Pakistan likely to be first to complete research in immunoglobulin therapy to treat COVID-19 

Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) researchers work on an intravenous immunoglobulin (C-IVIG) therapy project in Karachi, Pakistan, on December 11, 2020. (AN photo)
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Updated 02 March 2021

Pakistan likely to be first to complete research in immunoglobulin therapy to treat COVID-19 

  • Scientists at Karachi’s Dow University of Health Sciences say ‘severe’ patients who had received the treatment had a 100 percent recovery rate
  • In critical patients the recovery ratio was 50 to 60 percent, number of hospitalization days reduced to 6.5 from up to 25

KARACHI: Scientists at Karachi’s Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) who are conducting clinical trials of intravenous immunoglobulin (C-IVIG) therapy for the treatment coronavirus, say Pakistan is likely to become the first country to complete the research needed to introduce the treatment at a mass level, saying ‘severe’ patients who had received the product had a 100 percent recovery rate.
The therapy uses immunoglobulin (IG), a blood product extracted from the plasma of people who have recovered from infection, and which is rich in the antibodies that target the virus. Continuous infusion of immunoglobin can neutralize the infection in patients and shorten the course of the disease, Pakistani scientists say.
In June, DUHS trials started on 30 participants, most from the high-risk group of people above the age of 60, with many suffering from diabetes, hypertension and other comorbidities.
“The trials are very encouraging and remarkable,” Dr. Shaukat Ali, head of biotechnology at DUHS and lead on the C-IVIG project, told Arab News. “At the moment, what we have seen is that all severe patients who received C-IVIG treatment had 100 percent recovery ratio while in critical patients the recovery ratio was 50 to 60 percent.”
Besides the high recovery rate, Ali said, the DUHS team had observed that the treatment had significantly reduced the period of hospitalization.
“The results show that the number of hospitalization days were reduced to six and a half days for severe patients, which is very encouraging because normally a severe patient would occupy hospital resources for 20 to 25 days.”

Dr. Shaukat Ali, head of biotechnology at Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), speaks to Arab News at his office in Karachi, Pakistan, on December 11, 2020. (AN photo)

Ali said Pakistan was the first country to develop the immunoglobulin solution in April 2020.
“Only a week ago, an announcement was made by a global plasma alliance of big companies of blood producers, including Takeda Pharmaceutical, to work on the project,” Ali added, referring to the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance.
Global pharmaceutical giants — Takeda Pharmaceutical of Japan, CSL Limited of Australia, German Biotest AG and private companies from France, Switzerland and United Kingdom — announced research on plasma-based treatment for COVID-19 in early April, but the projects had been delayed several times.
In Pakistan, clinical research started in June, after a series of regulatory approvals. The experiment was also registered with the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in the United States, which maintains the biggest global registry of clinical trials.
“Pakistan is the first country in the world which has accomplished the experiment and announced it. There are two clinical trials going on which were registered after us; one is carried out by National Institutes of Health in the US and another one in Israel, both were registered after us,” Ali said.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) authorized clinical trials for critically ill COVID-19 patients in mid-April. In the same month, DUHS purified immunoglobulin from the plasma of COVID-19 patients and prepared IVIG formulation to treat severe and critical virus cases.
To seek more plasma donors, DUHS scientists announced the outcome of their trials on November 21, ahead of their scheduled completion in January 2021.
“With the onset of winter, hospitals are full with patients and we want to alert the authorities that we have the solution that we have developed indigenously and to motivate general public to donate plasma,” Ali added.
The announcement was met with substantial public response.
“We are getting plasma from donors and proceeding faster now. We will complete the trial within a month and go for next phase which will be multicentric, where we will add more people across the country at different centers.”

Ten-match win streak in UAE gives Pakistan edge over India — Babar

Updated 16 October 2021

Ten-match win streak in UAE gives Pakistan edge over India — Babar

  • The arch-rivals will meet in Dubai on October 24
  • Pakistan have never won a World Cup match against India

DUBAI: Pakistan have won their last 10 Twenty20 internationals in the United Arab Emirates and captain Babar Azam claims that will give his men the edge over India in their World Cup opener.
The arch-rivals will meet in Dubai on October 24 in what will be the biggest clash of the tournament that starts Sunday in Oman and the UAE.
Pakistan have never won a World Cup match against India, but that does not bother Babar who believes familiarity with the UAE pitches will help them break the jinx.
“Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said in a captain’s press conference when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes.
“These conditions suit us and we know how to play here. We need to keep things simple in all the departments.”
The UAE was Pakistan’s home base after the deadly terror attacks on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 forced cricket out of the Asian nation.
Pakistan, who are third in the T20 rankings behind England and India, also have Afghanistan and New Zealand in their group at the World Cup.
Babar acknowledged that captaining the team in the 16-nation tournament was indeed an honor and said his recent form will give him confidence.
“Good performances give you confidence,” Babar, who has hit two T20 centuries this year, said.
“I am in form, hence it will benefit me.”
Babar, who has over 2,000 T20 runs, tipped Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson to stand out as the tournament’s best batter and Pakistan speedster Hasan Ali as the premier bowler.
Meanwhile, India captain Virat Kohli played down the famous rivalry, describing the match with Pakistan as “just another game“
“I have always approached this game as just another game of cricket. I know there is a lot of hype created around this game more so with ticket sales and the demands for tickets,” said Kohli.
“Right now the value of those tickets is ridiculously high. So that’s all I know, friends asking me for tickets left, right and center, I refused.
“Yes, the environment, you can say, is different. From the fans’ point of view it is definitely louder. From the players’ point of view, we stay as professional as we can.”

Pakistan Stock Exchange to launch new trading system this month

Updated 16 October 2021

Pakistan Stock Exchange to launch new trading system this month

  • PSX acquired trading and surveillance system from Shenzhen Stock Exchange
  • Pakistan stock market’s capitalization has dropped from $100 billion in 2017 to $45 billion

KARACHI: The Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) this month is going to launch a new trading system acquired from the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SZSE), the burse’s chief executive has said.
The SZSE is one of China’s three stock exchanges — along with Shanghai Stock Exchange, and China Financial Futures Exchange — that hold a 40 percent stake in the PSX.
The PSX signed a $5 million contract with SZSE in November 2019 for the acquisition of Trading and Surveillance System to improve its operational and technological level. It was first scheduled to be implemented in March 2021. 
“We expect to launch within the month of October. There were certain requirements that our stakeholders had requested to accommodate in the trading system which now have been implemented,” PSX chief executive Farrukh H. Khan told Arab News earlier this week.
The system is expected to make the PSX more transparent and attractive.
“The system will vastly improve the capabilities of our trading and abilities to introduce new products like options,” Khan said. “We’ll have a proper surveillance system and the robustness of the much better system.” 
The bourse’s benchmark KSE 100 index dropped 25.61 percent in April 2020 and touched the year’s lowest 27,228.80 level. The index recouped some of the losses in later months.
Pakistan’s bourse was declared Asia’s best stock market and the world’s fourth best performing market in 2020 by Market Currents, a New York-based financial markets research firm. 
However, last month Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) downgraded PSX from its Emerging Market Index (EMI) to Frontier Markets Index (FMI), following a continuous drop in share prices of its listed companies.
In 2017, benchmark KSE 100 had peaked to 53,000 points level with market capitalization of $100 billion. However, market capitalization has dropped over the years to $45 billion including 17 percent decline in last four months.
“This (downgrading) was mainly due to the size of the market capitalization which has declined,” Khan said. “Rising oil prices, which doubled in recent days, Afghanistan’s situation, interest rate hike and rupee remained under pressure and MSCI reclassification generally has created negative impacts in equity market.”
“Pakistan’s stock market has given average 19 percent return in dollar terms during last 20 years,” Khan said.
Pakistan’s stock market recorded growth earnings of 60 percent last year. 
This Friday, the PSX KSE 100 closing level was 44,821.53.

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

Updated 16 October 2021

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

  • Tickets for PIA flights have spiraled out of the reach of most Afghans, selling for as much as $2,500
  • Taliban issued a statement ordering the airline to ‘adjust’ its ticket prices for Kabul-Islamabad flights

KABUL: Afghan citizens and government officials said on Saturday they are hopeful Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) would soon resume its Kabul operations at the same cheaper fares it had offered before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

PIA resumed special flights from Kabul to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after the Taliban seized power in mid-August, and was a lifeline for many Afghans trying to flee the new regime, economic crisis or seek treatment in Pakistan, as they used to before.

But with most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for PIA flights have spiraled out of the reach of most Afghans, selling for as much as $2,500, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before the Taliban takeover.

Earlier this week, the Taliban transportation ministry issued a statement ordering the airline to “adjust the price of tickets for Kabul-Islamabad flights to the ticket standard set before the victory of the Islamic Emirate.” Otherwise “they will not be permitted to run their operations from Kabul airport.”

Following the statement by the Afghan transportation ministry, the PIA said it had suspended flights to Kabul over the “unprofessional attitude” of Taliban authorities.

“We hope PIA would understand and act according to the demand of Islamic Emirate Transport and Aviation Ministry,” Bilal Karimi, spokesman and member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News on Saturday.

“What we are looking is to provide facilities to the ordinary Afghans who want to go to Pakistan, but they don’t have the budget to take flights.”

Ordinary Afghans are also hopeful the flights would soon be available and at affordable fares. Some need to go to Pakistan for lifesaving treatment that in many cases is not possible in Afghanistan, where health care infrastructure is largely fragile and inadequate for more complex medical interventions. 

Abdul Ali Hussaini arrived in Kabul last week to bring his injured brother to Pakistan for urgent surgery after a deadly Daesh attack in the northern city of Kunduz on Oct. 8.

“I brought my brother to Kabul after the attack occurred, he is in emergency hospital. The doctors told me that for further treatment he should be transferred to Pakistan,” he told Arab News. “The suspension of the flights and also the high rate of tickets is a problem. We hope that the flights would resume and we would be able to take tickets in a cheaper price.”

Ataullah, 35, arrived in Kabul from Helmand province to travel with his leukemia patient mother for urgent treatment in Pakistan.

“I was asked $2,500 for each ticket,” he said, “I tried very hard to get my mother to Pakistan as soon as possible.”

“I do not know what to do. I expect a miracle.”

Mohammad Rashad from Kabul said he had received a scholarship from an Italian university but had been unable to travel as PIA’s flight prices were impossibly high.

“I have 15 days to go to Islamabad and from there travel to Italy,” the 26-year-old told Arab News. “I will miss this opportunity.”

Sayed, who works for a foreign agency in Afghanistan, wants to leave the country with his family is now trying to reach Islamabad. Still, the blocking of Pakistan Airlines flights to Kabul has posed a serious challenge to him.

“One of the embassies operating in Islamabad has sent my family and me our visas. They asked me to come to Pakistan within a week,” he said. “The delay in my trip to Pakistan has now become a major problem for us and has multiplied my security fears here in Kabul.”

While PIA has earlier said its Afghanistan operations are “not very lucrative financially” as it faces “difficult circumstances” at Kabul airport, some Afghan experts say high demand has allowed the carrier to impose skyrocketing fares. 

“Demand for travel to Islamabad has increased,” Sayed Massoud, economics professor from Kabul University, told Arab News. “Everyone is trying to get to Islamabad as soon as possible and from there to another place.”

“Pakistan Airlines is trying to monopolize flights to Islamabad to make more money,” he said.

While PIA has not announced whether and when it is going to resume its Afghanistan flights, the airline’s representative in Kabul, Ahmad Salim Rohani, said he is hopeful it would happen soon return to its operations with more affordable fares.

“Once the flights resume,” he said, “we hope that the tickets would be at a lower price.”

US to ship another 9.6 million doses of donated Pfizer vaccines to Pakistan

Updated 16 October 2021

US to ship another 9.6 million doses of donated Pfizer vaccines to Pakistan

  • US government has shipped more than 25 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Pakistan to date
  • US is single largest contributor supporting COVAX efforts toward global COVID-19 vaccines access

ISLAMABAD: The US is shipping an additional 9.6 million doses of Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX facility to Pakistan, the US embassy in Islamabad said on Friday.

The donation brings the total number of COVID-19 vaccines donated by the US government to Pakistan to more than 25 million. The latest batch of Pfizer vaccines are part of the 500 million Pfizer doses the United States purchased this summer to deliver to 92 countries worldwide, including Pakistan, to fulfill President Biden’s commitment to provide safe and effective vaccines around the world and supercharge the global fight against the pandemic. 

At the virtual Global COVID-19 Summit held on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September, Biden announced the United States would provide an additional 500 million Pfizer vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries around the globe, with shipments starting in January 2022.

“The United States is proud to partner with Pakistan to get effective, life-saving Pfizer vaccinations into the arms of Pakistanis, and Pakistan has done a great job of distributing our donated vaccines,” US Embassy Chargé d’affaires Angela P. Aggeler said. 

“This donation comes just in time for young Pakistanis over age 12 to get their first jabs. Please get vaccinated and take a selfie using one of our “I Got Vaccinated” photo booth frames. You can find them at the Mass Vaccination Clinic in F-9 and at several of our Lincoln Corners. And be sure to tag @usembislamabad when you take your selfie!”

The US has also delivered $63 million in COVID-19 assistance through its partnership with the government of Pakistan. Since the start of the pandemic, the US has worked together with Pakistan to improve infection prevention and control, enhance patient care, expand laboratory testing, and support frontline health care workers.

The United States is the single largest contributor supporting COVAX efforts toward global COVID-19 vaccines access.

Pakistan condemns blast at Shiite mosque in Afghan city of Kandahar

Updated 16 October 2021

Pakistan condemns blast at Shiite mosque in Afghan city of Kandahar

  • This is second week in a row militants bombed Friday prayers and killed dozens of worshippers from the minority sect
  • Pakistani foreign office says it “condemns terrorism in all its forms,” sends condolences to the people of Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has condemned “in the strongest terms” an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar that killed at least 35 people on Friday. 

This is the second week in a row that militants bombed Friday prayers and killed dozens of worshippers from the minority sect. Daesh claimed a similar bombing that killed scores of Shi’ites in the northern city of Kunduz a week earlier.

“The Government and people of Pakistan convey their support, and heartfelt condolences, to the people of Afghanistan and stand in solidarity with them in this hour of grief,” the foreign office said. “Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including despicable attacks on places of worship.”

The attacks have caused shock and terror among members of Afghanistan’s Shi’ite minority and undermine the ruling Taliban movement’s claim to have restored security since taking control of the country in August.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said security forces had been ordered to capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice under Islamic law.

Fighters of Daesh have repeatedly targeted Shi’ites in the past with large-scale attacks intended to kill civilians, including one that killed scores of schoolgirls in a Shi’ite district of Kabul in May last year.