of introductions from China where D614 was still dominant were declining, while those from Europe climbed. This alone might explain the apparent success of G614.”

Grubaugh et al. feel there is not enough evidence that infection with this new variant will lead to higher mortality.  Both Korber et al. and the Seattle study (Wagner et al) did not find that the higher viral load of this variant led to a difference in hospitalizations so apparently each variant might be equally as morbid.

In addition, Grubaugh et al. believe this variant would not have much affect on vaccine development as, even though the mutation lies within the spike protein, D614G is not in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein.  Korber suggest that there may be changes in glycosylation however these experiments will need to be performed.  In addition, antibodies from either D614 or G614 variant infected patients could cross neutralize.

 

Conclusions: While there has already been much breathless commentary on what this mutation means for the COVID19 pandemic, the global expansion of G614 whether through natural selection or chance means that this variant now is the pandemic. As a result its properties matter. It is clear from the in vitro and clinical data that G614 has a distinct phenotype, but whether this is the result of bonafide adaptation to human ACE2, whether it increases transmissibility, or will have a notable effect, is not clear. The work by Korber et al. (2020) provides an early base for more extensive epidemiological, in vivo experimental, and diverse clinical investigations to fill in the many critical gaps in how D614G impacts the pandemic.

The link to the Korber Cell paper is here: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)30820-5

Tracking changes in SARS-CoV-2 Spike: evidence that D614G increases infectivity of the COVID-19 virus

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.06.043

Keypoints

  • The consistent increase of G614 at regional levels may indicate a fitness advantage

 

  • G614 is associated with lower RT PCR Ct’s, suggestive of higher viral loads in patients

 

  • The G614 variant grows to higher titers as pseudotyped virions

Summary

A SARS-CoV-2 variant carrying the Spike protein amino acid change D614G has become the most prevalent form in the global pandemic. Dynamic tracking of variant frequencies revealed a recurrent pattern of G614 increase at multiple geographic levels: national, regional and municipal. The shift occurred even in local epidemics where the original D614 form was well established prior to the introduction of the G614 variant. The consistency of this pattern was highly statistically significant, suggesting that the G614 variant may have a fitness advantage. We found that the G614 variant grows to higher titer as pseudotyped virions. In infected individuals G614 is associated with lower RT-PCR cycle thresholds, suggestive of higher upper respiratory tract viral loads, although not with increased disease severity. These findings illuminate changes important for a mechanistic understanding of the virus, and support continuing surveillance of Spike mutations to aid in the development of immunological interventions.

 

References

  1. Grubaugh, N.D., Hanage, W.P., Rasmussen, A.L., Making sense of mutation: what D614G means for the COVID-19 pandemic remains unclear, Cell (2020), doi: https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2020.06.040.
  2. Korber, B., Fischer, W.M., Gnanakaran, S., Yoon, H., Theiler, J., Abfalterer, W., Hengartner, N., Giorgi, E.E., Bhattacharya, T., Foley, B., et al. (2020). Tracking changes in SARS-CoV-2 Spike: evidence that D614G increases infectivity of the COVID-19 virus. Cell 182.
  3. Endo, A., Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases COVID-19 Working Group, Abbott, S., Kucharski, A.J., and Funk, S. (2020). Estimating the overdispersion in COVID-19 transmission using outbreak sizes outside China. Wellcome Open Res 5, 67.
  4. Hu, J., He, C.-L., Gao, Q.-Z., Zhang, G.-J., Cao, X.-X., Long, Q.-X., Deng, H.-J., Huang, L.-Y., Chen, J., Wang, K., et al. (2020). The D614G mutation of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein enhances viral infectivity and decreases neutralization sensitivity to individual convalescent sera. bioRxiv 2020.06.20.161323.
  5. Wagner, C., Roychoudhury, P., Hadfield, J., Hodcroft, E.B., Lee, J., Moncla, L.H., Müller, N.F., Behrens, C., Huang, M.-L., Mathias, P., et al. (2020). Comparing viral load and clinical outcomes in Washington State across D614G mutation in spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. Https://github.com/blab/ncov-D614G.

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National Cancer Institute Director Neil Sharpless says mortality from delays in cancer screenings due to COVID19 pandemic could result in tens of thousands of extra deaths in next decade

Reporter: Stephen J Williams, PhD

Source: https://cancerletter.com/articles/20200619_1/

NCI Director’s Report

Sharpless: COVID-19 expected to increase mortality by at least 10,000 deaths from breast and colorectal cancers over 10 years

By Matthew Bin Han Ong

This story is part of The Cancer Letter’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s impact on oncology. A full list of our coverage, as well as the latest meeting cancellations, is available here.

The COVID-19 pandemic will likely cause at least 10,000 excess deaths from breast cancer and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years in the United States.

Scenarios run by NCI and affiliated modeling groups predict that delays in screening for and diagnosis of breast and colorectal cancers will lead to a 1% increase in deaths through 2030. This translates into 10,000 additional deaths, on top of the expected one million deaths resulting from these two cancers.

“For both these cancer types, we believe the pandemic will influence cancer deaths for at least a decade,” NCI Director Ned Sharpless said in a virtual joint meeting of the Board of Scientific Advisors and the National Cancer Advisory Board June 15. “I find this worrisome as cancer mortality is common. Even a 1% increase every decade is a lot of cancer suffering.

“And this analysis, frankly, is pretty conservative. We do not consider cancers other than those of breast and colon, but there is every reason to believe the pandemic will affect other types of cancer, too. We did not account for the additional non-lethal morbidity from upstaging, but this could also be significant and burdensome.”

An editorial by Sharpless on this subject appears in the journal Science.

The early analyses, conducted by the institute’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, focused on breast and colorectal cancers, because these are common, with relatively high screening rates.

CISNET modelers created four scenarios to assess long-term increases in cancer mortality rates for these two diseases:

  1. The pandemic has no effect on cancer mortality

 

  1. Delayed screening—with 75% reduction in mammography and, colorectal screening and adenoma surveillance for six months

 

  1. Delayed diagnosis—with one-third of people delaying follow-up after a positive screening or diagnostic mammogram, positive FIT or clinical symptoms for six months during a six-month period

 

  1. Combination of scenarios two and three

 

Treatment scenarios after diagnosis were not included in the model. These would be: delays in treatment, cancellation of treatment, or modified treatment.

“What we did is show the impact of the number of excess deaths per year for 10 years for each year starting in 2020 for scenario four versus scenario one,” Eric “Rocky” Feuer, chief of the NCI’s Statistical Research and Applications Branch in the Surveillance Research Program, said to The Cancer Letter.

Feuer is the overall project scientist for CISNET, a collaborative group of investigators who use simulation modeling to guide public health research and priorities.

“The results for breast cancer were somewhat larger than for colorectal,” Feuer said. “And that’s because breast cancer has a longer preclinical natural history relative to colorectal cancer.”

Modelers in oncology are creating a global modeling consortium, COVID-19 and Cancer Taskforce, to “support decision-making in cancer control both during and after the crisis.” The consortium is supported by the Union for International Cancer Control, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, The International Cancer Screening Network, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, and Cancer Council NSW, Australia.

A spike in cancer mortality rates threatens to reverse or slow down—at least in the medium term—the steady trend of reduction of cancer deaths. On Jan. 8, the American Cancer Society published its annual estimates of new cancer cases and deaths, declaring that the latest data—from 2016 to 2017—show the “largest ever single-year drop in overall cancer mortality of 2.2%.” Experts say that innovation in lung cancer treatment and the success of smoking cessation programs are driving the sharp decrease (The Cancer LetterFeb. 7, 2020).

The pandemic is expected to have broader impact, including increases in mortality rates for other cancer types. Also, variations in severity of COVID-19 in different regions in the U.S. will influence mortality metrics.

“There’s some other cancers that might have delays in screening—for example cervical, prostate, and lung cancer, although lung cancer screening rates are still quite low and prostate cancer screening should only be conducted on those who determine that the benefits outweigh the harms,” Feuer said. “So, those are the major screening cancers, but impacts of delays in treatment, canceling treatment or alternative treatments—could impact a larger range of cancer sites.

“This model assumes a moderate disruption which resolves after six months, and doesn’t consider non-lethal morbidities associated with the delay. One thing I think probably is occurring is regional variation in these impacts,” Feuer said. “If you’re living in New York City where things were ground zero for some of the worst impact early on, probably delays were larger than other areas of the country. But now, as we’re seeing upticks in other areas of the country, there may be in impact in these areas as well”

How can health care providers mitigate some of these harms? For example, for people who delayed screening and diagnosis, are providers able to perform triage, so that those at highest risk are prioritized?

“From a strictly cancer control point of view, let’s get those people who delayed screening, or followup to a positive test, or treatment back on schedule as soon as possible,” Feuer said. “But it’s not a simple calculus, because in every situation, we have to weigh the harms and benefits. As we come out of the pandemic, it tips more and more to, ‘Let’s get back to business with respect to cancer control.’

“Telemedicine doesn’t completely substitute for seeing patients in person, but at least people could get the advice they need, and then are triaged through their health care providers to indicate if they really should prioritize coming in. That helps the individual and the health care provider  weigh the harms and benefits, and try to strategize about what’s best for any individual.”

If the pandemic continues to disrupt routine care, cancer-related mortality rates would rise beyond the predictions in this model.

“I think this analysis begins to help us understand the costs with regard to cancer outcomes of the pandemic,” Sharpless said. “Let’s all agree we will do everything in our power to minimize these adverse effects, to protect our patients from cancer suffering.”

 

For more Articles on COVID-19 please see our Coronavirus Portal at

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/coronavirus-portal/

 

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Crowdsourcing Difficult-to-Collect Epidemiological Data in Pandemics: Lessons from Ebola to the current COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

 

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, epidemiological data from the origin of the Sars-Cov2 outbreak, notably from the Wuhan region in China, was sparse.  In fact, official individual patient data rarely become available early on in an outbreak, when that data is needed most. Epidemiological data was just emerging from China as countries like Italy, Spain, and the United States started to experience a rapid emergence of the outbreak in their respective countries.  China, made of 31 geographical provinces, is a vast and complex country, with both large urban and rural areas.

 

 

 

As a result of this geographical diversity and differences in healthcare coverage across the country, epidemiological data can be challenging.  For instance, cancer incidence data for regions and whole country is difficult to calculate as there are not many regional cancer data collection efforts, contrasted with the cancer statistics collected in the United States, which is meticulously collected by cancer registries in each region, state and municipality.  Therefore, countries like China must depend on hospital record data and autopsy reports in order to back-extrapolate cancer incidence data.  This is the case in some developed countries like Italy where cancer registry is administered by a local government and may not be as extensive (for example in the Napoli region of Italy).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Population density China by province. Source https://www.unicef.cn/en/figure-13-population-density-province-2017

 

 

 

Epidemiologists, in areas in which data collection may be challenging, are relying on alternate means of data collection such as using devices connected to the internet-of-things such as mobile devices, or in some cases, social media is becoming useful to obtain health related data.  Such as effort to acquire pharmacovigilance data, patient engagement, and oral chemotherapeutic adherence using the social media site Twitter has been discussed in earlier posts: (see below)

Twitter is Becoming a Powerful Tool in Science and Medicine at https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/11/06/twitter-is-becoming-a-powerful-tool-in-science-and-medicine/

 

 

 

 

 

Now epidemiologists are finding crowd-sourced data from social media and social networks becoming useful in collecting COVID-19 related data in those countries where health data collection efforts may be sub-optimal.  In a recent paper in The Lancet Digital Health [1], authors Kaiyuan Sun, Jenny Chen, and Cecile Viboud present data from the COVID-19 outbreak in China using information collected over social network sites as well as public news outlets and find strong correlations with later-released government statistics, showing the usefulness in such social and crowd-sourcing strategies to collect pertinent time-sensitive data.  In particular, the authors aim was to investigate this strategy of data collection to reduce the time delays between infection and detection, isolation and reporting of cases.

The paper is summarized below:

Kaiyuan Sun, PhD Jenny Chen, BScn Cécile Viboud, PhD . (2020).  Early epidemiological analysis of the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak based on crowdsourced data: a population-level observational study.  The Lancet: Digital Health; Volume 2, Issue 4, E201-E208.

Summary

Background

As the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) progresses, epidemiological data are needed to guide situational awareness and intervention strategies. Here we describe efforts to compile and disseminate epidemiological information on COVID-19 from news media and social networks.

Methods

In this population-level observational study, we searched DXY.cn, a health-care-oriented social network that is currently streaming news reports on COVID-19 from local and national Chinese health agencies. We compiled a list of individual patients with COVID-19 and daily province-level case counts between Jan 13 and Jan 31, 2020, in China. We also compiled a list of internationally exported cases of COVID-19 from global news media sources (Kyodo News, The Straits Times, and CNN), national governments, and health authorities. We assessed trends in the epidemiology of COVID-19 and studied the outbreak progression across China, assessing delays between symptom onset, seeking care at a hospital or clinic, and reporting, before and after Jan 18, 2020, as awareness of the outbreak increased. All data were made publicly available in real time.

Findings

We collected data for 507 patients with COVID-19 reported between Jan 13 and Jan 31, 2020, including 364 from mainland China and 143 from outside of China. 281 (55%) patients were male and the median age was 46 years (IQR 35–60). Few patients (13 [3%]) were younger than 15 years and the age profile of Chinese patients adjusted for baseline demographics confirmed a deficit of infections among children. Across the analysed period, delays between symptom onset and seeking care at a hospital or clinic were longer in Hubei province than in other provinces in mainland China and internationally. In mainland China, these delays decreased from 5 days before Jan 18, 2020, to 2 days thereafter until Jan 31, 2020 (p=0·0009). Although our sample captures only 507 (5·2%) of 9826 patients with COVID-19 reported by official sources during the analysed period, our data align with an official report published by Chinese authorities on Jan 28, 2020.

Interpretation

News reports and social media can help reconstruct the progression of an outbreak and provide detailed patient-level data in the context of a health emergency. The availability of a central physician-oriented social network facilitated the compilation of publicly available COVID-19 data in China. As the outbreak progresses, social media and news reports will probably capture a diminishing fraction of COVID-19 cases globally due to reporting fatigue and overwhelmed health-care systems. In the early stages of an outbreak, availability of public datasets is important to encourage analytical efforts by independent teams and provide robust evidence to guide interventions.

A Few notes on Methodology:

  • The authors used crowd-sourced reports from DXY.cn, a social network for Chinese physicians, health-care professionals, pharmacies and health-care facilities. This online platform provides real time coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in China
  • More data was curated from news media, television and includes time-stamped information on COVID-19 cases
  • These reports are publicly available, de-identified patient data
  • No patient consent was needed and no ethics approval was required
  • Data was collected between January 20, 2020 and January 31,2020
  • Sex, age, province of identification, travel history, dates of symptom development was collected
  • Additional data was collected for other international sites of the pandemic including Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, UK, and USA
  • All patients in database had laboratory confirmation of infection

 

Results

  • 507 patient data was collected with 153 visited and 152 resident of Wuhan
  • Reported cases were skewed toward males however the overall population curve is skewed toward males in China
  • Most cases (26%) were from Beijing (urban area) while an equal amount were from rural areas combined (Shaanzi and Yunnan)
  • Age distribution of COVID cases were skewed toward older age groups with median age of 45 HOWEVER there were surprisingly a statistically high amount of cases less than 5 years of age
  • Outbreak progression based on the crowd-sourced patient line was consistent with the data published by the China Center for Disease Control
  • Median reporting delay in the authors crowd-sourcing data was 5 days
  • Crowd-sourced data was able to detect apparent rapid growth of newly reported cases during the collection period in several provinces outside of Hubei province, which is consistent with local government data

The following graphs show age distribution for China in 2017 and predicted for 2050.

projected age distribution China 2050. Source https://chinapower.csis.org/aging-problem/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The authors have previously used this curation of news methodology to analyze the Ebola outbreak[2].

A further use of the crowd-sourced database was availability of travel histories for patients returning from Wuhan and onset of symptoms, allowing for estimation of incubation periods.

The following published literature has also used these datasets:

Backer JA, Klinkenberg D, Wallinga J: Incubation period of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infections among travellers from Wuhan, China, 20-28 January 2020. Euro surveillance : bulletin Europeen sur les maladies transmissibles = European communicable disease bulletin 2020, 25(5).

Lauer SA, Grantz KH, Bi Q, Jones FK, Zheng Q, Meredith HR, Azman AS, Reich NG, Lessler J: The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. Annals of internal medicine 2020, 172(9):577-582.

Li Q, Guan X, Wu P, Wang X, Zhou L, Tong Y, Ren R, Leung KSM, Lau EHY, Wong JY et al: Early Transmission Dynamics in Wuhan, China, of Novel Coronavirus-Infected Pneumonia. The New England journal of medicine 2020, 382(13):1199-1207.

Dataset is available on the Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological and Socio-technical systems website of Northeastern University at https://www.mobs-lab.org/.

References

  1. Sun K, Chen J, Viboud C: Early epidemiological analysis of the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak based on crowdsourced data: a population-level observational study. The Lancet Digital health 2020, 2(4):e201-e208.
  2. Cleaton JM, Viboud C, Simonsen L, Hurtado AM, Chowell G: Characterizing Ebola Transmission Patterns Based on Internet News Reports. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America 2016, 62(1):24-31.

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Powerful AI Tools Being Developed for the COVID-19 Fight

Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

 

Source: https://www.ibm.com/blogs/research/2020/04/ai-powered-technologies-accelerate-discovery-covid-19/

IBM Releases Novel AI-Powered Technologies to Help Health and Research Community Accelerate the Discovery of Medical Insights and Treatments for COVID-19

April 3, 2020 | Written by: 

IBM Research has been actively developing new cloud and AI-powered technologies that can help researchers across a variety of scientific disciplines accelerate the process of discovery. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, we continue to ask how these technologies and our scientific knowledge can help in the global battle against coronavirus.

Today, we are making available multiple novel, free resources from across IBM to help healthcare researchers, doctors and scientists around the world accelerate COVID-19 drug discovery: from gathering insights, to applying the latest virus genomic information and identifying potential targets for treatments, to creating new drug molecule candidates.

Though some of the resources are still in exploratory stages, IBM is making them available to qualifying researchers at no charge to aid the international scientific investigation of COVID-19.

Today’s announcement follows our recent leadership in launching the U.S. COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which is harnessing massive computing power in the effort to help confront the coronavirus.

Streamlining the Search for Information

Healthcare agencies and governments around the world have quickly amassed medical and other relevant data about the pandemic. And, there are already vast troves of medical research that could prove relevant to COVID-19. Yet, as with any large volume of disparate data sources, it is difficult to efficiently aggregate and analyze that data in ways that can yield scientific insights.

To help researchers access structured and unstructured data quickly, we are offering a cloud-based AI research resource that has been trained on a corpus of thousands of scientific papers contained in the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), prepared by the White House and a coalition of research groups, and licensed databases from the DrugBankClinicaltrials.gov and GenBank. This tool uses our advanced AI and allows researchers to pose specific queries to the collections of papers and to extract critical COVID-19 knowledge quickly. Please note, access to this resource will be granted only to qualified researchers. To learn more and request access, please click here.

Aiding the Hunt for Treatments

The traditional drug discovery pipeline relies on a library of compounds that are screened, improved, and tested to determine safety and efficacy. In dealing with new pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2, there is the potential to enhance the compound libraries with additional novel compounds. To help address this need, IBM Research has recently created a new, AI-generative framework which can rapidly identify novel peptides, proteins, drug candidates and materials.

We have applied this AI technology against three COVID-19 targets to identify 3,000 new small molecules as potential COVID-19 therapeutic candidates. IBM is releasing these molecules under an open license, and researchers can study them via a new interactive molecular explorer tool to understand their characteristics and relationship to COVID-19 and identify candidates that might have desirable properties to be further pursued in drug development.

To streamline efforts to identify new treatments for COVID-19, we are also making the IBM Functional Genomics Platform available for free for the duration of the pandemic. Built to discover the molecular features in viral and bacterial genomes, this cloud-based repository and research tool includes genes, proteins and other molecular targets from sequenced viral and bacterial organisms in one place with connections pre-computed to help accelerate discovery of molecular targets required for drug design, test development and treatment.

Select IBM collaborators from government agencies, academic institutions and other organizations already use this platform for bacterial genomic study. And now, those working on COVID-19 can request the IBM Functional Genomics Platform interface to explore the genomic features of the virus. Access to the IBM Functional Genomics Platform will be prioritized for those conducting COVID-19 research. To learn more and request access, please click here.

Drug and Disease Information

Clinicians and healthcare professionals on the frontlines of care will also have free access to hundreds of pieces of evidence-based, curated COVID-19 and infectious disease content from IBM Micromedex and EBSCO DynaMed. Using these two rich decision support solutions, users will have access to drug and disease information in a single and comprehensive search. Clinicians can also provide patients with consumer-friendly patient education handouts with relevant, actionable medical information. IBM Micromedex is one of the largest online reference databases for medication information and is used by more than 4,500 hospitals and health systems worldwide. EBSCO DynaMed provides peer-reviewed clinical content, including systematic literature reviews in 28 specialties for comprehensive disease topics, health conditions and abnormal findings, to highly focused topics on evaluation, differential diagnosis and management.

The scientific community is working hard to make important new discoveries relevant to the treatment of COVID-19, and we’re hopeful that releasing these novel tools will help accelerate this global effort. This work also outlines our long-term vision for the future of accelerated discovery, where multi-disciplinary scientists and clinicians work together to rapidly and effectively create next generation therapeutics, aided by novel AI-powered technologies.

Learn more about IBM’s response to COVID-19: IBM.com/COVID19.

Source: https://www.ibm.com/blogs/research/2020/04/ai-powered-technologies-accelerate-discovery-covid-19/

DiA Imaging Analysis Receives Grant to Accelerate Global Access to its AI Ultrasound Solutions in the Fight Against COVID-19

Source: https://www.grantnews.com/news-articles/?rkey=20200512UN05506&filter=12337

Grant will allow company to accelerate access to its AI solutions and use of ultrasound in COVID-19 emergency settings

TEL AVIV, IsraelMay 12, 2020 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — DiA Imaging Analysis, a leading provider of AI based ultrasound analysis solutions, today announced that it has received a government grant from the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) to develop solutions for ultrasound imaging analysis of COVID-19 patients using Artificial Intelligence (AI).Using ultrasound in point of care emergency settings has gained momentum since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. In these settings, which include makeshift hospital COVID-19 departments and triage “tents,” portable ultrasound offers clinicians diagnostic decision support, with the added advantage of being easier to disinfect and eliminating the need to transport patients from one room to another.However, analyzing ultrasound images is a process that it is still mostly done visually, leading to a growing market need for automated solutions and decision support.As the leading provider of AI solutions for ultrasound analysis and backed by Connecticut Innovations, DiA makes ultrasound analysis smarter and accessible to both new and expert ultrasound users with various levels of experience. The company’s flagship LVivo Cardio Toolbox for AI-based cardiac ultrasound analysis enables clinicians to automatically generate objective clinical analysis, with increased accuracy and efficiency to support decisions about patient treatment and care.

The IIA grant provides a budget of millions NIS to increase access to DiA’s solutions for users in Israel and globally, and accelerate R&D with a focus on new AI solutions for COVID-19 patient management. DiA solutions are vendor-neutral and platform agnostic, as well as powered to run in low processing, mobile environments like handheld ultrasound.Recent data highlights the importance of looking at the heart during the progression of COVID-19, with one study citing 20% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 showing signs of heart damage and increased mortality rates in those patients. DiA’s LVivo cardiac analysis solutions automatically generate objective, quantified cardiac ultrasound results to enable point-of-care clinicians to assess cardiac function on the spot, near patients’ bedside.

According to Dr. Ami Applebaum, the Chairman of the Board of the IIA, “The purpose of IIA’s call was to bring solutions to global markets for fighting COVID-19, with an emphasis on relevancy, fast time to market and collaborations promising continuity of the Israeli economy. DiA meets these requirements with AI innovation for ultrasound.”DiA has received several FDA/CE clearances and established distribution partnerships with industry leading companies including GE Healthcare, IBM Watson and Konica Minolta, currently serving thousands of end users worldwide.”We see growing use of ultrasound in point of care settings, and an urgent need for automated, objective solutions that provide decision support in real time,” said Hila Goldman-Aslan, CEO and Co-founder of DiA Imaging Analysis, “Our AI solutions meet this need by immediately helping clinicians on the frontlines to quickly and easily assess COVID-19 patients’ hearts to help guide care delivery.”

About DiA Imaging Analysis:
DiA Imaging Analysis provides advanced AI-based ultrasound analysis technology that makes ultrasound accessible to all. DiA’s automated tools deliver fast and accurate clinical indications to support the decision-making process and offer better patient care. DiA’s AI-based technology uses advanced pattern recognition and machine-learning algorithms to automatically imitate the way the human eye detects image borders and identifies motion. Using DiA’s tools provides automated and objective AI tools, helps reduce variability among users, and increases efficiency. It allows clinicians with various levels of experience to quickly and easily analyze ultrasound images.

For additional information, please visit http://www.dia-analysis.com.

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via Special COVID-19 Christopher Magazine

Special COVID-19 Christopher Magazine

Christopher-coverAntonio Giordano, MD, PhD. explains what COVID is and how to contain the infection, pointing also to what will require attention next.

Please see this special release at http://online.fliphtml5.com/qlnw/zgau/#p=1

 

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Live Notes, Real Time Conference Coverage 2020 AACR Virtual Meeting April 28, 2020 Session on NCI Activities: COVID-19 and Cancer Research 5:20 PM

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD

NCI Activities: COVID-19 and Cancer Research

Dinah S. Singer. NCI-DCB, Bethesda, MD @theNCI

  • at the NCI they are pivoting some of their clinical trials to address COVID related issues like trials on tocilizumab and producing longitudinal cohorts of cancer patients and COVID for further analysis and studies
  • vaccine and antibody efforts at NCI and they are asking all their cancer centers (Cancer COVID Consortium) collecting data
  • Moonshot is collecting metadata but now COVID data from cellular therapy patients
  • they are about to publish new grants related to COVID and adding option to investigators to use current funds to do COVID related options
  • she says if at home take the time to think, write manuscripts, analyze data BE A REVIEWER FOR JOURNALS,
  • SSMMART project from Moonshot is still active
  • so far NCI and NIH grant process is ongoing although the peer review process is slower
  • they have extended deadlines with NO justification required (extend 90 days)
  • also allowing flexibility on use of grant money and allowing more early investigator rules and lax on those rules
  • non competitive renewals (type 5) will allow restructuring of project; contact program administrator
  • she and NCI heard rumors of institutions shutting down cancer research she is stressing to them not to do that
  • non refundable travel costs may be charged to the grant
  • NCI contemplating on extending the early investigator time
  • for more information go to NIH and NCI COVID-19 pages which have more guidances updated regularly

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