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The Daily Dose: American testing labs buckling amidst shortages; UK to deliberately infect people with COVID-19.

If you were under the impression that the infrastructure that supports the American healthcare system has emerged from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed, think again. The laboratory supply chain that faced unprecedented challenges in March has worsened. Per Fierce Biotech, “According to data collected by the American Society for Microbiology and the Association for Supply Chain Management, about two-thirds of 117 CLIA-certified labs also said they are lacking the supplies necessary for routine bacterial screenings. This has resulted in testing delays for more common illnesses, such as strep throat, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases.” Necessary reagents remain in desperately small supply.

The United Kingdom is embarking on a bold, dangerous, and ultimately questionable type of clinical trial called a human challenge trial. It entails deliberately infecting subjects with COVID-19 in an effort to gain insights normal trials cannot provide. Per Nature, “Young, healthy people will be intentionally exposed to the virus responsible for COVID-19 in a first-of-its kind ‘human challenge trial’, the UK government and a company that runs such studies announced on 20 October. The experiment, set to begin in January in a London hospital if it receives final regulatory and ethical approval, aims to accelerate the development of vaccines that could end the pandemic.” Considering the fact that not enough is understood about the long-term effects of COVID-19 as well as means of transmission, the people running the trial face an uphill battle proving the trial is ethical. Necessity is a different story.

More COVID-19 drug development news out of the UK. Per Reuters, “A second British laboratory is joining a global lab network to assess data from potential coronavirus vaccines, set up by a major non-profit health emergencies group to establish the effectiveness of different vaccine candidates. Earlier this month, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) set up the network, allowing scientists and drugmakers to compare vaccines and speed up selection of the most effective shots.” Global efforts are good. Hopefully, there is something in the contract’s fine print that makes it easier for developing countries to gain access to future vaccines.

The United States appears on the cusp of joining Europe in the Fall COVID-19/Flu season crisis. New infections are spiking for a third time across the country. “As hospitalizations for Covid-19 inch up around the country, some states are readying plans for field hospitals. Communities are delaying reopening plans and even imposing new measures, though some governors remain opposed to additional restrictions. Deaths — currently standing about 220,000 — have not surged again yet, but that might just be a matter of time.” The real question is whether it’s a real second wave as opposed to a continuation of the first wave that was never properly stifled.

There’s been a significant step forward for the Open Access movement. A so-called transformative agreement has been reached between a research institution and the publisher of journals such as Nature. Science reports that the 4-year deal aims to redirect money that the institutes currently spend on subscriptions to supporting OA publication. “The Nature family of journals announced today it has become the first group of highly selective scientific titles to sign an arrangement that will allow researchers to publish articles that are immediately free to read. The deal will allow authors at Germany’s Max Planck research institutes to publish an estimated 400 open-access (OA) papers annually in Nature journals, which have traditionally earned revenues exclusively from subscription fees.” Keep it coming…

The unproven COVID-19 treatment sweepstakes continues to play out in real time. Add Latin America to the growing list. According to Nature, “As much of the world waits for an effective vaccine to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, some in Latin America are turning to an unproven treatment. There isn’t enough evidence that the drug, ivermectin, is safe or effective as a coronavirus therapy, however. So researchers are cautioning against using it outside clinical trials. Still, people in the region have rushed to take it, making it hard for researchers to properly test it.” The trend is obvious to see, unfortunately, so expect more of the same.

NASA is attempting a drive-by with a distant asteroid today. According to Nature, “Some 334 million kilometres from Earth, the agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will approach a dark-coloured, diamond-shaped asteroid named Bennu, with the aim of touching its surface for a few seconds — long enough to hoover up a collection of dust and pebbles. If successful, the spacecraft will then fly this carbon-rich rubble back to Earth, where scientists can probe it for clues to the history of the Solar System.” If the space agency can pull it off, much respect. A move of that much finesse is really incredible.

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