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DIY vaccine maker aims to beat pharma to a COVID-19 shot—and he’ll start by injecting himself

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The biohacker who injected himself with CRISPR is back. This time, he’s setting out to solve a problem at the forefront of everyone’s mind—the need for a COVID-19 vaccine—and he thinks he can beat biopharma to it.

Nevermind that companies like Moderna and AstraZeneca are racing vaccine candidates into and through the clinic at a speed never seen before, and the U.S. government has set up a Manhattan Project-style initiative aptly dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” which aims to deliver 100 million doses of a viable COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year. That’s still too slow for Josiah Zayner.

“This is the perfect opportunity for biohackers,” Zayner told Bloomberg. “We can move science faster.”

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His plan is based off a Science paper published in May showing that a DNA vaccine seemed to provoke an immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The researchers developed multiple vaccines expressing different forms of the virus’ spike protein and tested them in monkeys.

RELATED: After Operation Warp Speed picks 5 finalists, experts question why some vaccines were left out

Along with collaborators in Mississippi and Ukraine, Zayner wants to reproduce that experiment in humans—themselves—and livestream the process over several weeks, Bloomberg reported.

“They said specifically what they used, which is really easy to recreate,” Zayner told Bloomberg, speaking from the West Oakland, California, headquarters and lab of his company, The Odin. “You know, it works in monkeys. Let’s test it on humans.”

RELATED: Pfizer, Merck, AZ, J&J and Moderna selected as ‘Warp Speed’ finalists: NYT

The scheme, dubbed Project McAfee, after the antivirus software, is possible thanks to the availability of new tools and technologies—including viral DNA—to the general public. Zayner ordered the same spike protein the researchers used in their DNA vaccine from a DNA synthesis company, having it put in a solution that could be injected into his muscles, Bloomberg reported.

RELATED: Biopharma’s no-holds-barred fight to find a COVID-19 vaccine: The full list

Zayner and his partners plan to inject themselves with the vaccine and then take antibody tests regularly to see if their bodies mount an immune response, Bloomberg reported.

Zayner and David Ishee, one of his partners and a self-taught scientist in Mississippi, think the project could pierce the veil on biotech research and scientific experiments.

“I want people to learn something from this,” he said, “So it’s no longer this big black box of what science, clinical trials and all this stuff is,” Zayner told Bloomberg.

“I would like to see a future where biotech is less arcane,” Ishee said. “But the most realistic thing that will come of this is that maybe people will understand the news they’re reading better.”

But Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford University, said the approach has its limits.

“If he has and uses the appropriate biosafety precautions, I see nothing wrong with his efforts to replicate the macaque work in living human cells,” Greely told Bloomberg. “If he can do that, it might be a somewhat useful scientific finding.”

The keywords are “living human cells.” Compare that to the massive clinical trials underway, or soon to be, for vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech. Earlier this month, Moderna finalized the design for a 30,000-patient phase 3 study, while AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have already started a phase 2/3 study involving more than 10,000 people.

“At best he’ll have three people who have received this DNA vaccine,” he said. “It’s hard for me to see his administration of a vaccine to three people as producing any useful scientific knowledge, except perhaps in the unhappy result that they have terrible reactions to it. But even then, it’s just anecdotal, a caution but not a proof.”

And that’s not all—Zayner may pull off his experiment, but copycats may not.

“Even if he does it well, people copying him poorly could be hurt. And for what?” Greely said. “Uncontrolled experiments with doubtful, non-standardized ingredients and conditions are not likely to lead to scientific knowledge that will produce vaccines faster.”

Source: https://www.fiercebiotech.com/biotech/diy-vaccine-maker-aims-to-beat-pharma-to-a-covid-shot-and-he-ll-start-by-injecting-himself

Biotechnology

China Warns Spread of An ‘Unknown Pneumonia’ Deadlier Than COVID-19

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Unknown pneumonia in Kazakhstan
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Unknown pneumonia in Kazakhstan – Chinese Embassy Warns Citizens.

A warning about unknown pneumonia has been issued by the Chinese embassy in Kazakhstan, which says pneumonia has caused more than 600 deaths in the central Asian country in June.

The Chinese embassy said the new disease has a fatality rate much higher than Covid-19, in an advisory issued for its citizens living in the former Soviet Bloc country.

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China’s northwest Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region borders with Kazakhstan.

In the first six months of the year, the ‘unknown pneumonia’ caused 1,772 deaths, of which 628 deaths occurred in June alone. A statement issued by the embassy on its WeChat platform said these deaths included those of Chinese citizens also.

The embassy added that the fatality rate of this unknown pneumonia in Kazakhstan is much higher than Covid-19.

However, it’s not clear if the Chinese officials have any more information about this particular pneumonia or if there is any specific reason to call it unknown.

And there isn’t any clarity if the World Health organization is informed about this “unknown pneumonia.”

The Chinese embassy reminded the Chinese nationals in Kazakhstan to be aware of the situation and increase prevention strategies to lower the infection risks.

The number of patients infected with the new pneumonia is two to three times higher than that of Covid-19, Kazakhstan’s healthcare minister said on Wednesday.

To contain the spread of novel coronavirus, Kazakhstan had implemented a lockdown on March 16, which was later lifted in May. Due to an increase in the number of cases, the restrictions were reimposed again.

The country could be facing a second wave of infections, president Kassim-Jomart Tokayev said. According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Wednesday that it was too early to relax restrictions as the situation was still serious.

In fact, the country was facing a second wave of Covid-19 coupled with a huge uptick in pneumonia cases, he added.

Nearly 300 people diagnosed with the unknown pneumonia are being hospitalized every day in Kazakhstan, the health care department chief in the capital Nur-Sultan, Saule Kisikova, told the news agency Kazinform.

Source

Source: https://www.biotecnika.org/2020/07/unknown-pneumonia-in-kazakhstan-chinese-embassy-warns-citizens/

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Life Sciences Fund Launches with €76M to Invest in Nordic Biotech

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Stockholm and Copenhagen-based Eir Ventures has announced the closure of its first fund at €76M, which will be used to invest in biotechs and other life science companies, with a focus on the Nordics.

The fund is backed by Saminvest, a venture capital company founded by the Swedish Government; Vækstfonden, the Danish state’s investment fund; Novo Holdings; and the European Investment Fund.

Although the fund will cover the whole of Europe and the USA, particular focus will be placed upon biotech innovations from leading universities and incubators in the Nordics. This region currently has a pronounced imbalance between investment opportunities and available venture capital.

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In particular, the number of venture funds in the region has declined substantially since the early 2000s, and no fully pan-Nordic investor exists because most of the remaining funding sources tend to be bound to individual countries.

The available local capital is substantially below what the available investment opportunities could warrant, and thus there is a big opportunity for a new fund like Eir Ventures,” said Stephan Christgau, Managing Partner of Eir Ventures. “The so-called ‘Medicon Valley,’ comprising the greater Copenhagen region and southern Sweden, has had a 23% growth in output of scientific papers in the last 10 years, the highest growth rate of any of the ten largest life science clusters in Europe.”

Eir Ventures plan to invest in 12 to 18 biotech companies with this fund. Although the fund will not focus on specific therapeutic areas, there are a number of strengths within the region, including endocrinology, stem cells, central nervous system diseases, and oncology, along with expertise around peptide and oligonucleotide drugs.

We also hope that we can play our part in enhancing the Nordic life science ecosystem and bring even more international talent as well as capital into the Nordics,” Christgau said.

Interestingly, the announcement marks the closure of the fourth Europe-centered life sciences venture fund in the last month. It follows the €185M closing of Forbion’s Growth Opportunities fund this week, which will focus on investments in public European biotechs and those close to going public. In the last few weeks, there has also been Epidarex Capital’s launch of a €122M UK-targeted fund and Biogeneration Ventures’ €105M fund, which focuses on creating European medical biotech startups. 

According to Christgau, there has been “no concerted effort” to coordinate the closing of these funds. Instead, he believes it could be a coincidental result of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions lifting, thus allowing deals to be brought to completion.


Image from Shutterstock

Source: https://www.labiotech.eu/policy-legal-finance/eir-ventures-biotech-investments/

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Biotechnology

Liquid metal synthesis for better piezoelectrics: Atomically-thin tin-monosulfide

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Potential materials for future wearable electronics and other motion-powered, energy-harvesting devices

RMIT-UNSW collaboration applies liquid-metal synthesis to piezoelectrics, advancing future flexible, wearable electronics, and biosensors drawing their power from the body’s movements.

Materials such as atomically-thin tin-monosulfide (SnS) are predicted to exhibit strong piezoelectric properties, converting mechanical forces or movement into electrical energy.

This property, along with their inherent flexibility, makes them likely candidates for developing flexible nanogenerators that could be used in wearable electronics or internal, self-powered biosensors.

However to date, this potential has been held back by limitations in synthesising large, highly crystalline monolayer tin-monosulfide (and other group IV monochalcogenides), with difficulties caused by strong interlayer coupling.

The new study resolves this issue by applying a new liquid-metal technique, developed at RMIT, to synthesise the materials.

Subsequent measurements confirm that tin-monosulfide synthesised using the new method displays excellent electronic and piezoelectric properties.

The resulting stable, flexible monolayer tin-monosulfide can be incorporated in a variety of devices for efficient energy harvesting.

The work started over two and a half years ago and strong collaborative work between RMIT and UNSW allowed its fruition. Ms Hareem Khan, the first author of the paper, showed remarkable perseverance to surmount many technical challenges to demonstrate the viability of the concept, with Prof Yongxiang Li.

LIQUID METAL SYNTHESIS

The unprecedented technique of synthesis used involves the van der Waals exfoliation of a tin sulphide (SnS), that is formed on the surface of tin when it is melted, while being exposed to the ambient of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas. H2S breaks down on the interface and sulfurises the surface of the melt to form SnS.

The technique is equally applicable to other monolayer group IV monochalcogenide, which are predicted to exhibit the same strong piezoelectricity.

This liquid metal based method allows us to extract homogenous and large scale monolayers of SnS with minimal grain boundaries.

Measurements confirm the material has high carrier mobility and piezoelectric coefficient, which translates into exceptional peak values of generated voltage and loading power for a particular applied strain, impressively higher than that any previously reported 2D nanogenerator.

High durability and flexibility of the devices are also demonstrated.

This is evidence that the very stable as-synthesised monolayer SnS can be commercially implemented into power-generating nanodevices.

They can also be used for developing transducers for harvesting mechanical human movements, in accordance to the current technological inclinations towards smart, portable and flexible electronics.

The results are a step towards piezoelectric-based, flexible, wearable energy-scavenging devices.

It also presents an unprecedented synthesis technique for large (wafer) scale tin-monosulfide monolayers.

PIEZOELECTRIC MATERIALS

Piezoelectric materials can convert applied mechanical force or strain into electrical energy.

Best known by name in the simple ‘piezo’ lighter used for gas BBQs and stovetops, piezo-electric devices sensing sudden changes in acceleration are used to trigger vehicle air bags, and more-sensitive devices recognise orientation changes in mobile phones, or form the basis of sound and pressure sensors.

Even more sensitive piezoelectric materials can take advantage of the small voltages generated by extremely small mechanical displacement, vibration, bending or stretching to power miniaturised devices, for example biosensors embedded in the human body, removing the need for an external power source.

THE STUDY

Liquid metal-based synthesis of high performance monolayer SnS piezoelectric nanogenerators was published in Nature Communications in July 2020 (DOI 10.1038/s41467-020-17296-0).

The study represents a collaboration between two Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence: the Centre for Exciton Science, and the Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET). ARC funding also comes from the Discovery Project, DECRA and ARC Laureate programs, and from the RMIT Vice-Chancellor Fellowship.

Facilities and advice from the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility (RMMF), RMIT Micro Nano Research Facility (MNRF) and the Centre for Advanced Solid and Liquid based Electronics and Optics (CASLEO) was critical to the success of the study, as was assistance from the CSIRO for PESA measurements.

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http://www.fleet.org.au/blog/liquid-metal-synthesis-for-better-piezoelectrics-atomically-thin-tin-monosulfide/

Source: https://bioengineer.org/liquid-metal-synthesis-for-better-piezoelectrics-atomically-thin-tin-monosulfide/

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