U.S. health officials raise concerns about the company’s latest efficacy data

In a highly unusual move, a U.S. health agency raised concerns on Tuesday that AstraZeneca had not provided the most current data about its Covid-19 vaccine in a press release it issued Monday.

In the release, which garnered excitement from public health experts, the company said its vaccine was 79% effective at preventing Covid-19 symptoms and 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death in a large trial of more than 32,000 participants in the United States. Five people enrolled in the trial developed severe illness, all in the placebo group.

But the true efficacy might actually be lower than that…


Reengineering Life

The resulting crop could be more sustainable than current varieties

Reengineering Life is a column from Future Human about the ways humans are using biology to reprogram our bodies and the world around us.

Thanks to selective breeding over the course of some 9,000 years, humans were able to transform an ancient wild grass with dinky cobs and a handful of kernels into the sweet, juicy corn we know today.

More recently, scientists have used genetic engineering to further transform the crop, resulting in pest-resistant corn. Now, researchers think gene editing — which is far more precise than traditional genetic engineering — could improve corn even more. …


It would provide a first-line defense against the virus

Covid-19 vaccines are incredibly good at preventing severe symptoms and hospitalization, but they’re probably less effective at stopping transmission. To do that, we might need a different kind of vaccine altogether.

Because SARS-CoV-2 is mainly transmitted through droplets and airborne aerosols, some scientists reason that a vaccine should provide first-line protection where the virus typically enters the body — the nose. A Covid-19 vaccine that’s sprayed into the nose may not only prevent people from getting sick in the first place but also stop them from spreading the virus to others.

“When you get Covid-19, you don’t get injected with…


Reengineering Life

The research reignites a debate over embryo research

Reengineering Life is a column from Future Human about the ways humans are using biology to reprogram our bodies and the world around us.

Under a microscope, the little balls of cells look like five-day-old human embryos, known as blastocysts. They’re similar in size, shape, and structure. They even have the three distinct cell types that exist in real blastocysts — the kind that forms the embryo itself, another that makes the placenta, and a third type that gives rise to the sac in which the embryo will develop.

But there’s one key difference between these embryo look-alikes and natural…


Pandemic Reflections

After we settle into a new normal, we shouldn’t forget the lessons of the past year

As I look back on the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I can’t help but wonder why many of us weren’t more unsettled at the start of it all.

In early January 2020, my editor messaged me about the reports of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness out of Wuhan, China. As a science journalist, I’m careful to avoid hype in my writing. I wondered if I’d do more harm than good reporting on the outbreak. But my editor had been a foreign correspondent for TIME magazine in China when SARS was first identified in late 2002. He had reason to be…


One company is trying to get ahead of the mutating virus

When the pandemic first hit, drugmakers raced to find a Covid-19 treatment in the blood of people who had recovered from the virus. They were looking for antibodies — special immune cells that the body makes in response to an infection — capable of neutralizing the virus.

Many scientists thought these antibodies represented the best shot at treating Covid-19 patients. Companies including Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, and Regeneron identified several of these antibodies, brewed up concentrated versions of them, and quickly began testing them in clinical trials last year. …


Everything you need to know about the experimental drug molnupiravir

Vaccines are being rolled out across the country, but many are still at risk of infection with Covid-19. Though there are no drugs available to take at home yet, a pill for the coronavirus may be on the horizon.

An experimental drug meant to reduce the length of illness is showing promise in a small trial. If it works, doctors could soon prescribe it to people who get sick with the coronavirus, like they do with Tamiflu for seasonal flu.

The pill, which is being developed by Miami-based biotech firm Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and the drug giant Merck, is an antiviral…


Reengineering Life

A gene therapy injection eliminated pain in mice

Reengineering Life is a column from Future Human about the ways humans are using biology to reprogram our bodies and the world around us.

In 2006, scientists described the curious case of a Pakistani boy who seemed immune to pain. The 10-year-old street performer amazed audiences by walking on burning coals and stabbing himself with knives without flinching.

His resistance to pain later led him to jump off a building to impress his friends. Tragically, he died from the resulting injuries. He had just turned 14.

Several of the boy’s relatives had never experienced pain either. When researchers collected samples…


T-cell vaccines involve a different kind of immune response

As the coronavirus mutates, a central question is whether our current vaccines will still be effective against emerging variants of the virus that are cropping up around the world. Some scientists are trying to get ahead of a changing coronavirus and build vaccines that would be virtually variant-proof.

The current Covid-19 vaccines in use — and the vast majority of those in development — are designed to spur neutralizing antibodies against the spike protein. This protein sits on the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to gain entry into our cells.

But as SARS-CoV-2 evolves, so too could the…


An early analysis shows that it helps prevent asymptomatic cases

We know that Moderna, Pfizer, and now Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against preventing severe disease and hospitalizations. That’s a major win for public health and our strained health care system. But one of the biggest lingering questions about these vaccines is whether they also prevent people from spreading the virus to others.

You might be surprised to know that vaccines can prevent people from getting sick but may not actually stop them from getting infected. This is because some viral particles may still slip past our immune defenses.

It’s likely that Covid-19 vaccines will reduce the…

Emily Mullin

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.

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