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What effect will lunar new year have on COVID spread in China? Our modelling shows most people have already been infected

There have been concerns that lunar new year may cause the current wave of COVID infections in China to spread much further and faster. But the worst has…

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China stuck rigidly to a zero-COVID policy until December 2022. This included travel restrictions, mass testing and mandatory quarantines. The rapid lifting of this strategy led to a surge of COVID infections across the country.

There have been concerns that the Chinese lunar new year travel in January may cause this wave of COVID to spread much further and faster, with significant numbers of hospital admissions and deaths.

Lunar new year involves hundreds of millions of people travelling across the country, and is considered to be the world’s largest annual migration event.

So how have things been tracking in China, and how will lunar new year trips affect COVID transmission? Our modelling may provide some clues.

This year lunar new year fell on January 22, though population movements for the celebrations began on January 7 and will run until February 15. Domestic travel was expected to peak around January 19.

According to estimates from the Chinese Ministry of Transport, the total number of lunar new year travellers is expected to have increased by 99.5% over the same period in 2022 and returned to 70.3% of what it was in 2019.

Through WorldPop, a research group based at the University of Southampton which maps global population distribution for health and development, we have continued to analyse population movements and their relationship to COVID transmission throughout the pandemic. Our earlier research indicated that lunar new year movements contributed significantly to the initial spread of the virus in January 2020.

This new wave has largely been driven by the omicron sub-lineages BA.5.2 and BF.7. We used an epidemiological model to simulate the transmission of these omicron variants across 339 areas in mainland China from November 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023.


Read more: COVID is running rampant in China – but herd immunity remains elusive


This work has not yet been peer reviewed but our model estimated changes in the number of susceptible, exposed, infectious and recovered or isolated people within each area and their daily movements between areas. We incorporated numerous different sources of data, including intracity and intercity mobility data, vaccine uptake data by province, and COVID-related search index data on the Chinese internet search platform Baidu.

An important element of our model is the R value, which indicates how many people on average one infected person will infect in a susceptible population. We estimated R using reported case information and other data.

We compared the results of our model with online survey data on COVID infections, and we tested different R values and epidemiological parameters to better assess the uncertainties around our estimates.

Past the peak

Baidu searches with the term “fever” showed that most Chinese areas reached a peak in searches around December 20.

Baidu searches for ‘fever’

Changes in the Baidu search index for the term ‘fever’ in 255 Chinese areas relative to the mean level of the search index in August – October 2022.

Based on this and other data, and an R value of 10, further adjusted by intracity mobility data, our model estimated that COVID infections nationwide peaked around December 26 to 28. At that time, roughly 4.2% of the Chinese population were probably infected, as shown in the figure below.

Estimated COVID infections in China

Estimated daily COVID infections in China from November 2022 to February 2023, under different reproduction numbers. The shaded area shows the period of the lunar new year migration.

We also estimated that infections in 76% of areas peaked in December and 21% between January 1 and 10. The remaining 3% would reach the peak after January 10.

By December 31, we believe 73%–79% of all people in China would have been infected in this wave.

Estimated infection peaks by area

Estimated peak date of COVID infections in each area under an R value of 10.

Our estimates under an R value of 10 are consistent with the recent reports released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported that the positive rate of COVID tests peaked between December 22 and 27 across the country. China passed the peaks of fever-related outpatient visits for both rural and urban areas (peaked on December 23), emergency department visits (January 2) and admission of severe cases (January 5).

Our results are also consistent with the findings of recent online surveys on COVID infections conducted in different provinces. For example, the Sichuan CDC in the western province of China reported that the overall infection rate of its residents had exceeded 80% by January 1, with a peak between December 12 and December 23. And Henan province in central China reported that its infection rate was 89% by January 6, after peaking on December 19.

So what about lunar new year?

Since most cities are estimated to have passed the peak of infections before January 10, and the majority of the population has already been infected, we expect the lunar new year travel will have a limited impact on the trajectory of COVID transmission in this wave across the country.

Of course, there may be subsequent waves of infections, for example in summer, due to waning immunity and the possible emergence of new variants.


Read more: COVID: what we know about new omicron variant BF.7


We intend to refine our analysis with the latest data and publish a full report setting out our research in the coming weeks. But it’s important to note that at this stage, this work has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Whatever the precise estimates this and other models generate, it’s clear there are significant risks of severe disease and death among vulnerable groups such as the elderly. There’s also high pressure on health services, and relatively inadequate healthcare resources in rural areas. Measures like increased vaccine uptake in older people will be vital to ensuring the impact of COVID in China is reduced in future waves.

Shengjie Lai receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the EU H2020, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. We collaborated with the School of Population Medicine and Public Health at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in this study. The authors thank Dr Michael Head for providing insightful comments to improve this study and report.

Andrew J Tatem receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the EU Horizon 2020 program and the National Institutes of Health.

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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