Moderna Announces Promising Coronavirus Vaccine Trials
The promising results are from Phase 1 of a clinical trial led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They have not been peer reviewed, and the vaccine now has to pass on to further tests of more people. But Moderna chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks told CNN that, if those studies go well, it could be ready by January 2021.
"This is absolutely good news and news that we think many have been waiting for for quite some time," Zaks said.
Summary of our SARS-CoV-2 #vaccine (mRNA-1273) interim Phase 1 data. Read more: https://t.co/aIq34ullAh #mRNA https://t.co/BVbYuWTkOy— Moderna (@Moderna)1589805945.0
The trial tested 45 people aged 18 to 55, according to Moderna and CNBC. Three groups of 15 received either a 25, 100 or 250 microgram dose two times, around 28 days apart. Participants who received the lowest dose produced antibodies comparable to those produced by people who recover from the virus, while those who received the medium dose produced substantially more antibodies than recovered COVID-19 patients.
What's more, the first eight participants to receive the low and medium doses produced neutralizing antibodies at levels comparable to people who have recovered from COVID-19. These are the kinds of antibodies that actually bind the virus and stop it from attacking other cells, CNN explained.
Data on neutralizing antibodies for the rest of the participants and any data for the highest dose was not yet available, according to CNBC.
So far, reported side effects have been mild. One of the volunteers in the low and medium dose groups experienced redness and soreness at the injection site on their arm, The New York Times reported. In the high dose group, three participants experienced headaches, muscle aches and fevers that dissipated after a day. However, Zaks said the high dose would no longer be studied. This has less to do with its side effects than the fact that it is not needed to stimulate an immune response.
"The lower the dose, the more vaccine we'll be able to make," Zaks told The New York Times. "Demand is going to far outstrip supply so I think there is an ethical obligation to go with the lowest dose you can so you can make as much vaccine as possible."
Moderna's vaccine is one of more than 100 in development and one of eight being tested on humans, but it is the first to release data on a human trial, according to CNBC. It is necessary to develop multiple vaccines, The New York Times explained, because global demand is likely to far exceed what any one company can produce.
So far, the new coronavirus has sickened more than 4.8 million people worldwide and killed 318,833, according to Tuesday morning figures from Johns Hopkins University. It has also caused global economic fallout as countries around the world have locked down to prevent its spread, and news of the vaccine helped Wall Street to have its best day in weeks Monday, according to The New York Times.
The Moderna vaccine, officially called mRNA-1273, uses genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA). The New York Times explained how it works:
The idea behind Moderna's vaccine is to inject the mRNA for part of the spike protein and have it slip into the cells of a healthy person, which then follow its instruction and crank out the viral protein. That protein should act as a red flag for the immune system, stimulating it to produce antibodies that will prevent infection by blocking the action of the spike if the person is exposed to the virus.
Moderna has several mRNA vaccines in development, but none have yet gone on the market.
However, there is a broader question of how useful any vaccine will be against the new coronavirus, since scientists don't yet know if a person who recovers from the virus is immune from getting it again, and therefore whether a vaccine will work.
"[T]he truth is, we don't know that yet," Zaks told CNN. "We are going to have to conduct formal efficacy trials where you vaccinate many, many people, and then you monitor them in the ensuing months to make sure they don't get sick."
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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