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May 18th, 2020

Doubts Raised Over Oxford University mRNA Vaccine for COVID-19; Expert William Haseltine Says Recent Macaque Monkey Results Do Not Support Oxford’s Protection Claim

According to William Haseltine (photo), PhD, former Professor, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and Founder of Human Genome Sciences, writing on May 16, 2020 in Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2020/05/16/did-the-oxford-...) “the day after data appeared from the vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech (http://www.sinovac.com/), a Beijing, China-based company, showed complete protection of rhesus macaque monkeys by their vaccine candidate (whole inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus particles) (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/04/covid-19-vaccine-protects-monkey...) (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/05/06/science.abc1932), scientists from the Jenner Institute in Oxford issued a press release (date) announcing that their vaccine (an adenovirus vector based vaccine that carried mRNA for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein) worked to protect rhesus monkeys and that they were moving forward with large scale human safety trials (https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/investigational-chadox1-nc...). At the time, the substantiating data was not available. Now it is, in the form of a May 13, 2020 BioRxiv preprint (https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.13.093195v1.full.pdf) “Does the data support the claim?” Dr. Haseltine asked rhetorically in his Forbes report and his answer was “Not really.” He went on to explain, “All of the vaccinated monkeys treated with the Oxford vaccine became infected when challenged, as judged by recovery of virus genomic RNA from nasal secretions.

CytoDyn Preparing Phase 3 Protocol to Submit to FDA for Three-Arm Comparative & Combination Trial of Leronlimab and Gilead's Remdesivir

On Monday, May 18, 2020, CytoDyn Inc. (OTC.QB: CYDY), a late-stage biotechnology company developing leronlimab (PRO 140), a CCR5 antagonist with the potential for multiple therapeutic indications, announced it will be submitting a protocol to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a factorial design trial to compare the effectiveness of leronlimab versus remdesivir and in combination with remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19. Leronlimab has been administered to more than sixty patients with COVID-19 under emergency Investigational New Drug (eINDs) authorizations granted by the FDA. Preliminary results from this patient population led to CytoDyn’s Phase 2b/3 clinical trial for 390 patients, which is a randomized, placebo-controlled trial with 2:1 ratio (active drug to placebo ratio) for severe and critically ill COVID-19 population in several hospitals throughout the country. CytoDyn has also been granted a Phase 2 randomized clinical trial study in the U.S. for a Phase 2 randomized clinical trial for mild-to-moderate COVID-19 population in the U.S. CytoDyn plans to update the public regarding current eIND results later this week. “We believe the randomized head-to-head comparison of leronlimab to remdesivir, and in combination, will provide answers to the lingering question regarding effective treatment options for patients suffering from COVID-19. We look forward to working both in the United States and with potential international sites to help provide effective treatment options for COVID-19,” said Jacob Lalezari, MD, Chief Science Officer of CytoDyn. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 remains a global public health challenge, and its economic impact continues to devastate the world economy.

Moderna Announces Positive Interim Phase 1 Data for its mRNA Vaccine (mRNA-1273) Against COVID-19 Spike Protein; Phase 2 Trial in Preparation Now & Pivotal Phase 3 Trial Anticipated for July 2020

On May 18, 2020, Moderna, Inc., (Nasdaq: MRNA) (https://www.modernatx.com/) a clinical-stage biotechnology company pioneering messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics and vaccines to create a new generation of transformative medicines for patients, announced positive interim clinical data of mRNA-1273, its vaccine candidate against novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), from the Phase 1 study led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Immunogenicity data are currently available for the 25-µg and 100-µg dose level (ages 18-55) after two doses (day 43) and at the 250-µg level (ages 18-55) after one dose (day 29). Dose-dependent increases in immunogenicity were seen across the three dose levels, and between prime and boost within the 25-µg and 100-µg dose levels. All participants ages 18-55 (n=15 per cohort) across all three dose levels sero-converted by day 15 after a single dose. At day 43, two weeks following the second dose, at the 25-µg dose level (n=15), levels of binding antibodies were at the levels seen in convalescent sera (blood samples from people who have recovered from COVID-19) tested in the same assay. At day 43, at the 100-µg dose level (n=10), levels of binding antibodies significantly exceeded the levels seen in convalescent sera. Samples are not yet available for remaining participants. At this time, neutralizing antibody data are available only for the first four participants in each of the 25-µg and 100-µg dose level cohorts. Consistent with the binding antibody data, mRNA-1273 vaccination elicited neutralizing antibodies in all eight of these participants, as measured by plaque reduction neutralization (PRNT) assays against live SARS-CoV-2.

May 17th

“Epigentic Memory” in Plants; Plants Are Able to “Forget” Memory of Earlier Winter So As to Still Flower at Correct Time in Following Year

A study published online on May 11, 2020 in Nature Cell Biology reveals more information on the capacity of plants, identified as “epigenetic memory,” which allows recording important information to, for example, remember prolonged cold in the winter to ensure they flower at the right time during the spring. As soon as they produce seeds, this information is "erased" from memory so they don't bloom too early the following winter. Although they do it differently than humans, plants also have memories. This so-called "epigenetic memory" occurs by modifying specialized proteins called histones, which are important for packaging and indexing DNA in the cell. One such histone modification, called H3K27me3, tends to mark genes that are turned off. In the case of flowering, cold conditions cause H3K27me3 to accumulate at genes that control flowering. The Nature Cell Biology article is titled “Targeted Reprogramming of H3k27me3 Resets Epigenetic Memory in Plant Paternal Chromatin.” Previous work, from the laboratory of Jörg Becker (https://gulbenkian.pt/ciencia/research/research-groups/plant-genomics/), PhD, Principal Investigator at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal, has shown how H3K27me3 is faithfully transmitted from cell to cell so that in the spring, plants will remember that it was cold and that winter is over, allowing them to flower at the right time. But just as importantly, once they've flowered and made seeds, the seeds need to forget this “memory” of the cold so that they do not flower too soon once winter comes around again. Because H3K27me3 is faithfully copied from cell to cell, how do plants go about forgetting this memory in seeds?

New Technology (RADICL-Seq) Reveals How RNAs, Particularly Long-Noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), Regulate Gene Activity; RIKEN-Developed RADICL-Seq Will Allow “Deeper Understanding of the Fine Regulatory Network Governing Gene Expression”

The discovery of a huge number of long non-protein-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) in the mammalian genome was a major surprise of the recent large-scale genomics projects. An international team, led by scientists at Japan’s RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences, and including a bioinformatician from the Research Center of Biotechnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), has developed a reliable method for assessing the role of such RNAs. The new technique and the data obtained with it allow the generation of important hypotheses on how chromatin is composed and regulated, as well as identifying the specific functions of lncRNAs. Presented in an article published on February 24, 2020 in Nature Communications, the technology is called RADICL-seq and enables comprehensive mapping of each RNA, captured while interacting with all the genomic regions that it targets, where many RNAs are likely to be important for genome regulation and structure maintenance. The open-access article is titled “RADICL-Seq Identifies General and Cell Type–Specific Principles of Genome-Wide RNA-Chromatin Interactions.” It was previously believed that RNA functions mostly as an intermediary in building proteins based on a DNA template, with very rare exceptions such as ribosomal RNAs. However, with the development of genomic analysis, it turned out that not all DNA regions encode RNA, and not all transcribed RNA encodes proteins. Although the number of noncoding RNAs and those that encode proteins is about the same, the function of most noncoding RNA is still not entirely clear.

Rockefeller University Scientists Investigate Life-Threatening Kawasai-Like Inflammation Affecting Some Children with COVID-19

Although the coronavirus has largely spared the young, some children who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 become seriously ill with inflammation of the heart and blood vessels. In New York, at least 5 children have died and over 100 cases, mostly school-aged children, with this syndrome have been identified, according to the state. Like much about the virus, the link between the coronavirus and the disease is a mystery, and public health officials are eager to understand what makes certain children susceptible. In a May 15, 2020 press release, it was announce that Rockefeller University scientists have partnered with the New York State Department of Health (https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-state-helping-...) in an effort to learn how the mysterious and frightening illness develops. Using gene sequencing technologies, the new study will search for genetic similarities between patients that may shed light on its pathogenesis. “We may find a genetic clue that could help explain what is driving this severe complication in these children, which can, in turn, inform their clinical care,” says Jean-Laurent Casanova, MD, PhD, Head of the St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases at The Rockefeller University. As part of an international study (https://www.covidhge.com/) of genetic causes behind severe COVID-19 in young people (https://www.rockefeller.edu/news/28008-gene-hunt-explain-young-healthy-p...), Dr. Casanova and collaborators have been enrolling these unusual cases since early March, when they were first reported by European doctors. Collaborating with the New York Genome Center (https://www.nygenome.org/) and the state’s health department to investigate the New York cases, as well as cases reported worldwide, will provide Dr.

May 16th

SAB’s Rapid Response to COVID-19; Company Has Engineered Cows to Contain Full Set of Human Antibody Genes; DoD & BARDA Grant SAB >$16 Million for Preclinical & Manufacturing Studies of SAB-185, Company’s Cow-Derived Human Polyclonal Antibody for COVID-19

In an April 24, 2020 article in BioCentury, it was reported that SAB Biotherapeutics in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had already been working with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to prepare itscow-based human polyclonal antibody platform for rapid responses to new infectious diseases when COVID-19 emerged. The company has since applied its DiversitAb platform to generate SAB-185, a cow-derived human polyclonal antibody therapy that the company says is more consistent and easier to scale up than convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. SAB Co-Founder and CEO Eddie Sullivan told BioCentury that the company expects initial lots of SAB-185, which targets the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, to be ready for clinical testing in early summer. The DoD had granted SAB a three-year contract, starting in September, 2019, for up to $27 million to develop and test a rapid-response antibody program to counter biological threats. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the company had begun work on building out its antibody platform and scaling up its manufacturing process. SAB’s DiversitAb platform generates human polyclonal antibodies in cows that have been genetically engineered to contain the full set of human antibody genes [see “SAB: Human Polyclonal Antibodies on the Hoof” (https://www.biocentury.com/article/302044)]. “None of us, when we started the contract, expected that we would have a worldwide pandemic on our hands during the time that we’re trying to work with the Department of Defense and build the technology in order to be able to rapidly respond,” said Sullivan.

Huda Zoghbi & Sir Adrian Bird Share World’s Largest ($1.5 Million) & Most Prestigious Prize for Pioneering Brain Research for Their Seminal Work on Rett Syndrome

Huda Zoghbi (https://www.bcm.edu/people/view/huda-zoghbi-m-d/b1855108-ffed-11e2-be68-...), MD, Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Baylor College of Medicine and Director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, has been awarded what is considered one of the world’s most prestigious prizes in brain research, Denmark’s Lundbeck Foundation Brain Prize. Dr. Zoghbi is being awarded, along with Sir Adrian Bird from the University of Edinburgh, UK. Both are being honored for their work on Rett syndrome that has led to a better understanding of the disorder and brought researchers closer to a treatment. The Brain Prize, which includes research funding, is given once a year in recognition of a researcher’s unprecedented contribution to international brain research. The recipient(s) is/are nominated by their peers and decided on by a panel of the world’s top neurological researchers. Established in 2010, the Brain Prize is awarded by Denmark's largest private funder of neuroscience research, the Lundbeck Foundation. In only a few years, the Prize has become known as the most distinguished neuroscience prize in the world. Prize winners are awarded DKK 10 million, which is approximately €1 million or $1.5 million. “I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this prize and to share this honor with Adrian Bird. This recognition means a lot to me on many levels. It shows support to the families living with Rett syndrome and to my trainees who work tirelessly on this research,” Dr. Zoghbi said. “This will allow us to take risks and push the research forward to find a treatment.” “Dr. Huda Zoghbi stands out as a leader in this field of research.

UK Government Awards $600,000 for Trial of Dogs Detecting Odor of COVID-19; Previous Success with Malaria Noted; Dog’s Nose May Prove “Game-Changer” in Screening for COVID-19; Novel Approach Could Enable Rapid Screening of High Numbers of People

On May 15, 2020, it was announced that the UK Government has awarded a specialist team of researchers more than £500,000 (~$600,000) to find out if specially-trained bio-detection dogs can be used as a rapid, non-invasive testing measure for COVID-19. In the first phase of the trial, world-leading disease control experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in collaboration with experts at Medical Detection Dogs (https://www.medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk/) and UK’s Durham University, aim to determine whether dogs are able to detect coronavirus in humans from odor samples. This team has previously worked together to demonstrate that dogs can detect odors from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organization (WHO) standards for diagnostic. This new trial will look at whether dogs can be trained to detect coronavirus, even if people are asymptomatic. If the trial gathers sufficient evidence, the first set of dogs could be deployed to key points of entry into the UK within six months to assist with the rapid screening of people travelling from abroad. If successful, these dogs could provide a fast and non-invasive detection method alongside the Government’s robust five-pillar testing strategy (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-scaling-...), potentially screening up to 250 people per hour each. It is one of a number of testing measures being explored in order to ensure the Government’s response to the virus is as extensive as possible.

May 15th

Genome-Wide Pattern Found in Tumors from Brain Cancer Patients Predicts Life Expectancy; Proof-of-Principle Study Highlights Mathematical Methods That Are Uniquely Suited for Personalized Medicine

For the past 70 years, the best indicator of life expectancy for a patient with glioblastoma (GBM)--the most common and the most aggressive brain cancer--has simply been age at diagnosis. Now, an international team of scientists has experimentally validated a predictor that is not only more accurate, but also more clinically relevant: a pattern of co-occurring changes in DNA abundance levels, or copy numbers, at hundreds of thousands of sites across the whole tumor genome. Patients with the genome-wide pattern survive for a median of one year. However, patients without it survive three times as long, for a median of three years. The results came from a retrospective clinical trial that was published online on May 15, 2020 in Applied Physics Letters (APL) Bioengineering (https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.5142559). The open-access article is titled “Retrospective Clinical Trial Experimentally Validates Glioblastoma Genome-Wide Pattern of DNA Copy-Number Alterations Predictor of Survival.” Having a predictor of a patient's life expectancy can help inform medical decisions. The GBM pattern can, in principle, be used in this way today. For example, when a patient has magnetic resonance imaging results that are inconclusive, such information can help doctors decide whether to perform an intervention. "The information contained in this pattern, and other patterns that we can discover by using the same mathematical methods, can improve the standard of care of GBM and other diseases," said the team leader Orly Alter (photo), PhD, Utah Science, Technology, and Research (USTAR) Associate Professor of Bioengineering and Human Genetics at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.