Wave of promising study results raise hopes for COVID-19 vaccines - CNA
CHICAGO: Early data from trials of three potential COVID-19 vaccines released on Monday (Jul 20), including a closely-watched candidate from Oxford University, increased confidence that a vaccine can train the immune system to recognise and fight the novel co…
CHICAGO: Early data from trials of three potential COVID-19 vaccines released on Monday (Jul 20), including a closely-watched candidate from Oxford University, increased confidence that a vaccine can train the immune system to recognise and fight the novel coronavirus without serious side effects. Whether any of these efforts will result in a vaccine capable of protecting billions of people and ending the global pandemic that has claimed more than 600,000 lives is still far from clear. All will require much larger studies to prove they can safely prevent infection or serious disease. Advertisement Advertisement The vaccine being developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca along with the Oxford University, induced an immune response in all study participants who received two doses without any worrisome side effects. A coronavirus vaccine under development by CanSinoBiologics and China's military research unit, likewise showed that it appears to be safe and induced an immune response in most of the 508 healthy volunteers who got one dose of the vaccine, researchers reported. Some 77 per cent of study volunteers experienced side effects like fever or injection site pain, but none considered to be serious. Both the AstraZeneca and CanSino vaccines use a harmless cold virus known as an adenovirus to carry genetic material from the novel coronavirus into the body. Studies on both vaccines were published in the journal The Lancet. Advertisement Advertisement "Overall, the results of both trials are broadly similar and promising," Naor Bar-Zeev and William Moss, two vaccine experts from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in a commentary in The Lancet. However, the CanSino candidate again showed signs that people who had previously been exposed to the particular adenovirus in its vaccine had a reduced immune response. The study authors called that "the biggest obstacle" for the vaccine to overcome. German biotech BioNTech and US drugmaker Pfizer released details from a small study in Germany of a different type of vaccine that uses ribonucleic acid (RNA) - a chemical messenger that contains instructions for making proteins. The vaccine instructs cells to make proteins that mimic the outer surface of the coronavirus. The body recognises these virus-like proteins as foreign invaders and can then mount an immune response against the actual virus. In the not-yet peer reviewed study of 60 healthy adults, the vaccine induced virus-neutralising antibodies in those given two doses, a result in-line with a previous early-stage US trial. The burst of announcements followed publication last week of results of Moderna's vaccine trial, showing similarly promising early results. Moderna's vaccine also uses a messenger RNA platform. "It's encouraging that all these vaccines seem to induce antibodies in people," said former World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general Marie-Paule Kieny of the French research institute Inserm. "This proves that the science is moving forward very quickly, which is a good sign." 'LONG WAY TO GO' None of these leading contenders has shown side effects that could sideline their efforts so far, but all must still prove they are safe and effective in trials involving thousands of subjects, including those at high-risk for severe COVID-19, such as the elderly and people with diabetes. Historically, just 6 per cent of vaccine candidates end up making it to market, often after a years-long testing process. Vaccine makers hope to dramatically compress that timeline through faster trials and by manufacturing at scale even before the products prove successful. Several manufacturers have US government backing with a goal of having a coronavirus vaccine by year's end as cases continue to rise at a record pace. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is one of 150 in development globally, but is considered the most advanced. Late-stage trials have begun in Brazil and South Africa and are due to start in the United States, where the infection prevalence is highest. In its Phase I trial, the vaccine induced so-called neutralising antibodies - the kind that stop the virus from infecting cells - in 91 per cent of individuals a month after they got one dose, and in 100 per cent of subjects who got a second dose. These levels were on par with the antibodies produced by people who survived COVID-19 - a key benchmark of potential success. Oxford researcher Sarah Gilbert said the trial could not determine whether one or two doses would be needed to provide immunity. The vaccine, known as AZD1222, also induced the body to make T cells - activating a second part of the immune system that experts increasingly believe will be important for a lasting immune response. Recent studies show that some recovered patients who tested negative for coronavirus antibodies developed T cells in response to their infection. Scientists think both are important aspects of an effective coronavirus vaccine. Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme, said the generation of both T-cell and neutralising antibody responses was positive, adding, "there is a long way to go". Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram
Astrophysicists unveil biggest-ever 3D map of Universe - CNA
Astrophysicists on Monday published the largest-ever 3D map of the Universe, the result of an analysis of more than four million galaxies and ultra-bright, energy-packed quasars.
GENEVA: Astrophysicists on Monday (Jul 20) published the largest-ever 3D map of the Universe, the result of an analysis of more than 4 million galaxies and ultra-bright, energy-packed quasars. The efforts of hundreds of scientists from around 30 institutions worldwide have yielded a "complete story of the expansion of the universe", said Will Percival of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Advertisement Advertisement In the project launched more than two decades ago, the researchers made "the most accurate expansion history measurements over the widest-ever range of cosmic time", he said in a statement. The map relies on the latest observations of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, titled the "extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey" (eBOSS), with data collected from an optical telescope in New Mexico over six years. The infant Universe following the Big Bang is relatively well known through extensive theoretical models and observation of cosmic microwave background the electromagnetic radiation of the nascent cosmos. Advertisement Advertisement Studies of galaxies and distance measurements also contributed to a better understanding of the Universe's expansion over billions of years. TROUBLESOME GAP But Kyle Dawson of the University of Utah, who unveiled the map on Monday, said the researchers tackled a "troublesome gap in the middle 11 billion years". Through "five years of continuous observations, we have worked to fill in that gap, and we are using that information to provide some of the most substantial advances in cosmology in the last decade," he said. Astrophysicist Jean-Paul Kneib of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who initiated eBOSS in 2012, said the goal was to produce "the most complete 3D map of the Universe throughout the lifetime of the Universe". For the first time, the researchers drew on "celestial objects that indicate the distribution of matter in the distant Universe, galaxies that actively form stars and quasars". The map shows filaments of matter and voids that more precisely define the structure of the Universe since its beginnings, when it was only 380,000 years old. For the part of the map relating to the Universe six billion years ago, researchers observed the oldest and reddest galaxies. For more distant eras, they concentrated on the youngest galaxies the blue ones. To go back even further, they used quasars, galaxies whose supermassive black hole is extremely luminous. The map reveals that the expansion of the Universe began to accelerate at some point and has since continued to do so. The researchers said this seems to be due to the presence of dark energy, an invisible element that fits into Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity but whose origin is not yet understood. Astrophysicists have known for years that the Universe is expanding, but have been unable to measure the rate of expansion with precision. Comparisons of the eBOSS observations with previous studies of the early universe have revealed discrepancies in estimates of the rate of expansion. The currently accepted rate, called the "Hubble constant", is 10 per cent slower than the value calculated from the distances between the galaxies closest to us.