Researchers begin trials of COVID-19 vaccine

In this file photo taken on February 10, 2020 Doctor Paul McKay, who is working on an vaccine for the 2019-nCoV strain of the novel coronavirus poses for a photograph using a pipette expresses coronavirus onto surface protein to apply cell cultures, in a research lab at Imperial College School of Medicine (ICSM) in London on February 10, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Researchers begin trials of COVID-19 vaccine

  • Oxford group could have 1 million doses ready by September if successful
  • The trial, now in its second phase following preliminary testing on a small sample size of 160 patients, will involve people of all age demographics

LONDON: A team of researchers has begun recruiting volunteers for clinical trials of a vaccine against COVID-19, while another team has started work on a treatment that may help critically ill patients recover from the disease.

Research at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, carried out in conjunction with an organization called the Oxford Vaccine Group, has been ongoing since January, with scientists now looking to recruit in excess of 10,000 people to take part in further trials following preliminary efforts in April.
The trial, now in its second phase following preliminary testing on a small sample size of 160 patients, will involve people of all age demographics — from children older than 5 years to the elderly — to help test the effectiveness of the vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, in a wider variety of people.
The vaccine — which was developed using an altered virus that affects chimpanzees, combined with the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, SARS-CoV-2 — had positive effects in animal trials.
It will now be given to subjects alongside a licensed vaccine, MenACWY, which is used to combat meningitis and blood poisoning, which will serve as a “control comparison.”
It is one of only four major vaccine trials currently taking place worldwide, though over 100 experimental vaccines are known to be in development.
The head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Prof. Andrew Pollard, said: “The clinical studies are progressing very well, and we are now initiating studies to evaluate how well the vaccine induces immune responses in older adults, and to test whether it can provide protection in the wider population.”
Preparation for mass production of the vaccine is already underway in anticipation of the trial proving successful.
The Oxford team has said it expects to have around a million units of the vaccine ready for use by September should that prove to be the case.
This week, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said it had the capacity to make a billion doses of the Oxford vaccine, and had secured an agreement to produce at least 400 million doses.
Meanwhile, scientists working at King’s College, London, as well as the city’s Francis Crick Institute and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, have started clinical trials of a drug called interleukin 7 to test its effects on combating COVID-19.
Interleukin 7 is known to boost a certain kind of human immune system cell, known as a T-cell, which is vital for clearing the body of infection.
A common theme among particularly serious cases of COVID-19 is a low T-cell count, though it is not yet known why. It is hoped that the introduction of the drug to patients suffering low counts may aid their recovery. The Crick Institute’s Prof. Adrian Hayday said: “They (the T-cells) are trying to protect us, but the virus seems to be doing something that’s pulling the rug from under them, because their numbers (in tested patients) have declined dramatically.”
The team believes that as well as boosting T-cell levels in critical patients, the findings of the trial may help develop a “fingerprint test” to check T-cell levels in the blood, which could help identify at an early stage patients at risk of developing more critical symptoms.
The team also hopes it will lead to the development of a treatment specifically aimed at reversing the effects of T-cell decline in COVID-19 patients.
“The virus that has caused this completely earth-changing emergency is unique — it’s different. It is something unprecedented,” said Hayday. “This virus is really doing something distinct, and future research — which we will start immediately — needs to find out the mechanism by which this virus is having these effects.”


Navy chief who supervised bin Laden mission says he voted for Biden

Updated 21 October 2020

Navy chief who supervised bin Laden mission says he voted for Biden

  • He declared his support for many of the key issues Biden is running on
  • More than 500 retired US military leaders have endorsed Biden in recent months

NEW YORK: The former US Navy Seal who oversaw the 2011 operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden has revealed that he voted for Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the presidential election.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, retired Adm. William McRaven was scathing about the record of the Trump administration and its “transactional approach to global issues.”
Without referring to the president by name, he said America’s global influence is diminishing as other countries see the most powerful nation in the world “tear up our treaties, leave our allies on the battlefield and cozy up to despots and dictators. (They) have seen an ineptness and a disdain for civility that is beyond anything in their memory.”
He also rejected Trump’s assertion that the US is now held in high regard as a result of his leadership. McRaven, who was commander of US Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, said that the world no longer trusts America to “stand up to tyranny, lift up the downtrodden, free the oppressed, and fight for the righteous.”
He stressed his traditional conservative values, including opposition to abortion and a tough stance on defense matters. But he also declared his support for many of the key issues Biden is running on, including support for racial equality and the Black Lives Matter movement, a fair path to citizenship for immigrants, a return to America’s founding ideals of diversity and inclusion, and the need to take action on climate change.
More than 500 retired US military leaders have endorsed Biden in recent months, including four former chairmen of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. However, McRaven has been particularly forceful in his criticism since the president took office, describing Trump as unfit for the office of commander-in-chief. In numerous interviews and op-eds he has accused him of eroding American values and undermining US democratic institutions.
He described Trump’s attacks on the media as “the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.” And in an op-ed for the Washington Post in February, he said he fears for the future of his country if Trump remains in power.
“As Americans, we should be frightened,” he wrote. “(When) good men and women can’t speak the truth, (when) integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.”
In another scathing op-ed, published by the New York Times in October 2019, McRaven said the American republic is “under attack” from the man in the Oval Office.
Trump previously dismissed the criticism, claiming in 2018 that McRaven had been a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, and questioning why bin Laden was not killed sooner.
In response, McRaven said: “I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else.”
On one occasion when asked to comment on the criticism from the retired admiral, Trump said he did not know who he was.
In his latest op-ed — titled “Biden will make America lead again” — McRaven restated the need for an American leadership driven by “conviction and a sense of honor and humility.”
He concludes with a warning that echoes one given by former President George H.W. Bush in the 1998 book “A World Transformed:” “If we remain indifferent to our role in the world, if we retreat from our obligation to our citizens and our allies and if we fail to choose the right leader, then we will pay the highest price for our neglect and shortsightedness.”