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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

September 7, 2021 by Anna Kovacevich

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Pfizer and Merck have both announced the launch of trials for their oral antiviral candidates to combat COVID-19, the companies stated separately last week. Pfizer’s phase 2/3 trial will enroll non-hospitalized, low-risk adults who have tested positive for COVID-19 to evaluate its pill, PF-07321332, alongside a low dose of ritonavir, a medication widely used in combination treatments for HIV. The antiviral treatment is designed to block the activity of a key enzyme that is needed for the coronavirus to multiply. Merck’s trial will enroll adults who live in the same household as someone diagnosed with symptomatic coronavirus infection to evaluate molnupiravir for the prevention of COVID-19. A separate trial is underway to test the drug’s use in treating non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Molnupiravir is designed to introduce errors into the RNA of the virus that eventually prevent it from replicating.

A phase 3 trial for SK Bioscience and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) COVID-19 vaccine began last week, seeking to enroll around 4,000 people around the world. In phase 1/2 data, the adjuvanted vaccine candidate induced strong neutralizing antibody responses to COVID-19. The phase 3 trial will compare results of the vaccine candidate against those of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, making it one of the first global phase 3 trials to actively evaluate two different COVID-19 vaccine candidates against each other for safety and immunogenicity. Results from the trial are expected in the first half of 2022, and SK Bioscience, GSK, and supporting partners hope to begin supply of the vaccine through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility in that same period, depending on data and regulatory review.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Germany last week launched a pandemic intelligence hub to help governments identify future pandemics at an earlier stage and improve monitoring of new variant strains of COVID-19. The hub, based in Berlin, is designed to streamline global data-sharing by making it easier for governments to compare notes on emerging infectious diseases and pull in additional relevant information on travel patterns, trade routes, or human-animal interactions in agriculture. While governments and non-governmental organizations are collecting more and more information relevant to public health, databases rarely allow easy international comparisons, according to WHO. Improving global tracking of COVID-19 variants via genome sequencing is likely to be the new hub’s initial priority.

About the author

Anna KovacevichGHTC

Anna supports communications activities and member coordination for GHTC. Her portfolio includes the development and dissemination of the coalition’s communications materials and digital outreach, facilitating engagement and outreach to coalition members, and supporting all more about this author