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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

January 11, 2021 by Anna Kovacevich

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The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) ACTIV-2 clinical trial has begun testing two monoclonal antibody therapies for treatment of mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. ACTIV-2, part of NIAID’s Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) program, was established in August to test investigational COVID-19 therapeutics, including Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody treatment LY-CoV555, which was subsequently granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration for a subset of mild to moderate COVID-19 patients. The recently begun trials will test BRII-196 and BRII-198, both monoclonal antibody therapies developed by Brii Biosciences that use synthetic versions of naturally produced antibodies to bind to viruses and prevent them from infecting cells. The study will begin with 220 participants, half of which will receive the treatment through intravenous infusions while the other half receive placebos.

Convalescent plasma from patients previously infected with COVID-19 may delay or stop progression of illness in mildly ill older adults, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The data comes from a small randomized, controlled, and double-blind trial conducted by Fundacion INFANT in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which tested the effects of infusing convalescent plasma in older adults. Among 80 patients given convalescent plasma, 16 percent developed severe COVID-19, compared with 31 percent of the population given a placebo. In a modified analysis, results showed a larger effect after excluding a subset of patients who developed severe illness before plasma or placebo infusion. Authors of the study hope the treatment—which they say is relatively easy to access and administer at low costs—can be used to reduce demands on health care systems.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine appears effective against a key mutation found in new variants of the virus discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa, according to a not yet peer-reviewed laboratory study conducted by Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch. The study tested the vaccine against the N501Y spike protein mutation found in both new variants of COVID-19, which could be responsible for greater virus transmissibility. Blood samples from individuals who have received the vaccine indicated it is effective against the mutation—along with 15 other mutations the company has previously tested the vaccine against—but the findings remain limited, as the study has yet to address the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants. Researchers plan to continue running tests against other mutations found in both variants and hope to have more data in upcoming weeks.

About the author

Anna KovacevichGHTC

Anna Kovacevich is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.