The new challenges emerging in the pandemic, whether in the complexity of the disease or in the novel coronavirus, have engaged scientists in a relentless effort to alleviate the problems. The recent challenge has arisen in the form of viral mutations which have given rise to new strains that can spread more easily and also raised concerns about the effectiveness of available vaccines. Not all mutations, changes in the genetic architecture of the virus, are significant, but some of them can have a positive or negative impact on the virus. Few interesting results in this regard have been published, but of course with caveats.
CAN PFIZER VACCINE PROTECT AGAINST NEW STRAINS?
Two strains, B1.1.7 and 501.V2, which are prevalent in the UK and South Africa respectively, are under the lens mainly due to their ability to spread at a higher rate. By examining whether currently available vaccines are effective against these variants, a study claimed that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is effective. The study looked at neutralizing antibodies, which prevent the virus from entering a human cell. The study reported that this type of antibody, produced by people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, does not affect their activities when infected with the new strains.
The study’s claims, however, come with several caveats. The first point is that the study only means a few early results. It was carried out on a specific mutation on the spike protein, called N501Y, which is present in both strains, although it did not include all the mutations of the spike proteins of the strains. This point was also raised by the authors of the study.
Thanks to the spike protein, the virus binds to a host cell and clears its way into the cell. the N501Y mutation is present on the part of the protein that binds to the cell and, therefore, is believed to be crucial.
Additionally, the study, conducted jointly by scientists from the University of Texas and Pfizer, included only 20 participants who were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine.
The team is however reported conduct studies on other mutations and their effects on the vaccine.
ARTHRITIS MEDICINES FOR TREATING SEVERE COVID-19 PATIENTS
Two drugs used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis may be useful in the treatment of severe patients with COVID-19. A clinical trial result has reported that both drugs can save lives
on one in 12 patients in intensive care.
The two drugs are tocilizumab and sarilumab. UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to use tocilizumab to treat severe COVID-19 patients from this week, health officials say said. This was done when a clinical trial showed that treatment with tocilizumab was beneficial in 800 patients, it reduced the risk of death by 24%.
The other drug, sarilumab, had a similar effect, saving the lives of intensive care patients.
These results come from a clinical trial called Remap-Cap (Trandomized integrated multifactorial adaptive platform for community-acquired pneumonia). This trial includes 3,900 patients with COVID-19 in 15 countries. However, the results have not yet been peer reviewed.
The clinical trial randomized patients to whom standard therapy and an intravenous infusion of tocilizumab or sarilumab were administered within 24 hours of being placed on organ support in an intensive care unit. The researchers monitored their health for 21 days. The trial included 800 patients from six different countries.
Professor Peter Horby of the University of Oxford, who is leading the “ Recovery Trial ” project (to evaluate drugs for the treatment of COVID19 patients) but is not involved in the Remap-Cap study, said that the results were encouraging.
Both of these drugs are known to suppress inflammation due to an overreaction of the immune system, which is one of the main reasons for complications from COVID-19.
NEW STRAINS CONTINUE TO SPREAD
The new strains, which emerged in the UK and South Africa, continued to spread. More than 30 countries have reported the presence of variants in new outbreaks. India has also seen an increase in cases of infection with the variant that appeared in the UK; later reports, the number has grown to 96 now.
In addition, the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) said that he found a new strain, which has similarities to the other new strains. In a statement, Japan’s health ministry said the new strain could have accompanied four passengers who arrived in the country from Brazil. NIID also informed WHO of the new strain.
NIID said that the new strain shares some mutations that have already been found in the other two strains. These mutations are linked to the high infectivity of the strains.
However, at this time, all information regarding the new strain is limited to its genetic makeup only. Nothing can be said about its contagiousness and the risk of severity associated with it, etc.