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  • Business
    The Conversation

    Antibody injections could fight COVID-19 infections – an infectious disease expert explains the prospects

    Antibodies are part of us – literally. We have billions of them in our bodies with a combined weight of about 100 grams, or about the weight of a bar of soap. If there are so many antibodies inside our bodies then they must be safe and very important, right? Indeed, antibodies are perhaps the safest type of therapy and have many important functions. One of them is to protect and cure infections caused by viruses. The human immune system can produce antibodies specific for each type virus that bind strongly to the virus and block it from infecting our cells – so-called neutralizing antibodies.I am an infectious disease scientist and am interested in antibody therapeutics because they are a relatively safe way to prevent severe disease and save lives, particularly when a new, deadly virus emerges.To stop the spread of COVID-19, billions of people will need to have antibodies to protect against the new coronavirus. So the question is how can we isolate and produce neutralizing antibodies in large enough quantities to serve everyone who needs them, including research laboratories and pharmaceutical companies? What are antibodies?Our immune system makes antibodies in response to a foreign pathogen, whether that be a bacterium, virus or fungi. Antibodies are Y-shaped blood proteins made by white blood cells called “B cells.” They neutralize pathogens by attaching to their surface, blocking them from entering our cells and signaling our immune system to clear the pathogen from our bodies. Humans have all sorts of different antibodies floating around inside us at any given time looking for foreign pathogens to attack. When a specific virus, such as SARS-CoV-2, infects our bodies, our immune system will try to produce enough specific antibodies against it before the infection becomes overwhelming. This process can happen faster and be more successful in preventing infection if we already have existing antibodies against the pathogen. Finding antibodies to treat COVID-19When I was in my native country of Bulgaria, I was fascinated with so-called hybridoma technology and used it to produce monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) – “mono” meaning “one,” or one defined antibody with known affinity for a specific pathogen. Later, at the National Institutes of Health, my team used a very powerful method called phage display to discover highly specific, potent human mAbs against many viruses, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and Hendra and Nipah viruses. Now, at the University of Pittsburgh, we’ve discovered potent neutralizing mAbs against SARS-CoV-2 using phage display. We are conducting animal experiments now and expect to publish our results soon in a peer-reviewed journal. The sequence of the most effective and safe mAb will be provided to a company which will insert the gene that encodes the antibody into cells to produce large quantities of the antibody for studies in human clinical trials.There is also a method to extract B-cells from patients who survived SARS-CoV-2 infections, select the ones which produce the most effective specific antibodies and then grow those cells in cultures in the lab. These lab-grown B-cells then function as little factories to produce neutralizing mAbs. A recent study published in Science described the work of scientists from China who used this method to identify two such antibodies. The Chinese researchers showed in an animal model of SARS-CoV-2 infection – in which mice were engineered with the human ACE2 receptor that enables the virus to infect cells – that these mAbs were effective at blocking the virus. Another paper published in Cell using the same model reported a similar finding. Other published reports have described neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 mAbs but without evaluation in animal models. Why are animal models so important? Because there are many other factors that could affect antibody efficacy in a living organism that can’t be simulated in a petri dish. For example, how long are mAbs functional in the body and are they safe? Animal models can provide preliminary safety data. Beyond animal models, a key mAb property to consider is whether it can be efficiently manufactured in a stable, safe form for human use. Based on the published studies I mentioned, media reports, the generally favorable attributes of antibodies and my own experience, I believe mAbs to SARS-CoV-2 will be approved this year for prevention and treatment of COVID-19.[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read The Conversation’s newsletter.]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * Checking blood for coronavirus antibodies – 3 questions answered about serological tests and immunity * Coronavirus: A new type of vaccine using RNA could help defeat COVID-19Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov works also for a company, Abound Bio, where he is EVP and CSO, which develops human monoclonal antibodies against viruses and cancer. He has received funding in the past from the National Institutes of Health and currently from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for his work on therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. He is also coinventor of patents some of which are licensed to companies.

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  • Business

    Drugmakers Focus on Coronavirus Vaccine by 2020: 4 Winners

    Clinical trials of non-COVID-19 drugs have taken a backseat as most drugmakers and biotechnology companies are speeding up development of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

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  • Lifestyle

    The 19 Best Hairsprays on the Market, From Flexible to Strong Hold

    Whether you want a light, brushable mist or a formula that won't let your look budge, you'll find it here.Originally Appeared on Allure

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  • Politics
    The Guardian

    ‘It could have a chilling effect’: why Trump is ramping up attacks on mail-in voting

    Trump is sowing doubt about mail-in voting at a time when it may be the safest way for people to cast their ballotsDonald Trump is escalating baseless attacks on mail-in voting in what appears to be an obvious effort to sow doubt about the fairness of the 2020 election.The president has long made false accusations about voter fraud, claiming without evidence that 3-5 million Americans voted illegally in the 2016 election. But his barrage against mail-in voting is particularly alarming ahead of an election during the Covid-19 pandemic, where there is likely to be severely limited in-person voting and many Americans will probably vote by mail for the first time. Advocates worry voters who don’t want to risk their health and vote in person could also be swayed by Trump’s rhetoric, not feel comfortable voting by mail, and simply choose not to vote at all.Trump’s menacing rhetoric could discourage some people, particularly minority groups, from casting mail-in votes, said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which advocates on behalf of Hispanic Americans.“It could have a chilling effect and I think that’s the intent,” he said. “President Trump is using his bully platform to try to discourage people from voting and to try to stop people from voting by mail.”Trump’s tweets on mail-in voting in recent weeks have been a mix of unsubstantiated claims and outright falsehoods. Trump absurdly suggested on Thursday that children could steal ballots out of people’s mailboxes and distribute them to voters. Attacking a plan to mail-ballots to registered voters in California earlier this week, he also lied, saying the state was sending ballots to “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there”. He also said mailboxes would be robbed and that voting by mail would lead to fraudulently printed and signed ballots (California allows voters to track their ballot and verifies the voter’s identity using their signature).  MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE. IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION. BIG MAIL-IN VICTORY IN TEXAS COURT TODAY. CONGRATS!!! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020Last week, Trump falsely accused Michigan of planning to send absentee ballots to registered voters; the state is actually sending mail-in ballot applications to voters, a measure Republicans elsewhere have endorsed. Meanwhile, voter fraud, including fraud in mail-in voting, remains extremely rare.Trump has openly talked about the political upside of having fewer people vote. In a March interview, he dismissed Democratic efforts in Congress to make it easier to vote by mail during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying: “If you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” President Trump is using his bully platform to try to discourage people from voting and to try to stop people from voting by mail Domingo GarciaMany people are used to brushing off Trump’s rhetoric about voter fraud, said Cliff Albright, a co-founder of the Black Voters Matter. But Albright said Trump’s comments were worrisome in a larger context of aggressive Republican efforts to police voting.In Georgia, Albright noted, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, has encouraged absentee voting but also created an “absentee ballot fraud taskforce” stacked with prosecutors to monitor mail-in voting. In Texas, which severely restricts absentee voting, Ken Paxton, the attorney general, warned of possible “criminal sanctions” for anyone who advised a voter they could use Covid-19 as the basis for requesting a mail-in ballot.“That one-two punch is what makes it very intimidating,” Albright said. “It does influence people and does intimidate people and makes some folks feel like this is not something they want to engage in.”The Republican National Committee is also seeking to recruit up to 50,000 volunteers to monitor voting this fall, the first time in nearly three decades when they won’t be under a federal court order barring them from engaging in poll-watching activity. There is growing alarm that Trump’s rhetoric will lay the groundwork to contest the results of the presidential election once the ballots are counted. Unlike past elections, America is unlikely to know the winner of the presidential race on election night as officials count ballots coming in (some states allow ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked by election day).The candidate who appears to be ahead on election day may ultimately end up losing as more ballots are counted. And a candidate could use the gap in getting official results to claim widespread fraud, said Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University who closely studies elections. “That’s where the disinformation and the polarizing rhetoric and questioning of the legitimacy of elections could come in. You say there’s something fishy with the mail ballots if they are not reflective of the percentage that has not been revealed up to that point.” Republicans offered a preview of this in 2018, when they suggested there was something amiss as Democrats in California congressional races picked up votes as the state continued to count mail-in ballots after election day. In Florida, Trump and Rick Scott, then the state’s governor, baselessly accused election officials of fraud as they counted ballots in a US Senate race Scott was running in. To shore up confidence in the results of the election, a consortium of experts recommended last month that states and media organizations make it clear they expect a delay in reporting official results well ahead of election night.Accepting the legitimate transfer of power is crucial to the foundation of American democracy. If there isn’t a belief the election is fair, that pillar is gone, Garcia said.“I’m concerned that we could have a constitutional crisis if we have the same president saying that the election was somehow tainted because people voted by mail,” Garcia said. “That could lead to a possible huge crisis in America’s democracy.”

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