In South Africa, at least 80,000 people have already been diagnosed with Covid-19 and more than 1,674 have died from Covid-19 since March, when the President declared a state of disaster and national lockdown. Late last month, we wrote about the first coronavirus vaccine trials that begin in Africa.
The effort is part of large-scale vaccine trials being conducted in South Africa, Britain and Brazil by Oxford University. The first clinical trial in South Africa and on the continent for a Covid-19 vaccine was announced on 23 June 2020, at a virtual press conference hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits).
Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA), leads the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial. Wits University is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African trial. Some 2,000 volunteers in South Africa are expected to take part.
University of Oxford, in partnership with AstraZeneca, recently struck a deal with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi Vaccine Alliance. However, the peaceful trials that started last month quickly turned ugly last Wednesday. Protesters against Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial burned their face masks as experts witnessed a worrying level of resistance and misinformation around testing on the continent, according to a report from The New York Times.
Anti-vaccine sentiment in Africa is “the worst I’ve ever seen,” the CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, Seth Berkley, told an African Union vaccine conference last week. “In general, people in Africa know the diseases and want to protect each other,” he said. “In this case, the rumor mill has been dramatic.”
However, as we told you last week, anti-vaccine sentiment is not limited to Africans. Many African Americans are skeptical about coronavirus vaccine due to the dark past surrounding the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. It all started when infected Black men were solicited to be a part of a 40-year study (1932 to 1972) to treat the disease with penicillin. They were later offered free medical exams, free meals and burial insurance. But they were not given the drug. In the end, 28 of the original 399 Black men died of syphilis, 100 died of related complications, 40 of their wives were infected, and 19 of their children were born with congenital syphilis.
The skepticism was made worse after vaccine experts said that COVID-19 vaccine will work only if trials include Black participants. “A vaccine might not work in African Americans if African Americans do not participate in the clinical trials to create the drug,” NBC News reported, citing medical experts.
In a webinar last Sunday, professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi told reporters and others that it’s important that vaccines be tested in Africa to see how they perform in the local context. However, a small group of protesters who gathered Wednesday at the University of the Witwatersrand, where the trial is based, reflect long-running fears among some in Africa over testing drugs on people who don’t understand the risks.
“The people chosen as volunteers for the vaccination, they look as if they’re from poor backgrounds, not qualified enough to understand” protest organizer Phapano Phasha told The Associated Press ahead of the event. “We believe they are manipulating the vulnerable.” Phasha asked, “But why not target more affluent parts of South African society?”
Phasha also brought up the widely circulated remarks made earlier this year by a French researcher, Jean-Paul Mira, who said, ““If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” He compared it to some AIDS studies: “In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”
“The narrative we got is our continent is a dumping ground,” Phasha said. First ensure the vaccine works elsewhere before bringing it to Africa, she added. Other protesters sang and danced with banners saying “We not guinea pigs” and “No safe vaccine.” “If you want to test, test in the areas which they call the epicenter of the world,” demonstrator Sean Goss said, according to The New York Times.
In the meantime, Gavi continues to advance its market commitment for COVID-19 vaccine as part of its agreement with University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. The two organizations already guarantee 300 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. These doses will be supplied upon licensure or WHO prequalification.
Gavi is a global Vaccine Alliance founded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to bring together public and private sectors with the shared goal of creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries. A year before it was founded, Gates Foundation pledged US$ 750 million to set up Gavi. The Gates Foundation is a key Gavi partner in vaccine market shaping, according to the information on Gavi website.
The Foundation’s initial five-year pledge of US$ 750 million in 1999 provided the seed money to launch Gavi. Since then, additional pledges have brought the Foundation’s total commitment to Gavi to date to over US$ 4 billion. The Gates Foundation plays both a technical and financial role in the Vaccine Alliance’s efforts to shape vaccine markets. It helps to gather data to inform our decision making and provides financial support for market investments. The Foundation invests in activities ranging from vaccine discovery through development to delivery, and encourages product innovation and new entrants into the market.
Not known to many, the U.S. government is one of Gavi’s top government donors. The the U.S. government contributions through 2019 comprised 13% of all donations received by Gavi ($2.5 billion out of almost $19 billion).
Sillicon Valley tech startup Atomwise scores $123 million for its AI drug discovery platform
Researchers and companies struggle with access to AI-based drug discovery technology, due to overall cost and lack of expertise — something which requires computational scientists, drug discovery experts, software and systems engineers for AI and ML. Enter Atomwise, a San Francisco-based AI tech startup that is developing artificial intelligence systems using powerful deep learning algorithms and supercomputers for drug discovery.
Currently, Atomwise has provided AI technology to over 750 research collaborations addressing over 600 disease targets, and worked with top-pharmaceutical and biotechnology partners, to design new drugs for “undruggable” targets with speed and scale. We covered Atomwise back in March 2018 when the San Francisco-based AI tech startup raised $45 million for its AI-powered drug discovery platform.
Today, Atomwise announced it has raked in another $123 million Series B funding to focus on creating drugs for the vast number of genetic diseases that don’t have one yet. The oversubscribed round, which brings the total amount of capital raised to date to almost $175 million, was led by B Capital Group and Sanabil Investments.
The round also includes returning investors DCVC, BV, Tencent, Y Combinator, Dolby Family Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, as well as new backing from two top ten global insurance companies. In conjuction with the funding, Atomwise also announced it has appointed Raj Ganguly of B Capital Group as a new board member and Hani Enaya of Sanabil as a board observer.
Atomwise also made the news in March 2017 after it identified medications that could reduce spread of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In medicine, identifying the right treatments for diseases normally takes years, it but took Atomwise only four months.
Founded in 2012 by Abraham Heifets, Alexander Levy, and Dr. Izhar Wallach, Atomwise invented the first deep learning AI technology for structure-based small molecule drug discovery. Today, Atomwise performs hundreds of projects per year in partnership with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies, as well as more than 200 universities and hospitals in 40 countries.
AtomNet, its AI platform built for drug discovery contains more than 16 billion molecules for virtual screening. Atomwise has raised over $174 million from leading venture capital firms to support the development and application of its AI technology.
“Over the past three years, our platform AtomNet® has tackled — and succeeded — in finding small molecule hits for more undruggable targets than any other AI drug discovery platform,” said Abraham Heifets, CEO and co-founder of Atomwise. “With support from our new and existing investment partners, we will be able to leverage this to develop our own pipeline of small molecule drug programs, further grow our portfolio of joint-venture investments, and realize our vision to create better medicines that can improve the lives of billions of people.”
With the new investment, Atomwise will continue to scale its AI technology platform and team. The company plans to expand its work with corporate partners, which currently include major players in the biopharma space such as Eli Lilly and Company, Bayer, Hansoh Pharmaceuticals, and Bridge Biotherapeutics, as well as emerging biotechnology companies like StemoniX and SEngine Precision Medicine. Atomwise has signed more than $5.5 billion in total deal value with corporate partners to date.
The company will also leverage the financing to build its own internal pipeline tackling historically undruggable and other challenging disease targets. Atomwise will continue to grow its portfolio of joint ventures with leading researchers using AtomNet® for drug discovery, like those it has launched with X-37, Atropos Therapeutics, Theia Biosciences and vAIrus, with a goal to commercialize high potential candidates through the drug development process.
Atomwise created the first convolutional neural networks (CNN) for drug discovery, and since its founding in 2012 has continually developed and improved its AI-based drug discovery technology. The company’s AI technology has been used by academic researchers at institutes around the world and drug developers — including top-100 pharmaceutical and emerging biotechnology companies, a rapidly growing market estimated to reach $729B in global market value by 2025.
U.S. government reached a $1.5 billion deal with Moderna for 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine
Last month, we wrote about Moderna after the biotech giant announced it has begun the final-stage testing of its coronavirus vaccine. Moderna said its mRNA vaccine could be ready for use by the end of 2020.
Today, the company received the good news from the U.S. Federal government. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. government has reached a deal to purchase 100 million doses of Moderna’s experimental coronavirus coronavirus mRNA vaccine, which is currently in late-stage human trials. President Trump made the announcement during a daily press conference at the White House.
“We are investing in the development and manufacture of the top six vaccine candidates to ensure rapid delivery. The military is ready to go, they’re ready to deliver a vaccine to Americans as soon as one is fully approved by the FDA and we’re very close to that approval,” President Trump said.
In a separate announcement, Moderna said the deal for its mRNA vaccine vaccine is worth $1.525 billion. Under the terms of the agreement, the U.S. government, as a part of Operation Warp Speed, will also have the option to purchase up to an additional 400 million doses of mRNA-1273 from Moderna.
The U.S. government has announced that consistent with its commitment to free access to COVID-19 vaccines, Americans will receive mRNA-1273 at no cost for the vaccine itself. As is customary with government-purchased vaccines, healthcare professionals could charge for the cost of administering the vaccine. So far, the U.S. has already invested $955 million to develop Moderna’s vaccine, bringing its total investment up to $2.48 billion, the company said in a press release Tuesday.
Under the terms of the agreement, the U.S. government, as a part of Operation Warp Speed, will also have the option to purchase up to an additional 400 million doses of mRNA-1273 from Moderna. The U.S. government has announced that consistent with its commitment to free access to COVID-19 vaccines, Americans will receive mRNA-1273 at no cost for the vaccine itself. As is customary with government-purchased vaccines, healthcare professionals could charge for the cost of administering the vaccine.
“We appreciate the confidence of the U.S. government in our mRNA vaccine platform and the continued support,” said Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s Chief Executive Officer. “We are advancing the clinical development of mRNA-1273 with the ongoing Phase 3 study being conducted in collaboration with NIAID and BARDA. In parallel, we are scaling up our manufacturing capability with our strategic partners, Lonza, Catalent and Rovi, to address this global health emergency with a safe and effective vaccine.”
Moderna is currentyly working closely with BARDA and the NIH, including NIAID’s COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), to conduct the Phase 3 COVE study under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed. The vaccine efficacy trial is the first to be implemented under Operation Warp Speed, a multi-agency collaboration led by HHS that aims to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of medical countermeasures for COVID-19.
“For Operation Warp Speed, we are assembling a broad portfolio of vaccines to increase the odds that we will have at least one safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “With this latest investment, we will have supported the vaccine candidate developed by Moderna in partnership with the NIH all the way from early development through clinical trials and now manufacturing, with the potential to bring millions of safe and effective doses to the American people.”
So far, Modernaa remains on track to be able to deliver approximately 500 million doses per year, and possibly up to 1 billion doses per year, beginning in 2021 because of the Company’s internal U.S. manufacturing capabilities and strategic collaboration with Lonza, Ltd.
Dr. Scott Atlas, the anti-Fauci Stanford doctor, joins the White House Coronavirus Task Force team
Back in June, we wrote about Dr. Scott Atlas when the former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, said that the rise in coronavirus hospitalizations among young people is a good thing because it leads to herd immunity over the long term.
Dr. Atlas, along with the handful of other European doctors, is one of the medical experts telling who thinks herd immunity is one of the best ways to overcome the deadly coronavirus. Unlike Dr, Anthony Fauci, Dr. Atlas told Americans back in June not to panic about the rise in coronavirus cases. Dr. Atlas later got the attention of US President Trump.
Yesterday, President Trump announced that Dr. Scott Atlas is now joining the Coronavirus Task Force team. President Trump said:
“…This is Scott Atlas. Do you know that? Right? …Scott is a very famous man who’s also very highly respected — Stanford. And he’s working with us and will be working with us on the coronavirus. And he has many great ideas. And he thinks what we’ve done is really good, and now we’ll take it to a new level. And so it’s great to have Scott working along with us. And we appreciate it very much, Scott. Thank you very much, Scott. Thank you very much.”
Back in June, Dr Atlas appeared with the host of “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” During the the show, Dr. Atlas said that since everyone who gets hospitalized for any reason is getting tested for COVID-19, the people making up the inflated statistics could actually be “hospitalized for something else” but “classified as COVID-19 hospitalizations.” Dr. Atlas also used the interview to lash out at medical journals. “Medical journals like Lancet are publishing garbage studies on coronavirus,” Dr. Atlas says.
Also in an op-ed piece in The Hill titled, “The data is in — stop the panic and end the total isolation,” Dr. Atlas provided five facts key facts that are being ignored by those calling for continuing the near-total lockdown:
- Fact 1: The overwhelming majority of people do not have any significant risk of dying from COVID-19.
- Fact 2: Protecting older, at-risk people eliminates hospital overcrowding.
- Fact 3: Vital herd immunity is actually PREVENTED by total isolation policies, prolonging the problem.
- Fact 4: People are dying from being denied other medical care due to hypothetical COVID-19 fatality projections that turned out to be garbage.
- Fact 5: We have a clearly defined population at risk who can be protected with targeted measures.
Below is a Twitter video of President Trump’s announcement.
President Trump announces Dr. Scott Atlas is now working with the coronavirus task force.
Dr. Scott Atlas has routinely appeared on #KUSINews to speak on our coronvirus response, most recently telling Americans not to panic as cases rise.
— KUSI News (@KUSINews) August 10, 2020
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