The Pandora Report

Highlights include: patenting viruses pt. II, BioWatch Gen 3 or the lack thereof, West Nile, Dengue detection, and US live hog imports restricted as PEDV rages. Happy Friday!

Why a Saudi Virus Is Spreading Alarm

A less discussed aspect of studying novel microorganisms is the corporate red tape often involved. We talked about this a couple weeks ago, but the most recent case of this is the patenting (or at least, creating of a Material Transfer Agreement) of the MERS virus by Ron Fouchier’s Dutch laboratory. Under the MTA, all labs who request samples of the virus are contractually bound not to develop vaccines or products without first asking for permission from the Dutch lab. As you can imagine, this creates extra hurdles for Saudi scientists trying to stem the virus’ spread across Saudi Arabia. Lest one believe this is simply “the way things are done” in virology, China released samples of its H7N9 virus to open source sites within a month of the first case being identified.

Council on Foreign Relations – “But impeding an effective response is a dispute over rights to develop a treatment for the virus. The case brings to the fore a growing debate over International Health Regulations, interpretations of patent rights, and the free exchange of scientific samples and information. Meanwhile, the epidemic has already caused forty-nine cases in seven countries, killing twenty-seven of them…’The virus was sent out of the country and it was patented, contracts were signed with vaccine companies and anti-viral drug companies, and that’s why they have a MTA [Material Transfer Agreement] to be signed by anybody who can utilize that virus, and that should not happen,’ [Saudi Arabia’s deputy health minister] Memish said.”

Autonomous Detection Sought For BioWatch Surveillance Systems

BioWatch Gen 3 is currently on the back burner, as officials explore alternative options (analysis of alternatives, or AoA). Everyone agrees that some form of detection is necessary, everyone agrees that 24 hours is too long of a lag time, and everyone definitely agrees that local and state health officials need to be involved, but not everyone agrees that the current funding proposals for BioWatch are feasible. Does anyone else feel like this is a disaster waiting to happen?

Homeland Security Newswire – “Options for upgrading the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) BioWatch biosurveillance program monitoring systems for biological agents to autonomous detectors is continuing to be explored — and the department plans eventually to do so in collaboration with state and local officials. But DHS currently has no formal program to produce the next generation of BioWatch monitoring technology, said BioWatch Program Manager Michael Walter in remarks at the National Academies of Science (NAS) Tuesday.”

West Nile Virus Logs Deadliest Year After Hotter Summer

Last year was a bad year for West Nile, with 286 deaths and 5,674 cases. The CDC is closely monitoring the number of cases as we enter the peak season (July through September), as reasons for last year’s large case number remains unclear. However, a warmer, wetter summer is thought to be a big part of it.

Bloomberg –  “While there are only six reported cases of the virus this year through June, according to the CDC’s website, more than 90 percent of infections from last year occurred between July and September.’West Nile virus is going to be a factor in the U.S. every year now,’ Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s arboviral diseases branch, said in a telephone interview. ‘People need to take precautions and protect themselves.'”

The ‘Gold’ Standard: A Rapid, Cheap Method of Detecting Dengue Virus

Scientists are using gold nanoparticles to develop cheap, quick diagnostics for detecting dengue. While we understand this is very important in terms of helping reduce the spread of a globally present (50-100 million cases annually) and deadly virus, we also are a little pleased by the “gold” standard pun.

Science Daily – “The development of an easy to use, low cost method of detecting dengue virus in mosquitoes based on gold nanoparticles is reported in BioMed Central’s open access journal Virology Journal. The assay is able to detect lower levels of the virus than current tests, and is easy to transport and use in remote regions…Researchers from the University of Notre Dame, USA, used a DNAzyme linked to gold nanoparticles which recognises a short sequence of the viral RNA genome common to all four types of Dengue. Once bound, adding magnesium and heating to 37C causes the DNAZyme to cut the RNA leaving the gold nanoparticles free to clump together. This aggregation can be easily seen as a red to clear/colourless colour change.”

USDA working for removal of Mexican restrictions on live hog imports

The USDA is scrambling to get restrictions on US live pigs lifted by Mexico, following an outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV). The outbreak of PEDV has spread to 13 states in couple weeks since the virus’ first emergence.

Reuters – “A spokeswoman for the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said on Thursday the agency has sent Mexico information requested in connection with the outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, a swine virus deadly to young pigs never before seen in North America. She did not state what information had been requested.”

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