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Covid, Phase II. Commonsense is the order of the day.

AstraZeneca to ramp up vaccine production and adapt for new strains

FTSE 100 pharma giant to make 100m doses in February and 200m a month by April, with new vaccines in clinical trials by the Spring

By Julia Bradshaw and Simon Foy 11 February 2021 • 1:29pm

AstraZeneca will manufacture 100m doses of its Covid vaccine this month and is adapting the treatment to combat new strains of the infection, its chief executive said.
Pascal Soriot said the monthly total would reach 200m by April as AstraZeneca ramps up manufacturing. It is also adjusting the vaccine to tackle different strains of the virus and hopes they will be ready for delivery in the autumn.
"It is becoming clear now that we will move to a stage where we are closer to what is done with the flu [vaccinating every year], where you adjust the vaccine as you go," he said.
AstraZeneca's existing vaccine, developed with Oxford University, is being produced at more than 25 manufacturing sites in 15 countries.
Production will rise sharply over the next couple of months, putting the company on track to reach its goal of delivering 3bn doses this year.
About 17m jabs will have been delivered to the EU within the next few weeks, representing 3pc of the EU population.
“That means within a month our supply we will be able to double the vaccination rate in Europe,” said Mr Soriot.
“This means hundreds of thousands of severe infections will be avoided and thousands of deaths. Who else is making 100m doses in the month of February? That is why we come to work every day as individuals.”
AstraZeneca’s head of global operations, Pam Cheng, said scaling up production over eight months, a process which normally would take years, had not been without its challenges.
“I have not seen anything like this in my entire career, everyone is working so hard,” she said.
“We are increasing output in the second quarter and strengthening Europe’s supply chain for the long-term. We are moving at an incredible pace and the supply curve will increase rapidly as we progress.”

Mr Soriot defended AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been the subject of unfounded criticism in recent months.
“You have to look at the big picture .... even though things have not been perfect along the way, what we have today is a vaccine that has been approved by several regulators," he said.
"It offers 100pc protection against severe disease, has more than 70pc efficacy after one dose and 80pc after two doses. In a year or two we will look back and everyone will realise we made a big impact.”
Unlike other Covid jabs, AstraZeneca is selling at cost, making it more accessible for poorer countries. It is easy to administer because it does not need to be kept frozen like the Pfizer offering.
“A year ago everyone was talking about 150 vaccines being developed, where have they all gone? There are only six to eight, and ours is one of those and is having a huge impact,” said Mr Soriot.
The comments came as AstraZeneca reported annual profits had more than doubled to $3.92bn (£2.83bn). Revenues increased by 10pc to $26.6bn last year, driven by strong growth in the oncology and respiratory divisions.
Importantly, the free cashflow comfortably covered its dividend payout - a key metric for investors and a driver of the share price. Shares rose 0.7pc to £73 in afternoon trading.

In the final quarter of 2020, sales topped the $7bn mark, the first time this has happened since 2012, when Mr Soriot joined the company and was tasked with boosting its pipeline as a number of key drugs lost their patents.
He expected strong growth this financial year and said this guidance did not include any revenue or profit impact from sales of its Covid vaccine, which it will report separately from the next quarter.
The results came after the World Health Organization recommended the Astra/Oxford Covid vaccine for over-65s on Wednesday.
AstraZeneca was the most valuable company on the FTSE 100 for many months last year with a value above £100bn, but that has since fallen to £95bn and allowed BHP, worth £118bn, to take the crown.
Social distancing rules in England could remain until autumn

Steven Swinford, Political Editor | Oliver Wright, Policy Editor
Friday February 12 2021, 12.01am, The Times

Restrictions could remain in place for different households, meaning that grandparents will still be unable to hug their grandchildren

Social distancing restrictions will have to remain in place until at least the autumn to reduce the transmission of coronavirus under plans being considered by ministers.
The Times understands that the government’s route out of lockdown is based on the assumption that people will have to wear facemasks and remain a metre apart for months. Scientists believe that the restrictions may need to be retained until the end of the year.
“The thinking is that social distancing will need to be in place for a long time to come,” a Whitehall source said. “It has repercussions for the scale of any reopening. Restaurants, pubs and offices will all need to be Covid-secure.”
Ministers believe it will allow other controls to be relaxed. A government source said: “The more restrictions we have in place like social distancing rules the more we can do in terms of easing.”

It is not clear whether the policy will remain in place for different households, meaning that grandparents will still be unable to hug their grandchildren. Sources said that a variety of options were under discussion.

Yesterday Boris Johnson stuck to his plans to reopen schools on March 8 after scientists warned that cases were still too high. Members of Sage, the scientific advisory body, raised concerns that high transmission rates could increase the risk of mutations.
In other developments:
• A further 13,494 people tested positive, a fall of 35 per cent on a week ago, and there were 678 deaths, with the seven-day total down 25 per cent.
• More than 450,000 people received their first jab, taking the total number to 13.5 million. Over-65s will start receiving invitations from Monday.

• Priti Patel, the home secretary, said the travel ban could be extended to more countries.
• Holiday companies are braced for restrictions on the number of people they can send abroad in the next year as the crisis for the travel industry gets worse.
• Cabinet ministers will discuss plans today for a global system of vaccine passports to enable travel once the pandemic has been suppressed.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust health research body and a member of Sage, said studies showed there were still about 750,000 cases in England. He suggested that this needed to be reduced to below 10,000 before lockdown could be significantly eased.
“Transmission is still incredibly high in the UK,” he told BBC Radio 4. “If transmission were still at this level and we were not in lockdown, we would be going into lockdown. We’ve got to get it lower, we’ve got to get it, in my view, into the single thousands before we can possibly think of lifting restrictions.”
The number of cases has not been below 10,000 since October, although there was less testing capacity then so fewer cases would have been picked up.
Farrar added that it was “not sensible” for ministers to set a date for lifting restrictions, saying they must be led by evidence. “I appreciate that businesses have to plan and everything else,” he said. “But the data has to drive us, and in 2020 we lifted restrictions too quickly when the data would not really have allowed that and as a result the transmission went back up in this country.”
Professor John Edmunds, another member of Sage, warned that some curbs on daily life could be in force until the end of this year. He also said that it would be “touch and go” whether the transmission rate, or R value, of coronavirus would rise above 1 — meaning infections were rising — if schools reopened on March 8.
He told ITV’s Peston: “If we opened schools I think the reproduction number would get close to 1 and possibly exceed 1. If we opened them up completely, if we opened secondary schools and primary schools at the same time, I suspect we’d be lucky to keep the reproduction number below 1.”
Downing Street appeared to cast doubt on the prime minister’s hope of reopening schools early next month after suggesting that there could be a delay in releasing the government’s road map out of lockdown.
The plan had been due to be published on February 22 but Johnson’s spokesman suggested that it could come later in the week.
Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has said that schools and colleges will be given at least two weeks’ notice before pupils return.
The potential delay alarmed Tory MPs, who warned the government that it must not go back on its commitment. Government sources subsequently made clear that the document would be published on February 22 and that ministers were pushing ahead with the March 8 reopening plan.
Mark Harper, a former chief whip who chairs the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, said the prime minister must publish his plan on February 22. “It’s crucial we don’t backslide on this,” he said.
Rapid Covid mutations mean the scientists can never stand still

While the focus so far has been on the virus’s spikes, other jab makers keep an eye on the ball

In areas where resistant mutations of the virus have been widespread, the vaccines have been less effective
Rhys Blakely
, Science Correspondent

Friday February 12 2021, 12.01am, The Times

The race towards a Covid-19 vaccine began with a high-stakes phone call. On January 11, 2020, Eddie Holmes, a professor at the University of Sydney, called Zhang Yongzhen. The Chinese scientist was holding a critical piece of data: the very first blueprint of the genetic code of the coronavirus.
“I called Zhang to ask if I could release the sequence,” Holmes said. “I had been trying to release as much data as possible, but he was facing constraints.”
Zhang was on a plane in China waiting to take off and the cabin crew were urging him to hang up. He asked Holmes for a moment to think: the pandemic was about to erupt but the Chinese government had forbidden the publication of information about the virus. And then he said yes. “Within the hour I had it posted online,” Holmes told The Times. The code became the backbone of the first Covid vaccines.

A year later, it’s a historical relic. The virus has evolved, its genetic code has shifted and new strains have raised doubts about whether the existing jabs will continue to work.
“Mutations are inevitable,” Holmes said. “They are a basic fact of viral life, but I am genuinely surprised about how rapidly the virus has been able to generate mutations that might evade immune responses.”

The biggest concern, for the moment, is the South Africa variant.
A mutation known as E484K appears to have altered the spike protein that the virus uses to break into human cells. In laboratory tests, antibodies generated by infections of earlier strains work less well against virus particles that carry E484K. In the real world, vaccines have been less effective where the mutation is widespread.

Zhang Yongzhen released the code which became the backbone of the first Covid vaccines.
The group behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is now working on a second-generation jab. According to Andrew Pollard, head of the vaccine team at Oxford, the aim is to have a modified version, better suited to new variants, authorised for use well before the winter. “Designing a new vaccine is very, very quick,” he said. “Then there’s manufacturing to do and then a small-scale study — all of that can be completed in a very short period of time.”
The UK medical regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, agrees that modified jabs could be fast-tracked, but questions remain. Could repeated boosters of existing vaccines protect against the South Africa strain, or could mixing jabs give better results? Does the solution lie in new technologies, or will decades’ old techniques come to the rescue? Will the South African strain even be an issue in six months, or will another variant take its place?

For influenza, a virus we try to keep in check with an annual vaccine, we have an encyclopaedia of knowledge, says David Lawrence of Valneva, a vaccine maker, yet still we sometimes struggle to produce one that works. “When it comes to Covid, we’re still writing the first chapter,” he said.
The good news is that high-speed technologies have come of age. The Oxford team uses a harmless virus that has been modified to contain a piece of genetic code from the coronavirus. When this is injected into someone it causes their cells to produce the coronavirus spike protein, which the immune system learns to recognise. Designing a new vaccine will involve stitching a piece of genetic code from a different coronavirus variant into the benign viral vector.

A similar editing process would apply to the nimblest technology developed so far: the mRNA jabs designed by Moderna and BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer. Within six weeks of getting the genetic code of the original coronavirus from Wuhan, BioNTech had designed 20 candidate vaccines. Manufacturing at scale takes longer but a little mRNA goes a long way. A gram is enough for more than 30,000 doses.
It is possible, though, that the task of tackling new variants will fall to completely new vaccines. Picture the coronavirus as a football bristling with spikes. So far, the jabs that have been approved have been designed around these spikes, but this is the part that the mutations are changing.
The spike is the most enticing target. If antibodies bind to it, you can prevent the virus from infiltrating new cells. If it can’t invade new cells, it can’t replicate. Disable the spike, and you can block infection. but it isn’t the only part of the virus that the immune system reacts to and the rest of the “football” may be less prone to mutations.

This, roughly speaking, is the thinking behind a vaccine now in its first human trials in a special biocontainment facility in east London. It has been developed by Codagenix, an American company that is partnering with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest producer of vaccines by volume.
The trial volunteers are being given a nose drop that contains a live but enfeebled — or “attenuated” — version of the coronavirus. “Other vaccine candidates only generate an immune response to the spike,” Dr Robert Coleman, Codagenix chief executive, said. He believes that by using a complete version of the pathogen he can evoke a more robust response.

A project led by Lindy Durrant, professor of cancer immunotherapy at the University of Nottingham, works by injecting the genetic code for the virus’s nucleocapsid, a spherical container that holds its genes, as well as the spike. “The nucleocapsid should continue to give protection even when the spike mutates,” Durrant said. Human trials should begin in the summer.
An old-fashioned jab might end up working along the same lines. The government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine being developed by Valneva, a French company which will make it in Livingston, West Lothian. The vaccine, which is in early stage human testing, contains a “dead” version of the virus. Again, the immune system will be exposed to the entire bug. “The whole virus approach could well have broad applicability across variants but it’s a hypothesis that needs to be borne out by data,” Lawrence, Valneva’s chief financial officer, said.
A small number of volunteers have been injected to check for safety and how their immune system responds. Work is understood to be underway to assess its effect on variants with the E484K mutations.
The Valneva vaccine, which could be available before the end of the year, is manufactured by growing monkey cells in a bioreactor. These are then deliberately infected with a “seed virus” — a strain of Covid. After it replicates inside the cells, the virus is killed using a chemical and mixed with additives called adjuvants. The hope is that a million doses can be made each week. If it works, it is likely that Valneva will be able to choose from a library of seed coronavirus strains.

It is also possible that future vaccines will be “multi-valent”, meaning that they are designed to protect against several strains of the virus. The British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline is exploring this kind of approach through a partnership with CureVac, a German biotech company that is developing an mRNA vaccine. Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology at the University of Edinburgh, can imagine this combination strategy being taken a step further — a one-shot, dual-purpose “flu and corona” jab.
The challenge would be deciding which variants are most likely to be circulating over the next year or so. For the annual flu jab, the World Health Organisation tries to predict which strains will circulate in the Northern hemisphere by tracking which have recently hit the Southern hemisphere.
“For Covid, I think we have to wait for longer-term data to know whether there’s a need to switch strains or not,” Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, said. “A top-up of the current vaccine may be good enough. If switching is required it is hard to see how a decision on which strain would be made ahead of knowing how strains move around the world — and we can’t judge that currently, as everybody’s staying put.”
5th February No traces of Covid-19 found on tubes and buses, study finds

By Julia Gregory

No traces of Covid-19 have been found on London's public transport systems after extensive tests (Photo: PA)

No traces of Covid have been found on London’s underground stations, Tubes and buses by scientists investigating the virus.
Experts from Imperial College are taking swabs at ticket machines, barriers, escalators at Tube stations and vertical grab poles and other hotspots passengers might touch on board trains.

Since they started testing in October last year, every sample has come back negative for the virus.

They are also taking samples from the air to see if there are traces of the virus.
The researchers from Imperial College’s environmental research group and the Barclay Laboratory are also taking samples on buses at depots to test for Covid.
But they have not found any since the monthly tests started in October, and more tests are due later this month.

Dr David Green, head of Imperial’s aerosol science team, said: “In the same way that a swab is used to take a COVID-19 test in the nose and throat, we just use a flocked swab to detect viruses on surfaces such as handrails.”

Hospital grade cleaning is being used to clean TfL services (Photo: PA)
The research follows an ongoing investigation looking at bacteria and fungi found on underground networks which involves scientists from cities with subway systems like Boston, Paris, Sydney and Shanghai taking swabs and air samples.
Dr Green said it was a similar process to look for the genetic sequences from Covid.
Scientists have taken samples at a range of stations, including Waterloo and Euston and Paddington bus station.
Typically they will test two Tube stations, a Tube train, a bus depot and a bus journey as they take a trip on the transport network. They spend an hour at each station swabbing surfaces which people might touch.
The samples are rushed to the Barclay lab at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington the same day for tests.
A Transport for London spokesman explained how it works. “The process that is used is swabs are taken of heavily touched areas like ticket barriers, stop buttons on buses, rails and handles on Tube trains and escalator handrails, and a machine that draws in around 300 litres of air per minute to test for any airborne traces. None of the tests have returned any positive results throughout the testing.”
And the experts are using the data to understand as much as possible about the virus.

No traces of Covid-19 have been found on London's public transport systems after extensive tests (Photo: PA)
TfL is doing extensive cleaning and has boosted that several times through the pandemic.

It includes:
• Using hospital-grade cleaning substances to kill viruses and bacteria on contact and protect for up to 30 days.

• More frequent cleaning of key interchanges – including during the day.

• ‘Touch point’ areas on buses, such as poles and doors, wiped down with a strong disinfectant daily.

Experts are also looking at whether the virus doesn’t pass through touch as much as initially thought.

The transport network has also seen a massive drop in passenger numbers with a very high compliance rate on people wearing face masks.

There were 88.9m bus journeys between November 15 and December 12 last year, nearly half the number of trips the same time in 2019.

And just 32.1m journeys were made by Tube, compared with 117.5m at the same time in 2019, according to TfL.

During lockdown people are urged to avoid unnecessary travel so the network is mainly used by key workers who cannot work from home.
Covid-19: World's first human trials given green light in UK
15 minutes ago

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Healthy, young volunteers will be infected with coronavirus to test vaccines and treatments in the world's first Covid-19 "human challenge" study, which will take place in the UK.
The study, which has received ethics approval, will start in the next few weeks and recruit 90 people aged 18-30.
They will be exposed to the virus in a safe and controlled environment while medics monitor their health.
The UK has given doses of a Covid vaccine to more than 15 million people.
Human challenge studies have played a vital role in pushing the development of treatments for a number of diseases, including malaria, typhoid, cholera and flu.
The trials will help scientists work out the smallest amount of coronavirus needed to cause infection, and how the body's immune system reacts to it.
This will give doctors a better understanding of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, which will feed into the development of vaccines and treatments.
'Unique insights'
The Human Challenge study is being delivered by a partnership between the UK government's Vaccines Taskforce, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the company hVIVO, which has pioneered viral human challenge models.
Clive Dix, interim chair of the Vaccines Taskforce, said: "We have secured a number of safe and effective vaccines for the UK, but it is essential that we continue to develop new vaccines and treatments for Covid-19.
"We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection."

media captionAbout 300 young people aged six to 17 are taking part in a trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on children
Initially, the study will use the virus that has been circulating in the UK since the pandemic began in March, which is of low risk to healthy adults, to deliberately infect volunteers.
In time, a small numbers of volunteers are likely to be given an approved vaccine and then exposed to the virus, helping scientists to find out the most effective ones.
Volunteers are being asked to come forward and take part in the study. They will be compensated for their time, the government says.
Chief investigator Dr Chris Chiu, from Imperial College London, said: "We are asking for volunteers aged between 18 and 30 to join this research endeavour and help us to understand how the virus infects people and how it passes so successfully between us."
Dr Chiu said the eventual aim was to find out which vaccines and treatments work best in beating the disease.

Nick Real Deal

Vital Football Legend
So teachers have to go back to work as part of the first step of relaxing the lockdown. But Matt Hancock stated that teachers will not get priority vaccination. After schools go back , infections will be monitored to see if step 2 is possible.
So teachers are unvaccinated Guinea Pigs ?
Nick in total agreement with you ...If they want the kids back at school why do they simply not vaccinate the teachers FFS what is the big issue in not doing this?

They must be a priority to enable that to happen successfully ......but what do we know...commion sense out the window again.

I cannot think of one valid reason for delaying the jabs for the teachers...not one.