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Pulse 185: UK Approves Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

5 January 2021
Giulio Prisco

Vaccine

The government of the United Kingdom has accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorize Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for use. “This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” notes a press release issued by the U.K. government.

The vaccine, called AZD1222, joins the growing family of COVID-19 vaccines approved for use.

“The MHRA’s decision was based on independent advice from its Commission on Human Medicines following a rolling review of trial data that included an interim analysis of the Phase III programme led by the University of Oxford,” reports a press release issued by AstraZeneca. The trial data were also published in The Lancet on 8 December 2020.

Time explains that AZD1222 “uses a ‘viral vector,’ introducing a harmless virus - in this case a virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees - modified with the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein to stimulate an immune response.”

AZD1222 is not the most effective COVID-19 vaccine, according to the published trial results. Stage 3 clinical trials suggest it prevents COVID-19 symptoms about 70% of the time vs. about 95% for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

But “it’s cheaper and easier to handle and store." AZD1222 will cost $3 to $4 per dose around the world. And it remains viable for up to six months with standard refrigeration. Therefore, the vaccine is expected to make a big difference in the less developed regions of the world.

AstraZeneca hopes to make 3 billion doses of AZD1222 in 2021. With the current two-dose regimen, that’s enough to vaccinate nearly 20 percent of the world’s population.

On January 4, dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person to receive the AZD1222 Covid-19 vaccine, as reported by BBC News. “Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast the Oxford vaccine rollout was a ‘pivotal moment’ in the fight against coronavirus, saying: ‘It's going to be a tough few weeks ahead, but this is the way out.’”

New Ways to Sensitize Cancer to Immunotherapy

Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have learned how cancer cells avoid immune defenses and metastasize (spread).

A paper is published in Cancer Discovery. It indicates that immune reactions triggered by cancer cells fail to eliminate cancer due, in part, to a molecule sitting on the outside of the cancer cells that destroys the warning signals before they ever reach neighboring immune cells.

The findings help to explain why some tumors do not respond to immunotherapy. And they suggest ways to sensitize tumors to immunotherapy, opening up potential new avenues for treatment.

The researchers showed that this approach was effective in laboratory mice.

Drug Improves Leukemia Survival

Results from a clinical trial called QUAZAR, led by Monash University, show that a drug called CC-486 delivers a 30% improvement in survival in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). And it significantly improves survival in older patients, over the age of 55.

AML is the most acute blood cancer in adults. And its incidence increases with age, with a poor prognosis. With current treatments, the majority of older patients will die of their disease within 2 years of diagnosis. After intensive chemotherapy, the risk of AML relapse is high.

The QUAZAR trial involved 472 patients, with an average age of 68 years. They were either given CC-486 or a placebo.

A study is published in New England Journal of Medicine. It indicates that the patients receiving the drug had an average survival of almost 25 months after chemotherapy. That's compared to those who did not take the drug, whose average survival was almost 15 months.

New Compounds Outperform Antibiotics

Scientists at Wistar Institute have discovered a new class of compounds. They uniquely combine direct antibiotic killing of drug-resistant bacteria with a simultaneous rapid immune response for combating antimicrobial resistance.

A study is published in Nature. It shows that available compounds, called IspH inhibitors, stimulate the immune system with more potent bacterial killing activity and specificity than current best-in-class antibiotics, when tested on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the lab.

The scientists used computer modeling to screen several million commercially available IspH inhibitors. And they selected the most potent ones as starting points for drug discovery.

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