Author: Jean-Claude Muller, 穆卓Executive Editor at BtoBioInnovation email@example.com
SPECIAL REPORT #21.5
COVID 19. Update #4
Amongst the most recent news related to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one which is quite disturbing. On the one hand there are areas in the world where the virus and its new and emerging variants are spreading extremely fast and with little and no rationale, and at the other hand areas where the spreading of SARS-CoV-2 is, apparently at least, slowing down.
In the Moselle county, located in the North East of France, at the border with Luxemburg and Germany the “situation is becoming worrisome” according to Olivier Véran, the French Health Minister, who is visiting the area today. The local health authorities have identified more than 300 cases of the South-African and Brazilian variants over the last four days, and there were already 200 new such cases a few days ago. The two variants are particularly scrutinised because they seem to be less sensible to some already available vaccines and because they are clearly more contagious than the one which emerged in Great Britain last October. For the time being, there is no explanation of the unusual spreading of these variants in that specific area and the reason is most probably not related to an unidentified cluster or to travellers coming from abroad. The situation is becoming sufficiently alarming to François Grosdidier, the Mayor of Metz, the main city of Moselle, for asking a complete and strict space area limited lockdown.
In India, where SARS-CoV-2 contamination opportunities are countless, there is a an apparent reduction of new cases. According to Carole Dieterich, a French press correspondent in New Dehli, there were no COVID-19 related death reported on Tuesday in the Indian mega pole, with no rational explanation at this stage. Some scientists wonder if, for instance, herd immunity has already be reached in this densely populated city.
In the United States, the data show that 94,704 Americans contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus on February 10, the fourth day in a row that the new COVID-19 cases were below 100,000 and only a few days after they had been peaking at 300,000 late last month. Hospitalisation rates are also decreasing with 77,000 Americans hospitalised on February 10, compared to a daily average of 130,000 in January. Even more surprising average daily death have fallen from 3,362 on January 10 to 2,350 on February 10, a reduction of 30%. As for the above mentioned cases, there is no clear explanation in what is behind these trends. “We are nowhere near where you need to be for herd immunity, even with the combination of vaccination and the number of people who had the disease” Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a Time interview.
An additional positive outlook came from researchers at the University of Oxford who said that Actemra, Roche’s IL-6 antibody approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cuts the risk of death when combined with dexamethasone, a known and well established corticosteroid. The results from the RECOVERY trial show that Actemra shortens the time to patient discharge from hospital and reduces the need for oxygen hyperventilation.
To add to this sense of optimism where “the impossible is sometimes becoming possible” it is noteworthy to remind that strong collaboration between academic and biopharmaceutical institutions has been key to trigger the positive outcomes we report today and when companies, that are primarily competitors, are striking unexpected deals. After the announcement that Sanofi will be producing the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in its Frankfurt facility, Bayer has announced a similar deal with CureVac and Merck KGaA will accelerate the supply of lipids for BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine production. Yesterday Merck said it is in discussion with governments and companies to help accelerate COVID-19 vaccine production and Teva Pharmaceuticals also announced its intention to support COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution. Neither of the two later companies has revealed the parties they are in talks with.
Paris, February 12, 2021
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