BARDA awards Project Next Gen funding for antibody treatments for COVID, other viruses

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ModeX Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company based in Massachusetts, recently announced that it received a contract worth up to $168 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to advance a platform and candidates for antibody treatments against a range of viral diseases.

covid antibodies
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In a statement, the company said the funding from BARDA, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), will advance the development and testing of its proprietary MSTAR, a plug-and-play platform for developing therapies against emerging viral threats.

The SARS-CoV-2 program is supported by HHS' Project Next Gen, which is intended to expand the pipeline of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The first phase of the contract provides an initial $59 million to develop and advance to phase 1 clinical trials of a broadly protective antibody to prevent and treat infection with known SAR-CoV-2 variants.

Also, the deal comes with $109 million in possible additional funding if the company meets other milestones, such as developing an antibody treatment for influenza. The contract also covers research work on gene-based delivery methods for antibodies using mRNA or DNA vectors that work with the body's protein-production process.

Study: 1 in 20 Americans used non-evidence-based COVID treatments

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A new survey in JAMA Health Forum of 13,438 US respondents shows 6% reported using either ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine to self-treat COVID-19 infections, despite no evidence either drug works to treat the virus.

The study was conducted between December 22, 2022, and January 16, 2023, and the average age of respondents was 42.7 years, and 68.1% were women.

Among respondents, 799 (5.9%) reported prior use of hydroxychloroquine (527 [3.9%]) or ivermectin (440 [3.3%]), two therapies discussed in the first months of the pandemic as possible treatments for the virus, but later dismissed in a number of clinical trials. Despite the lack of evidence, the treatments gained popularity among Americans who were more likely to question the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

As the survey included questions about political beliefs, the authors were able to show that those who endorsed at least one item of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation were more likely to receive non–evidence-based medication (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 2.86; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.28 to 3.58).

The potential harms of misinformation may extend to the use of ineffective and potentially toxic treatments.

Trust in physicians and science was associated with not using the treatments, (OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.56 to 0.98) but greater likelihood of receiving antiviral treatment (OR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.11 to 2.14).

"These results suggest that the potential harms of misinformation may extend to the use of ineffective and potentially toxic treatments in addition to avoidance of health-promoting behaviors," the authors concluded.

USDA bars poultry imports from France due to avian flu vaccination issues

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The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on September 29 announced that it has restricted the import of poultry from France and its European Union trading partners following France's decision to vaccinate meat ducks against highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

mixed duck flock
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APHIS said vaccination poses a risk of introducing HPAI into the United States. Vaccinated birds may not show any signs of disease but can harbor the virus, a situation that can mask the spread of the virus. The United States doesn't allow poultry imports from countries affected by HPAI or from flocks that have been vaccinated against HPAI.

The restrictions against French poultry took effect October 1 and also include live ducks, duck eggs, and unmitigated duck products from France's trading partners. With the way poultry is traded and marketed in the European Union and related countries, APHIS can't ensure that the exports don't originate from countries vaccinating against HPAI.

APHIS said its discussions with the European Commission about HPAI vaccination programs in the European Union are ongoing.

Due to major poultry losses, especially due to the H5N1 clade, the European Union in 2022 backed a plan to introduce vaccination in poultry, starting with France, with a campaign slated to begin this fall. Some countries, such as China, routinely vaccinate poultry against HPAI, but most countries have held back due to possibility that use of the vaccine could mask ongoing circulation. The vaccine would also add extra cost to the price of production. However, the burden of recent H5N1 outbreaks has caused countries to reconsider, and the USDA is currently evaluating vaccines in research trials.

33 new cases in pet turtle-linked Salmonella outbreak

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its information on a Salmonella outbreak linked to pet turtles, which includes 33 new cases and 7 more affected states. There are now 59 illnesses and 23 hospitalizations in an outbreak affecting 18 states. No deaths have been reported.

Pennsylvania has 10 cases, Tennessee has 7, and California has 6. Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 27, 2022, to August 26, 2023. The median age of cases is 7, and 39% are under the age of 5.

"State and local public health officials interviewed people about the animals they had contact with in the week before they got sick," the CDC said. "Of the 46 people who provided this information, 33 (72%) reported contact with pet turtles. Of the 26 people who reported the size of the pet turtle, 26 (100%) reported contact with pet turtles with shells less than 4 inches long."

Selling pet turtles less than 4 inches long is federally banned as the animals are linked to a number of infections. But the animals are relatively easily to obtain online, or at some pet shops.

The CDC urges people to always wash their hands after handling pet turtles, only buy turtles larger than 4 inches, and avoid kissing the turtles.

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