Sunday, January 30, 2022

Super immunity on the horizon

A former CSIRO scientist’s discovery of crossover immunity between an ancestor of Covid-19 and the virus that has plunged the world into a third year of chaos has given rise to a candidate vaccine that could work against all future variants. The pan-Covid jab is set to enter human trials within months.

Linfa Wang, the one-time “batman” of Australian science who traced the path of the deadly Hendra virus from flying foxes, to horses and then people, and who now heads the Singapore government’s Covid research program, calls it a “silver lining” to the death and suffering unleashed by the pandemic.

It was a shaft of hope in an otherwise grim week, as the nation wearily marked the second anniversary of the virus’s onslaught. Nearly 3500 Australians have died to date, with the known number of people infected approaching two million.

Professor Wang, 61, leveraged the experience and dogged determination he used to identify the origin of Hendra virus to get to the bottom of another mystery.

The horse vaccine he helped develop at the CSIRO’s then Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong for the zoonotic disease had also worked on Hendra’s cousin, the Nipah virus.

So why didn’t the neutralising antibodies carried by SARS survivors block the related Covid coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2?

Puzzled, he persuaded the Singapore government to allow him to perform an experiment with people who had contracted SARS during the 2002-04 outbreak. That virus killed 10 per cent of those infected – a much higher fatality rate than Covid-19 – but was sharply less contagious than Covid-19, striking only 8000 people mainly in Southeast Asia.

Professor Wang tested the blood of eight SARS survivors who had received the Pfizer vaccine against a panel of coronaviruses from the sarbecovirus subgroup that gave rise to Covid-19. This included the original Wuhan strain of SARS-CoV-2, its Beta and Delta variants, as well as five bat and pangolin sarbecoviruses.

To his astonishment, the results came back with bells on them: the vaccine had stimulated some of the highest immunity levels he had ever seen to all the sarbecoviruses, including the Covid variants. No such potent and all-encompassing antibody response was detected in blood samples from fully vaccinated individuals not exposed to the original SARS virus, even those who had also contracted Covid-19.

“That really was what people define as a Eureka moment,” Professor Wang told The Weekend Australian. “When I saw the data I just thought, ‘this is too good to believe’.”

He asked an assisting scientist, only half in jest, whether the report had been photoshopped.

“We repeated it and when we got the same data, I said, ‘wow, that’s big’. Against the 10 viruses we did, they were all up there,” he continued, lifting a hand to eye level and chopping the air. “When you give a SARS survivor two doses of the (Covid) vaccine they get this super-immunity. Their neutralising antibodies blocked everything from … Beta, Delta and now Omicron.”

How? Professor Wang said the human immune system was set up to recognise and target specific parts of an invading virus. Omicron emerged with alarming mutations to the spike protein, the needle-like outcrops on the surface of the virus that bind with human cells, allowing the hyper-contagious new variant to evade existing vaccines in some circumstances as well as most monoclonal antibody treatments.

Overlaying the Covid vaccine on the acquired immunity of a SARS survivor supercharged the immune system, forcing it to “go back and go deeper”, he said.

“Basically, you have to trigger the human immune system to work harder by giving it two related viruses that are still substantially different.”

This “opened the door” to what Nobel prize-winning immunologist Peter Doherty calls a consensus vaccine between SARS-1 and SARS-CoV-2 to protect against any future variant Covid might throw out. “This is the silver lining, right, of people dying and the whole world suffering,” Professor Wang said.

Taking advantage of Australia’s reopened international border, he returned last week to Victoria, his home of 25 years, to confer with former colleagues and researchers at Professor Doherty’s eponymous research institute. “We are looking for collaboration. A pandemic is not a national thing, it is an international thing,” Professor Wang said.

The 81-year-old Nobel laureate said the cross-reactive process was something he had looked at, but had been unable to pursue due to technology restraints. “It is a very exciting development,” Professor Doherty said.

Professor Wang’s team at the Emerging Infectious Disease Program at the Duke University-National University of Singapore medical school was one of a number of international research groups in the running. But his had the advantage of ready access to samples from SARS survivors and breakthrough assaying technology that allowed them to test the bloodwork against multiple sarbecoviruses. Animal studies of the candidate vaccine had shown it provided cross-protection in mice and negotiations were advancing with a number of pharmaceutical companies, he said. A phase-1 human safety trial was pencilled in for the coming months.


The Scale of Death Caused by the Suppression of Treatments for Covid-19

The debate about early treatments for covid-19 has been continuing despite all attempts by the corporate media to quash any notion that treatments might work. Mountains of data have been distributed on the internet through alternative sources. This data reveals a shocking indication of the scale of death that has been caused by suppression and censorship.

We know about the wicked suppression of ivermectin. For two years (two years!) and counting our health authorities did nothing to investigate the repurposing of existing treatments for potential use against covid-19. However, some talented doctors around the world didn’t waste any time. From the start, they were looking for ways to treat their patients and began to share their professional observations with colleagues. Discussions between individual doctors led to the formation of the FLCCC (Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance).

In mid-October 2020, Professor Paul E. Marik noticed a data signal indicating that ivermectin could play an important role in the treatment of covid-19. Professor Marik then presented his findings to the FLCCC. At that stage, the other members of the FLCCC were somewhat skeptical - they thought that perhaps Professor Marik might be overstating the case. However, after looking at the data in more detail the FLCCC came around to the idea and one month after Professor Marik’s presentation the FLCCC officially got behind the use of ivermectin.

Professor Marik is board certified in Internal Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, Neurocritical Care and Nutrition Science. For more than a decade Dr. Marik was Professor of Medicine and Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). A position that ended about a week ago due to an ongoing legal battle with Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where Dr. Marik is also the director of the ICU.


What we know about the BA.2 Omicron variant

As newly reported cases of Covid-19 decline in parts of the U.S., researchers around the world are monitoring a new variant of the Omicron variant dubbed BA.2. The variant is under observation by countries including Denmark, India and the U.K., though little is still known about its properties and the threat it may pose.

Here’s what scientists and public-health experts know so far about the BA. 2 variant:

What is the BA. 2 variant of Covid-19?

The BA. 2 variant of Covid-19 is a relation of the widely-spreading original Omicron variant known as BA. 1, according to Theodora Hatziioannou, an associate professor of virology at Rockefeller University.

The two variants arose around the same time and come from the same immediate ancestor strain. They have many mutations in common but there are also around 20 mutations that are different between the two variants. The differences between this variant and BA. 1 can be seen in the spike protein of the virus, Dr. Hatziioannou said.

Viruses mutate all the time and diversification within a variant is normal. The earlier Delta variant comprised more than 200 sublineages before it was replaced by Omicron, according to Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute.

Is the BA. 2 variant in the U. S.? Yes. The BA. 2 variant has been detected in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides estimates of the prevalence of various Covid-19 strains. The CDC’s estimates show that Omicron was likely responsible for 99.9% of Covid-19 infections in the week ending Jan. 22. The CDC said the prevalence of some other variants including BA. 2 was included in the Omicron tally.

Where else in the world has the BA. 2 variant been detected?

At least 40 countries have detected the BA. 2 variant, including the U.K., Denmark, India, Sweden, Singapore and the Philippines. It isn’t possible at this point to determine where the sublineage originated, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency.

The BA. 2 variant may be displacing the BA. 1 in Denmark, said Dr. Hatziioannou. “They’re identifying more and more cases of BA. 2 rather than BA. 1,” she said.

Is BA. 2 a Covid-19 variant of concern?

No. The World Health Organization designated Omicron the fifth “variant of concern” in November based on the risks posed by changes in its makeup and behaviour compared with other versions of the virus, including its increased infectiousness. It hasn’t given BA. 2 any designation, but has urged researchers to closely track and study the variant. Earlier variants of concern included Delta, which drove a wave of cases in the U.S. and elsewhere last summer, and Beta, which like Omicron was first identified in South Africa.

Other variants have remained variants of interest, meaning they have genetic changes that affect the way the virus works, according to the WHO. Lambda and Mu are variants of interest that sickened people in some parts of the world, such as South America, but didn’t outcompete variants including Delta in the U.S. and elsewhere.

What are the symptoms for the BA. 2 variant? Is the BA. 2 variant more severe than the Omicron variant?

It isn’t clear whether the BA. 2 variant behaves in materially different ways than the Omicron variant, which research has shown to be far more infectious than previous strains but also less likely to lead to severe disease in many cases.

In Denmark, one of the countries with high rates of BA. 2, an initial analysis by the government-run State Serum Institute showed no differences in hospitalisation for BA. 2 compared with BA.1.

Though BA. 2 continues to spread in different countries, the CDC said the variant was responsible for a very small share of recent Covid-19 infections compared with other circulating viruses in the U.S. and around the world. “Currently there is no evidence that the BA. 2 lineage is more severe than the BA. 1 lineage. [The] CDC continues to monitor variants that are circulating both domestically and internationally,” said the agency.

How is the BA. 2 variant responding to treatment and vaccinations?

Though it is too early to tell, Dr. Hatziioannou predicts the BA. 2 variant will be as resistant to monoclonal antibodies as BA.1. She said there are only slight differences on the spike protein of BA. 2 compared with BA. 1, leading her to conclude that they are likely to behave similarly. The monoclonal antibody treatment made by GlaxoSmithKline PLC may be effective in treating this variant because it has been successful in treating BA.1. Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. antiviral pills for Covid-19 continue to work against the original Omicron variant and may have similar effects against BA.2.

Researchers predict that there won’t be a significant difference in how vaccines hold up against BA. 2, compared with the original Omicron. Most of the mutation differences between the two variants occur outside areas of the virus that are important for immune recognition. Studies are under way to confirm this.




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