• Oxford-AstraZeneca and CanSino Biologics vaccines show early success
  • New treatment claims to reduce the risk of severe disease
  • Symptom app reveals six distinct types of COVID-19

Early success for UK and China vaccines

It’s been another big week for vaccines, with promising early results of the candidate vaccines being developed in China and the UK.

Data published in the medical journal The Lancet, on Monday, show that the vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca generated an immune response, with mild to moderate side effects in a study of roughly 1,000 patients.

On the same day, Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics published the results of its interim Phase II data (also in The Lancet) which showed that the vaccine induced neutralizing antibody responses — which could be vital to preventing the disease’s dangerous symptoms — in most people. But further study continues to show that this vaccine works better in some people than others. For example, it didn’t work as well in people aged 55 and older, a key target for a COVID-19 vaccination.

Both vaccines will now progress to Phase III trials involving thousands of people, to test for efficacy and safety.

Biotech company claims to have developed a “breakthrough” treatment

Meanwhile, on the treatment side of things, the UK based biotech company Synairgen claims to have developed a new treatment for COVID-19 that reduces the number of patients needing intensive care.

The treatment uses a protein called interferon beta, which the body produces when it gets a viral infection. The protein is inhaled directly into the lungs of patients with coronavirus, using a nebuliser, in the hope that it will stimulate an immune response.

Initial findings reported by Synairgen suggest that the treatment could cut the odds of a COVID-19 patient in hospital developing a severe version of the disease – such as one requiring ventilation – by 79%. In addition, the average time patients spent in hospital is said to have been reduced by a third, for those receiving the new drug – down from an average of nine days to six days.

As the findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the full data is yet to be made available, scientists remain sceptical. Additionally, the findings come from just 100 patients, so a much larger trial would be needed to assess the true level of benefit. But if the results prove to be as promising as Synairgen claims, it could be an important step forward in the treatment of COVID-19.

Six distinct types of COVID-19 identified

Analysis of data from the COVID Symptom Study app, led by researchers from King’s College London, reveals that there are six distinct “types” of COVID-19, each distinguished by a particular set of symptoms.

Using a machine learning algorithm, the researchers analyzed data from a subset of around 1,600 COVID Symptom Study app users in the UK and US with confirmed COVID-19, who had regularly logged their symptoms using the app in March and April.

The analysis revealed six specific groupings of symptoms. All people reporting symptoms experienced headache and loss of smell, with varying combinations of additional symptoms like shortness of breath, confusion and abdominal pain at various times.

The specific combination of symptoms reported by a patient was found to be a potential indicator of whether they would become severely ill and need hospitalization. The researchers hope this insight could provide an early-warning system as to who is most likely to need intensive care.

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that CanSino Biologics is a Chinese-Canadian firm. It is a Chinese-owned vaccine company*