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Preventing the next pandemic: Supporting early-stage R&D

In the second of a three-part series, Ben Hargreaves looks at the importance of early-stage research into various
The post Preventing the next pandemic:…



In the second of a three-part series, Ben Hargreaves looks at the importance of early-stage research into various emerging infectious disease threats and how it saved precious time in the work to develop a working vaccine during the current pandemic.

When COVID-19 first emerged, scientists cautioned that developing an effective and safe vaccine could take longer than the commonly estimated figure of a year. The reason for the caution was that the previous quickest turnaround of a vaccine was for mumps in the 1960s, when development lasted four years. There were plenty of reasons to be cautious about the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine; a previous attempt to develop a vaccine against a different type of coronavirus actually increased cats’ risk of developing the disease.

However, even though the development time for vaccines against the current pandemic were incredibly short, the work going into their creation had been ongoing for a number of years. Thanks to early-stage R&D carried out by university researchers and biotechs, once massive funding was injected into the process and the international scientific community united to aid the process, the vaccines were developed rapidly.

Building blocks

The major research breakthrough that occurred on the search for a vaccine against COVID-19 came through the development of mRNA vaccines, both Pfizer’s collaboration with BioNTech and Moderna. Research into mRNA technology has a relatively recent history: Although preliminary research dates back to mRNA’s discovery in the 1960s, the first attempt at utilizing the discovery for treatment was recorded in the 1990s.

This led both BioNTech and Moderna to attempt to harness the potential of this technology for use as vaccines. Once the pandemic hit, Moderna teamed up with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to co-develop the former’s vaccine. The institute also led and funded early-stage clinical research into the vaccine candidate. Both mRNA vaccines also relied on prior research that highlighted the efficacy of encoding for the spike protein, which creates an improved vaccine antigen.

Outside of mRNA technology, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine came through a collaboration with Oxford University, following two decades of research into chimpanzee adenovirus-vectored vaccine technology. The work at the university was carried out by the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group, with the former already having worked on an adenovirus-based vaccine against Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  As development began on a potential COVID-19 vaccine, the foundation had already been established – with a chimpanzee adenovirus vector having been previously tested against MERS, where it had proved to be safe and to generate an immune response.

Identifying the threat

The current pandemic clearly highlighted the importance of establishing a foundation of research on both vaccine technology and against potential infectious disease threats. To prepare for the next potential pandemic, the same approach will have to be applied but with a greater urgency. However, the challenges to ensuring that the world is prepared for the next infectious threat are varied. For one, it is extremely difficult to know where the next threat will emerge from, as they can emerge anywhere in the world where animals and humans live in close proximity, as pathogens pass from one species to another. In cases where humans do not have a natural defence mechanism due to lack prior of exposure, this can cause an outbreak within a specific geographic region, such as in Ebola’s emergence, or it can cause a pandemic.

The NIAID has published a comprehensive list of ‘emerging infectious diseases/pathogens’ that has been created as part of its ‘biodefense’ agenda, within which are the naturally occurring threats that are considered most likely to possess pandemic potential. A recently published paper identified within this lists three viruses that were deemed the most likely to cause another outbreak: coronavirus, influenza virus, and Ebola virus disease.

Research defence

The positives are that the scientific community already has an established research basis on each of these viruses. With the basis there, there have been biotechs that have continued to work on developing treatments and vaccines in the infectious disease space prior to the current pandemic.

One such company is Vir Biotechnology, which has a pipeline of antibodies and siRNA therapeutics against COVID-19, hepatitis B and D, influenza, and HIV. The biotech is partnered with GSK to provide a monoclonal antibody (mAb) as a treatment for COVID-19. A spokesperson for the biotech told pharmaphorum, “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the value of mAbs, which may provide immediate protection during the months required for vaccines to be developed or for individuals to mount a response.”

The spokesperson outlined that this ‘treatment as prevention’ approach has been used in HIV and could potentially be used as a control measure for influenza. When asked specifically on the risk of a future pandemic, a spokesperson stated that though there was a rapid response to the current pandemic, “we can be better and be faster.”

“To be prepared for future pandemics, governments should invest in stockpiled prophylactic and therapeutic tools that recognise a wide range of viral diversity for the top pandemic threats so they can be deployed at the outset of an outbreak and before they evolve into pandemics,” the spokesperson added.

An early test

A good example of how future pandemics could play out is being seen by the threat posed by monkeypox. The WHO released a statement at the beginning of this month outlining that cases of the infectious disease had tripled in the European region over a period of two weeks, with the organisation warning that there was “no room for complacency” in response to the threat.

Immediately after cases started appearing, countries began stockpiling treatments and vaccine developers turned their attention to either developing or advancing monkeypox vaccines. Unlike in the case of COVID-19, there are already two approved vaccines for preventing monkeypox infection, though these were developed to prevent smallpox rather than specifically against monkeypox. As a result, companies such as Moderna quickly launched efforts to develop a targeted monkeypox vaccine.

Now that the world has recognised the threat posed by a pandemic situation, the impetus to quickly work on vaccine development and to support existing vaccines or treatments, through stockpiling or increased funding, will have to be maintained as further potential threats are raised. More than simply reacting, the key to a quick response will be to ensure that R&D and early clinical work against a variety of threats is comprehensively funded, especially where work is being undertaken against those threats considered to have potential to reach pandemic levels.

To read the first article in this three-part series, click here.

The post Preventing the next pandemic: Supporting early-stage R&D appeared first on .

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Angry Shouting Aside, Here’s What Biden Is Running On

Angry Shouting Aside, Here’s What Biden Is Running On

Last night, Joe Biden gave an extremely dark, threatening, angry State of the Union…



Angry Shouting Aside, Here's What Biden Is Running On

Last night, Joe Biden gave an extremely dark, threatening, angry State of the Union address - in which he insisted that the American economy is doing better than ever, blamed inflation on 'corporate greed,' and warned that Donald Trump poses an existential threat to the republic.

But in between the angry rhetoric, he also laid out his 2024 election platform - for which additional details will be released on March 11, when the White House sends its proposed budget to Congress.

To that end, Goldman Sachs' Alec Phillips and Tim Krupa have summarized the key points:


While railing against billionaires (nothing new there), Biden repeated the claim that anyone making under $400,000 per year won't see an increase in their taxes.  He also proposed a 21% corporate minimum tax, up from 15% on book income outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), as well as raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% (which would promptly be passed along to consumers in the form of more inflation). Goldman notes that "Congress is unlikely to consider any of these proposals this year, they would only come into play in a second Biden term, if Democrats also won House and Senate majorities."

Biden also called on Congress to restore the pandemic-era child tax credit.


Instead of simply passing a slew of border security Executive Orders like the Trump ones he shredded on day one, Biden repeated the lie that Congress 'needs to act' before he can (translation: send money to Ukraine or the US border will continue to be a sieve).

As immigration comes into even greater focus heading into the election, we continue to expect the Administration to tighten policy (e.g., immigration has surged 20pp the last 7 months to first place with 28% in Gallup’s “most important problem” survey). As such, we estimate the foreign-born contribution to monthly labor force growth will moderate from 110k/month in 2023 to around 70-90k/month in 2024. -GS


Biden, with House Speaker Mike Johnson doing his best impression of a bobble-head, urged Congress to pass additional assistance for Ukraine based entirely on the premise that Russia 'won't stop' there (and would what, trigger article 5 and WW3 no matter what?), despite the fact that Putin explicitly told Tucker Carlson he has no further ambitions, and in fact seeks a settlement.

As Goldman estimates, "While there is still a clear chance that such a deal could come together, for now there is no clear path forward for Ukraine aid in Congress."


Biden, forgetting about all the aggressive tariffs, suggested that Trump had been soft on China, and that he will stand up "against China's unfair economic practices" and "for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."


Lastly, Biden proposed to expand drug price negotiations to 50 additional drugs each year (an increase from 20 outlined in the IRA), which Goldman said would likely require bipartisan support "even if Democrats controlled Congress and the White House," as such policies would likely be ineligible for the budget "reconciliation" process which has been used in previous years to pass the IRA and other major fiscal party when Congressional margins are just too thin.

So there you have it. With no actual accomplishments to speak of, Biden can only attack Trump, lie, and make empty promises.

Tyler Durden Fri, 03/08/2024 - 18:00

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United Airlines adds new flights to faraway destinations

The airline said that it has been working hard to "find hidden gem destinations."



Since countries started opening up after the pandemic in 2021 and 2022, airlines have been seeing demand soar not just for major global cities and popular routes but also for farther-away destinations.

Numerous reports, including a recent TripAdvisor survey of trending destinations, showed that there has been a rise in U.S. traveler interest in Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and Vietnam as well as growing tourism traction in off-the-beaten-path European countries such as Slovenia, Estonia and Montenegro.

Related: 'No more flying for you': Travel agency sounds alarm over risk of 'carbon passports'

As a result, airlines have been looking at their networks to include more faraway destinations as well as smaller cities that are growing increasingly popular with tourists and may not be served by their competitors.

The Philippines has been popular among tourists in recent years.


United brings back more routes, says it is committed to 'finding hidden gems'

This week, United Airlines  (UAL)  announced that it will be launching a new route from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Morocco's Marrakesh. While it is only the country's fourth-largest city, Marrakesh is a particularly popular place for tourists to seek out the sights and experiences that many associate with the country — colorful souks, gardens with ornate architecture and mosques from the Moorish period.

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"We have consistently been ahead of the curve in finding hidden gem destinations for our customers to explore and remain committed to providing the most unique slate of travel options for their adventures abroad," United's SVP of Global Network Planning Patrick Quayle, said in a press statement.

The new route will launch on Oct. 24 and take place three times a week on a Boeing 767-300ER  (BA)  plane that is equipped with 46 Polaris business class and 22 Premium Plus seats. The plane choice was a way to reach a luxury customer customer looking to start their holiday in Marrakesh in the plane.

Along with the new Morocco route, United is also launching a flight between Houston (IAH) and Colombia's Medellín on Oct. 27 as well as a route between Tokyo and Cebu in the Philippines on July 31 — the latter is known as a "fifth freedom" flight in which the airline flies to the larger hub from the mainland U.S. and then goes on to smaller Asian city popular with tourists after some travelers get off (and others get on) in Tokyo.

United's network expansion includes new 'fifth freedom' flight

In the fall of 2023, United became the first U.S. airline to fly to the Philippines with a new Manila-San Francisco flight. It has expanded its service to Asia from different U.S. cities earlier last year. Cebu has been on its radar amid growing tourist interest in the region known for marine parks, rainforests and Spanish-style architecture.

With the summer coming up, United also announced that it plans to run its current flights to Hong Kong, Seoul, and Portugal's Porto more frequently at different points of the week and reach four weekly flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai by August 29.

"This is your normal, exciting network planning team back in action," Quayle told travel website The Points Guy of the airline's plans for the new routes.

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Walmart launches clever answer to Target’s new membership program

The retail superstore is adding a new feature to its Walmart+ plan — and customers will be happy.



It's just been a few days since Target  (TGT)  launched its new Target Circle 360 paid membership plan. 

The plan offers free and fast shipping on many products to customers, initially for $49 a year and then $99 after the initial promotional signup period. It promises to be a success, since many Target customers are loyal to the brand and will go out of their way to shop at one instead of at its two larger peers, Walmart and Amazon.

Related: Walmart makes a major price cut that will delight customers

And stop us if this sounds familiar: Target will rely on its more than 2,000 stores to act as fulfillment hubs. 

This model is a proven winner; Walmart also uses its more than 4,600 stores as fulfillment and shipping locations to get orders to customers as soon as possible.

Sometimes, this means shipping goods from the nearest warehouse. But if a desired product is in-store and closer to a customer, it reduces miles on the road and delivery time. It's a kind of logistical magic that makes any efficiency lover's (or retail nerd's) heart go pitter patter. 

Walmart rolls out answer to Target's new membership tier

Walmart has certainly had more time than Target to develop and work out the kinks in Walmart+. It first launched the paid membership in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, when many shoppers sheltered at home but still required many staples they might ordinarily pick up at a Walmart, like cleaning supplies, personal-care products, pantry goods and, of course, toilet paper. 

It also undercut Amazon  (AMZN)  Prime, which costs customers $139 a year for free and fast shipping (plus several other benefits including access to its streaming service, Amazon Prime Video). 

Walmart+ costs $98 a year, which also gets you free and speedy delivery, plus access to a Paramount+ streaming subscription, fuel savings, and more. 

An employee at a Merida, Mexico, Walmart. (Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images

If that's not enough to tempt you, however, Walmart+ just added a new benefit to its membership program, ostensibly to compete directly with something Target now has: ultrafast delivery. 

Target Circle 360 particularly attracts customers with free same-day delivery for select orders over $35 and as little as one-hour delivery on select items. Target executes this through its Shipt subsidiary.

We've seen this lightning-fast delivery speed only in snippets from Amazon, the king of delivery efficiency. Who better to take on Target, though, than Walmart, which is using a similar store-as-fulfillment-center model? 

"Walmart is stepping up to save our customers even more time with our latest delivery offering: Express On-Demand Early Morning Delivery," Walmart said in a statement, just a day after Target Circle 360 launched. "Starting at 6 a.m., earlier than ever before, customers can enjoy the convenience of On-Demand delivery."

Walmart  (WMT)  clearly sees consumers' desire for near-instant delivery, which obviously saves time and trips to the store. Rather than waiting a day for your order to show up, it might be on your doorstep when you wake up. 

Consumers also tend to spend more money when they shop online, and they remain stickier as paying annual members. So, to a growing number of retail giants, almost instant gratification like this seems like something worth striving for.

Related: Veteran fund manager picks favorite stocks for 2024

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