The Drugmaker Merck Says Its Antiviral Pill Is Effective Against Coronavirus

The drug maker says its pill was shown in a clinical trial to cut the risk of hospitalization or death from the virus in half. Australia is accelerating plans to ease international travel restrictions for its citizens and permanent residents.

The drug maker Merck said on Friday that it would seek authorization for the first antiviral pill for Covid after its drug, known as molnupiravir, was shown in a clinical trial to cut the risk of hospitalization or death in half when given to high-risk people early in their infections.

The treatment could become the first in a wave of antiviral pill products, which experts say could offer a powerful new tool in efforts to tame the pandemic, as they could reach more people than the antibody treatments that are being widely used in the United States for similar patients.

I think it will translate into many thousands of lives being saved worldwide, where there’s less access to monoclonal antibodies, and in this country, too,” said Dr. Robert Shafer, an infectious disease specialist and expert on antiviral therapy at Stanford University.

Late-stage study results of two other antiviral pills, one developed by Pfizer and the other by Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche, are expected within the next few months.

The Merck drug, which is designed to stop the coronavirus from replicating, is to be taken as four capsules twice a day for five days.

Merck said an independent board of experts monitoring its study data had recommended that its trial be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had proved so convincing. The company said that the Food and Drug Administration had agreed with that decision.

For the research, the monitors looked at data through early August, when the study had enrolled 775 volunteers in the United States and overseas. For volunteers who received the drug, their risk of being hospitalized or dying fell 50 percent, without any concerning side effects, compared with those who received placebo pills, Merck said in a news release announcing the findings.

Seven percent of volunteers in the group that received the drug were hospitalized, and none of them died, compared with a 14 percent rate of hospitalization and death — including eight deaths — in the group that received the placebo.

The Merck pill’s efficacy was lower than that of monoclonal antibody treatments, which mimic antibodies that the immune system generates naturally when fighting the virus. Those drugs have been in high demand recently, but they are expensive, are typically given intravenously, and have proved cumbersome and labor-intensive for hospitals and clinics to administer. Studies have shown that they reduce hospitalizations and deaths 70 to 85 percent in similar high-risk Covid patients.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/

FDA-approved Drugs Slow or Reverse Alzheimer’s

A research team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has identified potential new treatment targets for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as existing drugs that have therapeutic potential against these targets.

The potential targets are defective proteins that lead to the buildup of amyloid in the brain, contributing to the onset of problems with memory and thinking that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. The 15 existing drugs identified by the researchers have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for other purposes, providing the possibility of clinical trials that could begin sooner than is typical, according to the researchers.

In addition, the experiments yielded seven drugs that may be useful for treating faulty proteins linked to Parkinson’s disease, six for stroke and one for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Scientists have worked for decades to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s by targeting genes rooted in the disease process but have had little success. That approach has led to several dead ends because many of those genes don’t fundamentally alter proteins at work in the brain. The new study takes a different approach, by focusing on proteins in the brain, and other tissues, whose function has been altered.

In this study, we used human samples and the latest technologies to better understand the biology of Alzheimer’s disease,” said principal investigator Carlos Cruchaga, the Reuben Morriss III Professor of Neurology and a professor of psychiatry. “Using Alzheimer’s disease samples, we’ve been able to identify new genes, druggable targets and FDA-approved compounds that interact with those targets to potentially slow or reverse the progress of Alzheimer’s.”

The scientists focused on protein levels in the brain, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and blood plasma of people with and without Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the proteins were made by genes previously linked to Alzheimer’s risk, while others were made by genes not previously connected to the disease. After identifying the proteins, the researchers compared their results to several databases of existing drugs that affect those proteins.

The new study, funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Source: https://source.wustl.edu/

New promising Cancer Treatment

The recent approval of Lumakras (Amgen, AMG 510) by the US Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer is a breakthrough in cancer therapy. The drug acts as an irreversible inhibitor of KRAS, a mutant protein common to many troubling tumors, including lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancers.

KRAS has been the Moby Dick of cancer therapy. Over the last forty years, its elusive nature has stymied generations of drug developers. Discovered in 1983, it was one of the very first oncogenes ever identified. An oncogene is the mutated form of a normal human gene that often lies at the very origin of many cancers. KRAS is present in 32% of non-small cell lung cancers, 40% of colorectal cancers, and 85% to 90% of pancreatic cancers.

The normal cellular KRAS protein plays a central role in healthy cells by acting as an on/off switch for cell growth. KRAS is activated by binding to guanosine triphosphate (GTP). Once activated, the KRAS protein signals the cell to grow and divide. It is turned off when it converts GTP to guanosine diphosphate (GDP). The mutation that transforms KRAS into an oncogene locks the protein into an active state, permanently bound to GTP, causing cells to grow uncontrollably.

Why has KRAS been such a difficult problem to solve? Most drugs work by binding to sites within the crevices in a protein structure. According to Victor Cee, a research scientist formerly with Amgen,

There’s almost nowhere that a drug can stick to on that protein.” After screening a subset of chemicals, the team of researchers from Amgen found one that weakly bound to the KRAS molecule resting in a shallow pocket of the protein near the GDP binding site. Structural analysis showed that entry to a deeper crevice below was blocked by a histidine residue. Eventually, they found a family of drugs that could displace the histidine, thus allowing entry to the deeper cleft. Binding to this site alters the conformation of the nearby GDP binding site, fixing the GDP in place and permanently locking KRAS in the inactivated position.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/

Anti-diabetic Medication at a Specific Dosage Makes you Loose Weight

A weight-loss drug described as a ‘game-changer by obesity researchers has just been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), representing the first time the agency has endorsed such a treatment in several years. Wegovy, a weight-management therapy to be manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, is the the first FDA-approved weight-loss drug since 2014, but it’s not entirely a new medication.

The same drug, called semaglutide, has been used in the US and other countries as an anti-diabetic medication for years. More recently, however, evidence has shown that semaglutide at a different dosage also functions as a powerful and effective appetite-suppressant. In a study published earlier in the year involving almost 2,000 obese adults from 16 different countries, researchers reported that long-term treatment with the medicine led to almost 15 percent weight loss on average across the cohort.

Some lost even more, with over 30 percent of the group dropping in excess of 20 percent of their body weight – results that the scientists singled out as remarkable.

No other drug has come close to producing this level of weight loss – this really is a game-changer,” obesity researcher Rachel Batterham from University College London said at the time.

For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight-loss surgery.”

Source: https://www.sciencealert.com/

F.D.A. Approves Alzheimer’s Drug

Aducanumab, or Aduhelm, is the first new Alzheimer’s treatment in 18 years and the first to attack the disease process. But some experts say there’s not enough evidence it can address cognitive symptomsThe Food and Drug Administration  approved the first new medication for Alzheimer’s disease in nearly two decades, a contentious decision made despite opposition from the agency’s independent advisory committee and some Alzheimer’s experts who said there was not enough evidence that the drug can help patients.

The drug, aducanumab, which will go by the brand name Aduhelm, is a monthly intravenous infusion intended to slow cognitive decline in people with mild memory and thinking problems. It is the first approved treatment to attack the disease process of Alzheimer’s instead of just addressing dementia symptoms. Biogen, its manufacturer, announced that the list price would be $56,000 a year. In addition, there will most likely be tens of thousands of dollars in costs for diagnostic testing and brain imaging. Recognizing that clinical trials of the drug had provided incomplete evidence to demonstrate effectiveness, the F.D.A. granted approval for the drug to be used but required Biogen to conduct a new clinical trial. If the new trial, called a Phase 4 trial, fails to show the drug is effective, the F.D.A. can — but is not required to — rescind its approval.

About six million people in the United States and roughly 30 million globally have Alzheimer’s, a number expected to double by 2050. Currently, five medications approved in the United States can delay cognitive decline for several months in various Alzheimer’s stages. Patient advocacy groups had lobbied vigorously for approval because there are so few treatments available for the debilitating condition. Some other drugs in clinical trials are more promising, but they are most likely three or four years away from potential approval.

The F.D.A. advisory committee, along with an independent think tank and several prominent experts — including some Alzheimer’s doctors who worked on the aducanumab clinical trials — said the evidence raised significant doubts about whether the drug is effective. They also said that even if it could slow cognitive decline in some patients, the benefit suggested by the evidence would be so slight that it would not outweigh the risk of swelling or bleeding in the brain that the drug caused in the trials.

The data included in the applicant’s submission were highly complex and left residual uncertainties regarding clinical benefit,” the F.D.A.’s director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, wrote on the agency’s website. But, she said, the agency had decided to approve the drug through a program called accelerated approval, which is designed “to provide earlier access to potentially valuable therapies for patients with serious diseases where there is an unmet need, and where there is an expectation of clinical benefit despite some residual uncertainty regarding that benefit.” Michel Vounatsos, Biogen’s chief executive, hailed the approval and said in a statement, “We are committed to sharing our future insights about Aduhelm with the scientific community as we collect more data from the real-world use of this treatment.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/

How to Completely Wipe out Colon Cancer in Anybody Who Gets Screened

Michael Wallace has performed hundreds of colonoscopies in his 20 years as a gastroenterologist. He thinks he’s pretty good at recognizing the growths, or polyps, that can spring up along the ridges of the colon and potentially turn into cancer. But he isn’t always perfect. Sometimes the polyps are flat and hard to see. Other times, doctors just miss them. “We’re all humans,” says Wallace, who works at the Mayo Clinic. After a morning of back-to-back procedures that require attention to minute details, he says, “we get tired.”

Colonoscopies, if unpleasant, are highly effective at sussing out pre-cancerous polyps and preventing colon cancer. But the effectiveness of the procedure rests heavily on the abilities of the physician performing it. Now, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a new tool that promises to help doctors recognize precancerous growths during a colonoscopy: an artificial intelligence system made by Medtronic. Doctors say that alongside other measures, the tool could help improve diagnoses.

 

We really have the opportunity to completely wipe out colon cancer in anybody who gets screened,” says Wallace, who consulted with Medtronic on the project.

The Medtronic system, called GI Genius, has seen the inside of more colons than most doctors. Medtronic and partner Cosmo Pharmaceuticals trained the algorithm to recognize polyps by reviewing more than 13 million videos of colonoscopies conducted in Europe and the US that Cosmo had collected while running drug trials. To “teach” the AI to distinguish potentially dangerous growths, the images were labeled by gastroenterologists as either normal or unhealthy tissue. Then the AI was tested on progressively harder-to-recognize polyps, starting with colonoscopies that were performed under perfect conditions and moving to more difficult challenges, like distinguishing a polyp that was very small, only in range of the camera briefly, or hidden in a dark spot. The system, which can be added to the scopes that doctors already use to perform a colonoscopy, follows along as the doctor probes the colon, highlighting potential polyps with a green box. GI Genius was approved in Europe in October 2019 and is the first AI cleared by the FDA for helping detect colorectal polyps. “It found things that even I missed,” says Wallace, who co-authored the first validation study of GI Genius. “It’s an impressive system.”

Source: https://www.wired.com/

Johnson & Johnson One-Shot Coronavirus Vaccine Approved in the U.S.

A Centers for Disease Control advisory panel on Sunday recommended Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for people 18 and over, clearing the way for inoculations to begin as soon as this week. The recommendation comes one day after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson‘s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

The authorization of this vaccine expands the availability of vaccines, the best medical prevention method for COVID-19, to help us in the fight against this pandemic, which has claimed over half a million lives in the United States,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said Saturday.

The FDA, through our open and transparent scientific review process, has now authorized three COVID-19 vaccines with the urgency called for during this pandemic, using the agency’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization.”

The vaccine is the third to be approved for use in the U.S., and the first that requires only one shot. The FDA‘s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously to recommend authorizing the vaccine by Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, on Friday. The committee provides expert advice to the FDA, but does not have final say on approval.

https://www.cbsnews.com/

Amazon is now selling COVID-19 tests for customers to use at home

The DxTerity COVID-19 Saliva at-Home Collection Kit detects the presence of the virus but does not confirm immunity or detect antibodies. DxTerity‘s molecular-based PCR test received approval from the Food and Drug Administration last month. The test differs from the quicker and less expensive antigen tests, which use a nasal swab or throat swab to detect the virus.

A single COVID-19 testing kit is listed for $110, and a 10-pack bundle is available for $1,000.

Test takers must spit into a tube provided by the kit. The saliva sample is then inserted into a plastic bag and packed back into the box for shipment to one of DxTerity‘s laboratories certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments. Customers are also granted prepaid express return shipping with the test and should expect to receive results within 24 to 72 hours of sample receipt at the laboratory. DxTerity’s test is currently the only COVID-19 testing kit on Amazon.

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We have demonstrated the reliability and quality of our COVID-19 testing solution with big business and now we want to expand access to customers at home and small businesses,” said Bob Terbrueggen, founder and CEO of DxTerity, when he first announced the collaboration with the company last month. “Amazon is the perfect partner for expanding access to millions of U.S. customers.”

The test may not be valid for all travel purposes because sample collection is unsupervised, according to the product description. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends saliva specimens should be collected under supervision.

Amazon joins other retail giants in offering at-home COVID-19 saliva tests. Costco offers both regular and those approved for travel requirements to Hawaii, Bermuda and some other destinations for $129.99 and $139.99, respectively. However, the test has several dozen one-star reviews, with most complaining about delayed shipping and poor customer service from provider AZOVA.

Source: https://eu.usatoday.com/

1st Long-acting HIV Drug Combo

U.S. regulators have approved the first long-acting drug combo for HIV, monthly shots that can replace the daily pills now used to control infection with the AIDS virus. The approval of the two-shot combo called Cabenuva is expected to make it easier for people to stay on track with their HIV medicines and to do so with more privacy. It’s a huge change from not long ago, when patients had to take multiple pills several times a day, carefully timed around meals.

That will enhance quality of life” to need treatment just once a month, said Dr. Steven Deeks, an HIV specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who has no ties to the drug’s makers. “People don’t want those daily reminders that they’re HIV infected.”

Cabenuva combines rilpivirine, sold as Edurant by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, and a new drug — cabotegravir, from ViiV Healthcare. They’re packaged together and given as separate shots once a month. Dosing every two months also is being tested.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Cabenuva for use in adults who have had their disease well controlled by conventional HIV medicines and who have not shown signs of viral resistance to the two drugs in Cabenuva. The agency also approved a pill version of cabotegravir to be taken with rilpivarine for a month before switching to the shots to be sure the drugs are well toleratedViiV said the shot combo would cost $5,940 for an initial, higher dose and $3,960 per month afterward. The company said that is “within the range” of what one-a-day pill combos cost now. How much a patient pays depends on insurance, income and other things. Studies found that patients greatly preferred the shots.

Even people who are taking one pill once a day just reported improvement in their quality of life to switch to an injection,” said Dr. Judith Currier, an HIV specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles. She consults for ViiV and wrote a commentary accompanying one study of the drug in the New England Journal of Medicine. Deeks said long-acting shots also give hope of reaching groups that have a hard time sticking to treatment, including people with mental illness or substance abuse problems. “There’s a great unmet need” that the shots may fill, he said.

Source: https://www.pbs.org/

How Does an mRNA Vaccine Work?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unusual attention to everything from handwashing to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. As we move into the later stages of this pandemic, though, a different scientific concept has dominated the national conversation: vaccines. The study of the human immune system and how vaccines influence it is complex and sometimes counterintuitive, and the deployment of a new method for immunization based on mRNA has made it all the more confusing.

The two vaccines that have received Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) from the Food and Drug Administration are both mRNA vaccines. And since they’re our only hope for ending this pandemic, it’s crucial to understand how they work—and why you should get one.

Vaccines come in a few main forms, but they share the same central goal: equip our immune systems with the tools to handily defeat a pathogen we might encounter in the future. Think of it like a practice round before your body sees the real thing.

The exact way our bodies develop this preemptive immunity depends on the kind of vaccine we’re given. Live-attenuated vaccines provide our cells with a weakened version of a pathogen; protein subunit vaccines give just one part of a bad guy, so immune cells know how to recognize that part of a virus or bacterium. But mRNA (short for messenger RNA) vaccines actually provide our cells with the instructions for making a protein from the pathogen, in essence creating their own practice dummy. Our own cells produce the viral protein specific to, say, SARS-CoV-2, and then our immune system learns to recognize the proteins.

Source: https://www.popsci.com/