DAILY DOSE: Moderna vaccine holds up against Omicron; Consciousness and brain organoids.


Here’s an injection of some positive news during a time when the pandemic continues to feel darker and darker. This morsel comes from the vaccine space. Per the Associated Press, “Moderna said lab tests showed the half-dose booster shot increased by 37 times the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies able to fight omicron. And a full-dose booster was even stronger, triggering an 83-fold jump in antibody levels, although with an increase in the usual side effects, the company said. While half-dose shots are being used for most Moderna boosters, a full-dose third shot has been recommended for people with weakened immune systems.” https://bit.ly/3pdv7Lu


2021 has been rough on everyone when it comes to the workplace. The absence of certainty and consistent guidance has turned returning to work and carrying out work-related responsibilities challenging. The scientific research field has been affected as much as any other. An article in Nature looked back at how things panned out during 2021. It discusses employment prospects, funding and evaluation, publishing and politics, diversity, equity and inclusion, and mental health. Personally, I’m really glad to have most of 2021 in the rearview and am willing to bet I’m not alone in that sentiment. https://go.nature.com/3mmQatc


In yet another example of a failed clinical trial showing that drug development is anything but a slam dunk, Novartis’ quest to bring a successor to Xolair to market has suffered a setback. Per FierceBiotech, “Novartis’ attempt to establish ligelizumab as the successor to its blockbuster Xolair has hit a roadblock. The new molecule failed to better the old stager in a phase 3 clinical trial, leaving Novartis uncertain of its next steps for the program. Ligelizumab, a high-affinity anti-IgE antibody, beat placebo in the two phase 3 clinical trials of patients with the skin condition chronic spontaneous urticaria. However, the drug was no better than Xolair on a urticaria scoring system. Novartis is yet to share data from the study, but the headline failure is a major blow for a drug designed to take up the mantle from the Roche-partnered Xolair.” The cost of failed clinical trials, especially at later stages, is often cited as a major factor in pharmaceutical companies’ extravagant drug pricing. https://bit.ly/3J7D9NG


A report in MMRW examines deaths from illicitly manufactured fentanyl on American drug users between 2019 – 2020. Their findings pretty much align with anecdotal evidence regarding the effects of the drug often hidden in heroin. According to the paper’s authors, “This report highlights four main findings regarding IMF-involved deaths: 1) deaths increased sharply in midwestern, southern, and western jurisdictions during 2019–2020; 2) approximately four in 10 deaths also involved stimulants; 3) approximately one half of decedents had no pulse when first responders arrived; and 4) evidence of injection was the most frequently documented route of drug use, but substantial percentages of deaths likely involved other routes, especially in the West. Rapid increases in IMF-involved deaths during 2019–2020, which accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, suggest increases in IMF distribution and exposure, consistent with law enforcement drug supply data (8), with evidence of plateauing of IMF-involved deaths only in the Northeast. Lower but increasing percentages of IMF-involved overdoses in southern and western jurisdictions, versus high percentages in northeastern and midwestern jurisdictions, and increases in IMF supply during 2020 (8) raise concerns about the potential for continued increases in IMF-involved deaths in jurisdictions in these regions.” https://bit.ly/33MjQJJ


Consciousness is a big thing in the brain research world. To be fair, it’s something that even non-neurologists are fascinated by and has been speculated on. A recent consciousness tangent that has arisen as a result of advances in scientific technology revolves around brain organoids which are grown in labs. Per Wired, “A big question that looms large as this research continues into 2022 is whether brain organoids can be ‘conscious.’ After all, they are made out of the same basic material as human brains—neurons—rather than the silicon logic gates of AI. There are already intriguing signs that some building blocks may be in place. In 2019, Hideya Sakaguchi and her colleagues at the University of Kyoto showed distinctive ‘spiking’ activity in neural networks derived from organoids. Even more strikingly, Alysson Muotri and his team at UC San Diego have found that brain organoids show waves of coordinated electrical activity, not unlike the patterns seen in human infant brains before birth.” And here we are, worried about the AI apocalypse when the manufactured brain apocalypse is right around the corner. https://bit.ly/3pdnWD5

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

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