Biodefense Headlines – 14 March 2021

 In Threats

News highlights on health security threats and countermeasures curated by Global Biodefense

This week’s selections include turning to the BWC as a framework for international pandemic mitigation; Ebola’s ability to hide in the body for years; and the national security realities of offshoring most biopharma manufacturing.

POLICY + INITIATIVES

Ready or Not 2021: Protecting the Public’s Health Against Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism

This report measured states’ performance on 10 key emergency preparedness indicators placing 20 states and the District of Columbia in a high level of preparedness tier, 15 states in a middle preparation tier and 15 states in a low degree of preparation tier. The report analysis found room for improvement in every jurisdiction. Trust for America’s Health

Could the Bioweapons Treaty Be Another Tool for Addressing Pandemics?

In light of COVID-19, perhaps now is the right time to revisit the 46-year-old treaty Biological Weapons Convention and make it a better tool against future biological threats, including both deliberate biological attacks and pandemics. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

EU’s ‘Vaccine Passports’ Will Only Be Valid With EMA-Approved COVID Jabs

A proposal to introduce so-called “vaccine passports”, to be put forward on March 17th to aid free movement within the EU bloc, will only be valid with EMA-approved vaccinations, citing the rationale that vaccines from unapproved companies will not be covered by the EU liability clause and quality control. EuroNews

It Has Taken Decades for the “Hollowing Out” of American Manufacturing to Be Recognized as a Serious National Security Issue

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light the precarious national security situation that America is confronted with in the biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector.  “95% of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91% of U.S. imports of hydrocortisone, 70% of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, 40% to 45% of U.S. imports of penicillin and 40% of U.S. imports of heparin, according to Commerce Department data. In all, 80% of the U.S. supply of antibiotics are made in China.” The National Interest

The Stakeholder Panel on Agent Detection Assays: Standards for Next Generation Sequencing Applications

AOAC International is proposing the formation of a funded, multi-year standards development program to create consensus standards and methods for the use and further development of NGS and bioinformatic applications. AOAC seeks to adapt and expand the use of in silico analysis, molecular diagnostics and next generation sequencing applications for high priority unculturable and emerging biothreat pathogens for environmental surveillance. AOAC International

Ohio Governor Will Veto Bill Aimed at Curbing Ability to Issue Public Health Orders During a Pandemic

The measure is the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to rein in DeWine’s authority to issue statewide orders such as mandatory mask wearing and limits on the size of crowds at sporting events. Among other provisions, the bill limits public health orders to 90 days and would allow the Legislature to terminate them after 30 days with a “concurrent resolution,” a fast-tracked vote different from normal legislation. Associated Press

MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES

Novavax Vaccine 96% Effective Against Original Coronavirus, 86% vs British Variant in UK Trial

The vaccine was 86% effective in protecting against the more contagious virus variant first discovered and now prevalent in the United Kingdom, for a combined 90% effectiveness rate overall based on data from infections of both versions of the coronavirus. Efficacy for the South African variant was lower, but still fully prevented severe illness. Novavax expects data from a 30,000-person trial in the United States and Mexico by early April. Reuters

Moderna Announces First Participants Dosed in Study Evaluating COVID-19 Booster Vaccine Candidates

Study to enroll 60 participants previously vaccinated with mRNA-1273 in Phase 2, to evaluate booster vaccine candidates against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. Moderna

Sanofi and Translate Bio Initiate Phase 1/2 Clinical Trial of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate

The trial is expected to enroll 415 participants to in a clinical trial for MRT5500, an mRNA vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2. Interim results are expected in Q3 2021. In parallel, preclinical studies are underway to evaluate additional mRNA candidates against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. Sanofi

BIOSECURITY + BIOPREPAREDNESS

Princeton Fined $54,000 For Prohibited Export of Animal Pathogens

Last month, the University entered into a $54,000 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) over 37 export violations involving “various strains and recombinants of an animal pathogen” over a five-year period. Chemistry World, Bureau of Industry and Security

Upstate Opens New Vector Biocontainment Lab to Propel Research on Coronavirus and Other Infectious Diseases

The new VBL facility will allow Upstate to conduct more extensive research on infectious diseases such as coronavirus, Lyme disease, West Nile encephalitis, Zika and more. Upstate Medical University

Mass Cull of Pigs in China for African Swine Fever May Have Played Role in Coronavirus Spillover to Humans

African swine fever, which first swept through China in 2018 and had spread across most of the country by the end of 2019, dramatically disrupted pork supplies –increasing the potential for human-virus contact as people sought out alternative meats. Pork is the main meat source in the Chinese diet, and the country produces half of the world’s pigs. The Guardian

Andy Weber on Rendering Bioweapons Obsolete & Ending the New Nuclear Arms Race

Weber’s current mission is to spread the word that while bioweapons are terrifying, scientific advances also leave them on the verge of becoming an outdated technology. He thinks there is an overwhelming case to increase our investment in two new technologies that could dramatically reduce the risk of bioweapons and end natural pandemics in the process: mass sequencing and mRNA vaccines. 80,000 Hours

‘We’re Going to Lose Fast’: U.S. Air Force Held a War Game That Started With a Chinese Biological Attack

Last fall, the U.S. Air Force simulated a conflict set more than a decade in the future that began with a Chinese biological-weapon attack that swept through U.S. bases and warships in the Indo-Pacific region. Then a major Chinese military exercise was used as cover for the deployment of a massive invasion force. The simulation culminated with Chinese missile strikes raining down on U.S. bases and warships in the region, and a lightning air and amphibious assault on the island of Taiwan. Yahoo News

SELECT AGENTS + CBRNE THREATS

Ebola Survivor Infected Years Ago May Have Started New Outbreak

The discovery that a survivor from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak likely sparked the current outbreak has profound implications. The finding, based on genetic sequencing of virus samples taken from patients in the current outbreak, shocked researchers. Until now, the longest the virus had been known to persist in a survivor was 500 days. In this case, the virus was harbored for at least five years and then transmitted it via semen to a sex partner. New York Times

IgY Antibodies Against Ebola Virus Possess Post-Exposure Protection in a Murine Pseudovirus Challenge Model and Excellent Thermostability

Despite the amount of efficient Ebola virus therapeutic antibodies reported in recent years, their application in tropical endemic areas has remained limited due to the low thermal stability of mammalian antibodies. A highly thermostable therapeutic polyclonal antibody against EBOV was developed based on chicken immunoglobulin Y (IgY). The EBOV specific IgY antibodies displayed excellent thermal stability, retaining their neutralising activity at 25°C for one year. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases

Ricin Poisoning: A Review on Contamination Source, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Reporting

This study aims to identify the main characteristics of diagnosed ricin poisoning cases worldwide in order to raise awareness of this toxin among the population and clinicians. A collection of human case studies of ricin intoxication in the world was produced. Toxicon

Regional Security and the Chemical Weapons Convention: Insights for the Middle East (Part 2)

This posting analyses how the Middle East followed a different course regarding the CWC in the early 1990s and identifies the lingering consequences for regional disarmament today. The Trench

The UK Biological-Warfare Program: Dual-Use Contributions to the Field of Aerobiology

Between 1940 and the late 1950s, the United Kingdom had a limited biological program to provide a retaliatory capability should UK forces be attacked using biological warfare (BW). Aspects of BW defense have been investigated from 1940 up to the present day. Techniques, processes, and equipment used within biological research programs are recognized to have dual-use applications; aerobiology is one such dual-use area. The Nonproliferation Review

SURVEILLANCE + DETECTION

Avian Influenza A(H5N8): Risk Assessment

There have also been approximately 300 findings of avian influenza in wild birds in 69 locations across Great Britain, including Avian Influenza A(H5N8) among other subtypes. Public health follow-up of these detections has not identified any human infection to date. Following human cases of Avian Influenza A(H5N8) reported to WHO for the first time in February 2021 from Russia, the public health risk has been reviewed. GOV.UK

‘An Accelerated Cauldron of Evolution’: Covid-19 Patients With Cancer, HIV, May Play a Role in Emergence of Variants

Evidence suggests that the coronavirus may mutate more easily in immunocompromised patients. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that he has been struck by the “remarkable convergence” in the types of mutations being seen in case studies in different parts of the world, suggesting they arose simultaneously in different hosts, in different parts of the world. Washington Post

Potential for False Results with Roche cobas Liat SARS-CoV-2 & Influenza Test

FDA is alerting clinical laboratory staff, point-of-care (POC) facility staff, and health care providers that false positive results can occur with the Roche SARS-CoV-2 & Influenza A/B Nucleic Acid Test for use on the cobas Liat System. The false positive results may be related to two issues observed by Roche. U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Optimising Passive Surveillance of A Neglected Tropical Disease In The Era Of Elimination: A Modelling Study

Surveillance is an essential component of global programs to eliminate infectious diseases and avert epidemics of (re-)emerging diseases. As the numbers of cases decline, costs of treatment and control diminish but those for surveillance remain high even after the ‘last’ case. Reducing surveillance may risk missing persistent or (re-)emerging foci of disease. Here researchers use Gambian human African trypanosomiasis (g-HAT) in north-western Uganda to establish a simulation-based approach to determine the minimal number of passive surveillance sites required to ensure maximum coverage of a population at-risk of an infectious disease. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases

PUBLIC HEALTH

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in COVID-19 Incidence in 16 U.S. Jurisdictions, January 1–December 31, 2020

Disparities were substantial during January–April and generally decreased during May–December, largely because of a greater increase in incidence among White persons, rather than a decline among racial and ethnic minority groups. The largest persistent disparities involved Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic persons. MMWR

Association of State-Issued Mask Mandates and Allowing On-Premises Restaurant Dining with County-Level COVID-19 Case and Death Growth Rates

This study looked at U.S. county-level changes from March – December 2020. Mandating masks was associated with a decrease in daily COVID-19 case and death growth rates within 20 days of implementation. Allowing on-premises restaurant dining was associated with an increase in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 41–100 days after implementation and an increase in daily death growth rates 61–100 days after implementation. MMWR

Long Covid Isn’t As Unique As We Thought

Chronic symptoms, especially fatigue, have lingered after the typical recovery periods for viruses as varied as West Nile, Dengue, Zika, seasonal flu, and H1N1 as well as the new coronavirus’s cousins MERS and SARS-1. Run-of-the-mill strep throat can develop into rheumatic fever, which causes similarly painful and stubborn after-effects as long Covid. The nagging and sometimes debilitating symptoms long-haulers experience reveal a frustrating blind spot in medicine. Vox

SPECIAL INTEREST

Coronavirus Sequence Trove Sparks Frustration

Some scientists are raising complaints about their interactions with GISAID. They reported an opaque process of gaining access, unexplained interruptions once access was won, and phone harangues or threatening legal letters when they got on the wrong side of GISAID’s strict rules against resharing data. Science

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