The Daily Dose: WHO soon to approve a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine; Video games and AI’s fruitful marriage.

A bit of possibly welcome news on the COVID-19 vaccine front. It appears that the World Health Organization is poised to approve another vaccine for emergency use. This time, it may be one of China’s vaccines. According to Reuters, “A WHO panel in final stages of review of the Chinese vaccines has said that a decision for at least one could come on April 26, while a second meeting has been planned for May 3, should more time be needed to make a decision on both shots. Such an emergency WHO listing is a prerequisite for purchase by the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility designed to get shots to poorer countries. It also helps guide countries with less developed regulatory systems about a vaccine’s safety and efficacy.” Approval would be a plus for the world.

If anyone was under the impression that COVID-19 drug development was easy, they need look no further than Merck’s unenviable track record. First their vaccine candidates failed to perform. Now they are having troubles with potential antiviral therapies for COVID-19 infection. Per Fierce Biotech, “Merck has disclosed more setbacks to its COVID-19 strategy. Having already pulled out of vaccines, Merck has now stopped developing one medicine in hospitalized patients and given up completely on another drug in COVID-19. The total discontinuation relates to MK-7110, the biological immunomodulator that Merck picked up in its $425 million buyout of OncoImmune late last year. Merck splashed the cash after seeing phase 3 data that offered encouragement that MK-7110 fortifies an innate immune checkpoint against excessive inflammation. Months later, the FDA said Merck would need more data for approval.”

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It’s no secret that diabetes is a serious global NCD problem. New technologies like continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) are revolutionizing maintenance and treatment of the disease. Now, tech companies want a piece of the action and are looking to increase access to CGMs. Per STAT, “Already, clinical CGMs have expanded from their initial patient population: Doctors regularly prescribe them to people who manage their type 2 diabetes with insulin, and sometimes to help type 2 patients tweak their habits and avoid going on medication. Manufacturers are planning for a future in which patients use the devices to both treat and prevent metabolic issues — dramatically increasing their market share. Consumer tech companies are looking for their slice of the pie.”

Clinical trials are important. No doubt. Just as important to clinical trials is the quality of the participants being studied. While there is a lot of health data available on individuals that could make selecting the best individuals easier, there aren’t many ways to analyze the data. Now, a team of researchers have turned to AI in order to solve this problem. “Liu and colleagues address this lack by creating an open-source artificial-intelligence (AI) tool they call Trial Pathfinder. This tool can use EHR data to compare the survival outcomes of individuals who did or did not receive a particular approved drug treatment. Trial emulation such as this can be used to assess the effects of including or omitting eligibility criteria from the original clinical trial (Fig. 1). This offers a way to understand how eligibility criteria can be optimized by assessing the effectiveness of the treatment and the trade-offs between trial inclusiveness and participant safety.”

The marriage between video games and AI continues to bear fruit, sometimes by design and sometimes by accident. First it’s Minecraft. Now, Star Craft. Per Discover magazine, “Writing in Trends in Ecology and Evolution in 2020, Barbe, along with other ecologists from Université de Rennes and Brigham Young University, explain how AlphaStar’s abilities to manage the complex, multidimensional dynamics of StarCraft could be repurposed to test ideas about the dynamics of real-world ecosystems that have flummoxed traditional models. For instance, researchers could deploy AlphaStar agents on StarCraft maps designed to mimic realistic resource distributions, in order to model how different organisms respond to disturbances like invasive species or habitat loss.” Robolox, where are you??

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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