Pandora Report 4.18.14

I think I was coming down with something yesterday. It manifested as a pretty debilitating headache, so I am pretty sure it wasn’t Ebola, but I also had no desire to drink water, so it might have been rabies. Either way, I’m feeling much better today, and am excited to bring you a Saturday issue of Pandora Report. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is nothing that is more fun on the weekend…so let’s get into it!


Highlights include Bird Flu in North Korea, a TB drug that may be the answer to drug resistance, a new strain of Ebola, MERS CoV’s spread to Asia, and Tamiflu’s real utility. Have a great weekend and see you here next Friday!

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in North Korea

On April 16, the North Korean veterinary authority sent a notice to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) alerting them to two H5N1 outbreaks among poultry in the isolated nation. This is a surprisingly transparent move. The first outbreak occurred at the Hadang chicken factory in Hyongjesan starting on March 21. All 46,217 birds died. A second outbreak occurred on March 27 in the same region at the Sopo chicken factory where an unreported number of birds died in the same cage. The source of the infection remains unknown.

The Poultry Site—“Usual control measures have been put in place to control the spread of infection: quarantine, movement control inside the country, screening and disinfection of infected premises/establishment(s). There is no vaccination and no treatment of affected birds.”

Could a new TB drug be the answer to resistance?

A research study at the University of Illinois shows that a new drug under clinical trials for tuberculosis treatment—SQ109—may be the basis for an entirely new class of drugs that could act against bacterial, fungal, and parasite infection and yet evade resistance. Lead researcher, chemistry professor Eric Oldfield, believes that multiple-target drugs like SQ109 and its analogs hold the key to new antibiotic development in the era of drug resistance and “the rise of so-called ‘superbugs’.” His claim is bolstered by experiments with SQ109 and TB where no instances of resistance have been reported.

Science Codex—“’Drug resistance is a major public health threat,” Oldfield said. “We have to make new antibiotics, and we have to find ways to get around the resistance problem. And one way to do that is with multi-target drugs. Resistance in many cases arises because there’s a specific mutation in the target protein so the drug will no longer bind. Thus, one possible route to attacking the drug resistance problem will be to devise drugs that don’t have just one target, but two or three targets.’”

Outbreak in West Africa is caused by a new strain of Ebola virus

As the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa climbs above 120, scientists are reporting that the virus is not the same strain that has killed in other African nations.  While the source of the virus is still unknown, blood samples from Guinea victims has confirmed that it is not imported strains of Ebola Zaire—the original strain of the virus discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire.)

The Huffington Post—“‘It is not coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has not been imported to Guinea” from that country or from Gabon, where Ebola also has occurred, [Dr. Stephan] Gunther [of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany] said.

Researchers think the Guinea and other strains evolved in parallel from a recent ancestor virus. The Guinea outbreak likely began last December or earlier and might have been smoldering for some time unrecognized. The investigation continues to try to identify “the presumed animal source.’”

MERS CoV leaves the Middle East and travels to Asia

Though the method of transmission of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) remains unknown—a report last week from the CDC finds the virus can stay alive in Camel milk—and thankfully, transmission from human to human has been rare, the disease has now spread beyond the Middle East to Asia via an infection emerging in Malaysia. A Malaysian man returning from Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, tested positive for, and died from, MERS on April 13. So far, a reported 33 people who have travelled to the Middle East for the Haj have tested negative for presence of the virus in neighboring Singapore.

Today Online—“There is currently no advisory against travel to countries of the Arabian Peninsula, or to countries reporting imported cases of MERS-CoV (including Malaysia).

Frequent travellers to the Middle East and Umrah/Haj pilgrims have been advised to take precautions, such as being vaccinated against influenza and meningitis. Those aged 65 years and above or with chronic medical conditions should also get vaccinated against pneumococcal infections before travelling. Pilgrims with pre-existing chronic medical conditions like diabetes, chronic heart and lung conditions should consult a doctor before traveling, to assess whether they should make the pilgrimage.”

A closer look at Tamiflu

With seasonal flu season behind us in the U.S., maybe it is time to look at better treatment options. A study published last week in the British Medical Journal, calls into question the effectiveness of Oseltamivir—brand name, Tamiflu. The international team of researchers found that while Tamiflu can shorten flu symptoms it does not reduce hospital admissions or medical complications. The study also demonstrated that Tamiflu can also cause nausea and vomiting and increases the risk of headaches and renal and psychiatric symptoms.

Global Biodefense—“‘The trade-off between benefits and harms should be borne in mind when making decisions to use oseltamivir for treatment, prophylaxis, or stockpiling,” concludes the study authors from The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent global healthcare research network. “There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic,” Carl Heneghan, one of the lead investigators of the review and a professor at Oxford University, told reporters. “Remember, the idea of a drug is that the benefits should exceed the harms. So if you can’t find any benefits, that accentuates the harms.’”

(Image credit: Robert Sharp/Flickr)

Pandora Report 3.14.14

Editor’s note: As Managing Editor, I know my job is never done because the news never stops. As a social scientist, I know there is always more than one side to any story. As such, before we get into the news roundup for March 14, here are two follow up articles from our report last week.

Mount Sinai Scientists Discover How Marburg Virus Grows in Cells

Last week we learned about BCX4430, a drug that could possibly treat Marburg virus. This week, news coming out of Mount Sinai in New York outlines further research findings on the virus that can lead to greater understanding or possible development of virus inhibitors. The full findings of this research are available at Cell Reports.

Newswise — “A protein that normally protects cells from environmental stresses has been shown to interact Marburg virus VP24, allowing the deadly Marburg virus to live longer and replicate better, according to a cell culture study led by scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The investigators say that deciphering the molecular details of how Marburg virus and the host protein interact may help in developing inhibitors of the virus.”

Nazi Scientists May Have Plotted Malaria Mosquito Warfare (Redux)

As was pointed out by our eagle-eyed reader Jean Pascal Zanders, there, of course, is disagreement about the supposed Nazi insect weapons program. Jean writes about it on his blog, and GMU Biodefense’s own, Dr. Gregory Koblentz, is incredulous.

National Geographic – “‘Research to assess the threat posed by different biological agents and vectors, such as May’s research on mosquitoes and malaria, is especially hard to categorize as offensive or defensive,’ Koblentz says. ‘Even if May’s intent was offensive, it was very preliminary-many steps away from actually producing a viable insect-borne biological weapon.’”


And now for our regularly scheduled Friday news…

Highlights include Project BioShield, Destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, and  Clostridium difficile with antibiotics. Happy Friday!

The Only Thing Scarier Than Bio-Warfare is the Antidote

Should we be afraid of bio-terror or bio-error? In this massive, front-page Newsweek story, the author looks at the creation of the Project BioShield Act and its resulting effects including the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act and increased availability of biological threat agents used for scientific research. The Soviet bioweapons program, BSL-4 labs, and the intersection of science and government are also addressed.

Newsweek – “Though BioShield’s initial goals made sense when the threat of biological warfare seemed imminent, the act may have permanently undermined some of the essential protections against unsafe practices in at least one area of science research: the regulations that keep untested drugs off the market, and labs from leaking deadly biological agents into the environment.”

Greeks protest against Syria chemical weapon destruction at sea

Under the UN Security Council backed deal to deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal, provisions are included for this to happen aboard a U.S. cargo ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  Under the plan, hydrolysis systems aboard the ship are to mix heated water and other chemicals to break down the lethal agents, resulting in a sludge equivalent to industrial toxic waste. This plan has prompted protests in Italy, Malta, and Greece despite assurances there will be no negative impact on the surrounding environments.

Agence France-Presse – “‘If this happens it will obliterate the island’s economy, will pollute the sea and will lead the people of the Mediterranean to a grim future.’ Pavlos Polakis, mayor of the city of Sfakia told AFP.”

Severe diarrheal illness in children linked to antibiotics prescribed in doctor’s offices

According to the CDC, an overwhelming percentage of cases of pediatric Clostridium difficileinfection occur in children who were prescribed antibiotics during the 12 weeks prior to illness for unrelated conditions—such as ear, sinus, or upper respiratory infections.  C. difficile is a bacteria that causes severe diarrhea and is potentially life threatening.

CDC – “Taking antibiotics is the most important risk factor for developing C. difficile infections for both adults and children.  When a person takes antibiotics, beneficial bacteria that protect against infection can be altered or even eliminated for several weeks to months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread from a health care provider’s hands.”

 

(image courtesy of CDC/James Gathany)

Pandora Report 3.7.14

Editor’s note: Greetings Pandora Report subscribers! I hope you enjoyed that goofy video last week. For my first official Pandora Report, I rounded up some great stories (including a look back at history. As a social scientist, I really couldn’t help myself!)

Highlights include Botulism research and development, CDC antibiotic warning, the Nazi insect weapons program, and Marburg. Happy Friday!

Hawaii Biotech awarded $5.5M contract to develop anti-botulism drugs

Hawaii Biotech Inc. received a $5.5 million contract from the Department of Defense to continue development of drugs to treat botulinum toxin—a life threatening disease which currently has no known treatment. This grant was in addition to an existing $7.4 million grant held by Hawaii Biotech to develop anti-anthrax drugs.

Pacific Business News – “Under the contract, Hawaii Biotech will be working to improve its current anti-botulinum toxin inhibitor drug candidates that have demonstrated activity in pre-clinical testing with the goal of enhancing the stability, bioavailability and safety of these drug candidates so they can be used in humans.”

CDC: Antibiotic Overuse Can Be Lethal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Tuesday criticizing the overuse of antibiotics in hospitals and the consequences of these actions. Though prescribing practices vary between hospitals and doctors, the report highlights discrepancies across patients with similar symptoms and illnesses and urges caution in use of powerful antibiotics.

The Wall Street Journal – “Overprescribing antibiotics is making many of these drugs less effective because superbugs resistant to them are developing so fast. The practice also can sicken patients, by making them vulnerable to other types of infections such as Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection.”

Nazi scientists planned to use mosquitoes as biological weapon

In 1942, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, ordered the creation of an entomological institute at the Dachau concentration camp. But why? Supposedly it was to study lice, fleas, and similar pests that were causing problems for German soldiers. However, a recent report offers an additional answer.

The Guardian – “In 1944, scientists examined different types of mosquitoes for their life spans in order to establish whether they could be kept alive long enough to be transported from a breeding lab to a drop-off point. At the end of the trials, the director of the institute recommended a particular type of anopheles mosquito, a genus well-known for its capacity to transmit malaria to humans.

With Germany having signed up to the 1925 Geneva protocol, Adolf Hitler had officially ruled out the use of biological and chemical weapons during the Second World War, as had allied forces. Research into the mosquito project had to be carried out in secret.”

Army one step closer to treatment against deadly Marburg virus

Exciting news, this week, regarding the development of a drug which may be able to prevent Marburg hemorrhagic fever virus from replicating in animals. The drug, BCX4430, was developed in partnership with BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. through a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The Frederick News-Post – “‘The drug works by using a compound that “tricks” the virus during the RNA replication process by mimicking it,’ said Travis Warren, [a principal researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.] ‘Once the virus incorporates BCX4430 into its RNA, the virus is forced to end further replication. If the virus can’t effectively replicate its RNA genome, it can’t produce more infectious virus. It has no other options than to end that replication cycle.’”

(image courtesy of CDC/ James Gathany)

Delving Deeper: Living in the Post-Antibiotic Era

By Yong-Bee Lim

The Post-Antibiotic Era Problem: What are the Issues, and How Can Adaptive Clinical Trials Potentially Help?

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. When people get nostalgic, they are cognitively living in the past; in this constructed past, the past seems rosy, and often conceived of as more positive than the present. That said, even with rose-tinted glasses, it is hard to argue that life (if defined as survivability) was better before the introduction of antibiotics. For example, mortality rates from pneumococcal pneumonia were 30-35% in the pre-antibiotic era, with the therapy often being quarantining patients.[1] Antibiotics have allowed for both the morbidity and mortality rates of pneumococcal pneumonia to drop to nearly zero in developed countries.[2] Furthermore, antibiotics allow procedures that would have been impossible in a pre-antibiotic era; organ transplants, invasive procedures, and intensive care units would not be possible without effective antibiotics.

A recent piece of news to hit the public health radar involves a man in New Zealand named Henry Pool. Pool, while teaching English in Vietnam, was operated on following a brain hemorrhage. When flown following the operation to a Wellington hospital, it was discovered that he carried a bacteria strain identified as KPC-Oxa 48: a strain of bacteria that is resistant to every antibiotic currently available to man. To contain the possibility of the strain of bacteria getting out, Pool was forcibly quarantined for 6 months until he passed away. [3]

This recent death in New Zealand highlights a threat that looms ever closer in the public health horizon: the post-antibiotic era. Due to a number of factors, including over-prescription of antibiotics to patients and over-use of antibiotics in farming and animal cultivation, bacteria have undergone evolutionary pressures to resist and overcome the mechanisms of our current arsenal antibiotics; several adaptations include the production of enzymes to modify antibiotics, cell wall changes that prevent the ingress of antibiotics inside the bacterium, and the creation of pumps to transfer antibiotics outside of the cell before the antibiotic’s effects are actualized. Furthermore, evidence points to the fact that multiply-resistant bacteria are not staying confined to hospitals as they traditionally have; certain bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus with partial/complete resistance to penicillin have been detected in community populations.[4]

The concept of antibiotic resistance is not a foreign one to scientists and individuals in the public health sector. Staphylococcus aureus was actually noted to have started developing antibiotic resistance to penicillin as early as the 1940s.[5] Despite this knowledge that antibiotic resistance could, and would, develop over time, very little is available in regards to innovative new antibiotics to counter the rising threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There has been “no major classes of antibiotics introduced” between the years of 1962 and 2000;[6] furthermore, while representatives of novel antibacterial classes (linezolid: 2000, daptomycin: 2003, retapamulin: 2007) have been registered, the chemical classes from whence these representatives originate were patented or reported historically (oxazolidnones: 1978, acid lipopetides: 1987, pleuromutilins: 1952).[7]

If the threat is realized, then, why is there such paucity in the development and production of novel and effective antibacterial therapies? Part of the equation has to do with the society we live in; money is important to companies.  Over the past several decades, a number of large pharmaceutical companies have drastically cut funding and maintaining the internal capacity for R&D of antibacterial therapies. It is often argued that this decline is partially explained by the fact that pharmaceutical companies seek to shift R&D resources from antibacterial drug discovery programs to other, more profitable therapy areas such as musculoskeletal and central nervous system (CNS) drugs.[8],[9] The net effect of various economic barriers involved in the development of an antibiotic (if successful) is a net loss of $50 million dollars compared to a $1 billion gain for a new musculoskeletal drug at the time of discovery.[10] In addition, mergers and take-overs of pharmaceutical companies often result in a restructuring of priorities and personnel; these restructures have often included the loss of research groups with expertise in antibiotic drug discovery.[11]

So if part of the issue is economics, what can be done to better galvanize and incentivize pharmaceutical companies to come back and do R&D on antibacterial drugs? One area where companies often hemorrhage money is in the clinical trials necessary to prove both the safety and efficacy of a product. Oftentimes, the bulk of R&D funds are spent on clinical trials. Clinical trials (depending on the size of the sample needed to test the product, the cost of developing the product itself, and other factors) can run in the ballpark of $100 million dollars per trial; with a minimum of 3 phases of clinical trials (with a high probability of repeating at least one phase of a trial), it is easy to see a successful product would cost a minimum of $400 million dollars in clinical trials alone.[12]

Under the current model of clinical trials, trials are clearly demarcated between phases (Clinical Phase 1, Clinical Phase 2, and Clinical Phase 3) that must be done in a sequential fashion. Furthermore, these trials are rigid in the fact that parameters may not be changed during the course of a trial; all participants must be kept throughout the trial, dosages may not be altered, and trials (except under certain circumstances) must be completed until the end. Among a number of situations, this lock-step approach inflates costs when observations might indicate:

–          A certain subset is not responding to a dose (perhaps the dose is too low)

–          The entire sample is not responding to the product (at any dose)

Using innovative, high-level Bayesian biostatistics, a new avenue of clinical research design is being explored that may help alleviate some of the costs of clinical trials. Adaptive clinical trials are specifically designed studies that are meant to “adapt” as a clinical trial proceeds; these adaptations occur through an analysis of the accumulated results in a trial.[13] As opposed to the lock-step and rigid clinical trial structure that is currently used, adaptive clinical trials allow modifications to be introduced during the trial phase. These modifications could include, but are not limited to:

–          Sample size re-estimation: If the number of people for a trial is too small or too large, this can be adapted during the trial.

–          Early stopping of clinical trials: In the event that there is evidence that the product isn’t performing the way it is supposed to (lack of efficacy), trials can be shut down to save funds and resources.

–          Dropping suboptimal groups: In the event that there is evidence that the product isn’t effective in a subgroup of the trial sample (perhaps a group with a low dose is not presenting results), then the group could be dropped to save funds and resources.

–          Overlapping trials: Adaptive trials could overlap phases (the tail end of phase 1, for example, could overlap the beginning of phase 2), resulting in faster clinical trial completion and, hopefully, swifter licensure.

It should be noted that this type of approach is very new, and is only just garnering use in various areas that require clinical trials. For example, it has not been used, as of this post, for the development of Medical Countermeasures (MCMs). However, if it can be successfully executed, it holds possibilities in significantly cutting down both the temporal constraints, as well as the financial burdens, of attaining the novel and effective antibiotics that are necessary to help curb the growing antibiotic-resistant bacteria threat.

Perhaps the phraseology “post-antibiotic era” is too strong; it seems to evoke a sense of fear, and fails to address the idea that future innovations exist in the pipeline to potentially deal with issues of current levels of antibiotic resistance. However, what can be said is that we are starting to run out of options in our bag of tricks, and it will take more than a wave of a wand and an “abracadabra” to resolve this threat to the status quo: a public health era in which antibiotics work against bacteria to increase survivability. While there are multi-faceted issues contributing to this issue, the ability to help make antibacterial R&D more financially viable for pharmaceutical companies (through the use of innovations such as adaptive clinical trials) could help in dealing with this public health concern.
______________________________

Yong-Bee Lim is a PhD student in Biodefense at George Mason University. He holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.S. in Biodefense from George Mason University as well. Contact him at ylim3@masonlive.gmu.edu or on Twitter @yblim3.


[1] Shai Ashkenazi. (2012). “Beginning and possibly the end of the antibiotic era,” Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 49 (3): pp. 179 – 182.

[2] RP Wenzel and MB Edmond. (2000). “Managing antibiotic resistance,” New England Journal of Medicine, 343: pp. 1961 – 1963

[3] “Kiwi dies with bug no drug could beat,” New Zealand Herald, accessed 11/23/2013: http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11159413

[4] LF Chen, T Chopra, and KS Kaye. (2009). “Pathogens resistant to antimicrobial agents,” Infectious Disease Clinics of North America, 23: pp. 817 – 845

[5] “Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, accessed 11/26/2013, http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/antimicrobialresistance/examples/mrsa/pages/history.aspx

[6] MA Fischbach and CT Walsh. (2009). “Antibiotics for emerging pathogens,” Science, 325: pp. 1089 – 1093

[7] Lynn L. Silver. (2011). “Challenges of antibacterial discovery,” Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 24 (1): pp.71 – 109

[8] S. Projan. (2003). “Why is big pharma getting out of antibacterial drug discovery?” Current Opinion in Microbiology, 6 (5): pp. 427 – 430

[9] R Finch and P Hunger. (2006). “Antibiotic resistance – action to promote new technologies,” Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 58 (Suppl): pp. 3 – 22

[10] Priya Sharma and Adrian Towse. (2011). “New drugs to tackle antimicrobial resistance: Analysis of EU policy options.”

[11] I. Chopra. (2008). “Treatment of health-care-associated infections caused by Gram-negative bacteria: a consensus statement,” Lancet Infectious Diseases, 8: pp. 133 – 139

[12] “How the FDA Stifles New Cures, Part I: The Rising Cost of Clinical Trials,” Forbes, accessed 11/26/2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/aroy/2012/04/24/how-the-fda-stifles-new-cures-part-i-the-rising-cost-of-clinical-trials/

[13] Donald A. Berry. (2010). “Adapative clinical trials: The promise and the caution,” American Society of Clinical Oncology, 29 (6): pp. 606 – 609

The Pandora Report 9.20.13

Highlights include anthrax anti-toxin, the Pentagon and Ebola, antibiotics and global pandemics,  MERS baffling researchers, and a H7N9 vaccine. Happy Friday!

HHS replenishes nation’s supply of anthrax antitoxin

Rest assured, in case of an anthrax attack Uncle Sam has you covered. HHS, through BioShield, has renewed contracts with GlaxoSmithKline, replenishing our nation’s expiring supply of inhalation anthrax anti-toxin in the Strategic National Stockpile. Under the renewed contracts, we’ll be covered until 2018. The renewed contract also include a surge capacity, lest an anthrax attack occur and boosted production of anti-toxin is necessary. Believe it or not, surge capacity was not built into previous contracts.

KOAM – “To create surge capacity, the contracts allow HHS to place future delivery orders if an anthrax attack occurs, in addition to replenishing the current stockpile as needed over the next five years. The cost of future orders would be determined on a case-by-case basis, up to a maximum of $350 million per order. To receive a future order, the company must have antitoxin that is eligible for emergency use authorization or is FDA-approved at the time of the order. The replenishment and surge capacity are part of a governmentwide effort to prepare the nation to respond to security threats from chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. Federal agencies, including HHS agencies and the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs coordinate closely to ensure programs and requirements are aligned.”

Pentagon puts Ebola virus on bio-threat research list

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is actively soliciting research in therapeutics development against a slew of deadly bacterial and viral threat agents, ranging from our favorite Ebola to Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of melioidosis. Drug companies and the US government have had a tumultuous relationship when it comes to developing vaccine/therapeutics for select agents. The solicitation is encouraging, if only as a recognition of the critical importance of researching these pathogens (if we do say so ourselves).

USA Today – “DTRA officials, the document says, are concerned about the potential use of ‘aerosolized filoviruses or alphaviruses’ that could be delivered through the air. Some of the illnesses, such as Meloidosis, affect people in areas where the Pentagon is devoting more attention. For example, a contingent of Marines is now based in Darwin, a city in northern Australia. While there are some vaccines that can treat some of these conditions, the document says, ‘they have inherent limitations and a suitably effective vaccine has to be approved.’ That’s why it’s critical for more research to be conducted to find ways to prevent and treat them, DTRA says.”

Antibiotics Could Cause the Next Global Pandemic

The invention of antibiotics was understandably a big deal – before penicillin, scraping your knee could kill you. Now, we take for granted that infections are cured by a visit to the doctor and a prescription for antibiotics. Which is why this recent CDC report is so concerning.

PolicyMic – “In a press briefing about his recent research, Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, warned ‘If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era … And for some patients and for some microbes, we are already there.’ The confidence in his statement reflected the very first hard numbers for the incidence, deaths, and cost of all the major resistant organisms gathered by the CDC. The urgent worry gripping national health organizations like the CDC is that our current ‘gaps in knowledge’ and continued inadvertent strengthening of antibiotic-resistant bacteria could lead to the evolution of new vicious, contagious diseases with no current ways to combat them.”

MERS virus transmission continues to baffle

Maybe it wasn’t the camels after all. Scientists working together in the UK and Saudi Arabia are having difficulty determining the MERS virus’ route of tranmission. Yes, some camels possess the antibodies, yet most of those who contracted MERS had no contact with animals. Researchers are in agreement about one thing – the virus outbreak’s “focal point” is Riyadh. With hajj occurring next month, discovering more about the virus is becoming increasingly important.

Aljazeera – “The genetic history of the virus suggests repeat infections may have occurred since then, but what the animal source was, or is, remains unclear, it said. Tests are being carried on mammals in Saudi Arabia ranging from camels and bats to goats. The cluster in al-Hasa, in contrast, shows that viral strains there were closely related, which is consistent with spread from human to human. The samples in Riyadh have a broad genetic diversity, the paper said. This could mean that the virus is being transmitted through an animal source that is continuously being brought in from elsewhere, it said.

NIH-funded pandemic preparation: Baylor investigates bird flu vaccine

Researchers are testing vaccines against H7N9, in case the virus develops effective human-to-human transmission. H7N9 struck China in March of this year, infecting 135 and killing 44. With a fatality rate of nearly 1/3 in a totally naive population, the virus definitely has pandemic potential. H7N9 may reemerge again in the cooler fall and winter seasons.

MedScape – “Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study being conducted at Baylor will recruit up to 1,000 adults nationally who are 19 to 64 years old and in good health. Study participants will receive different dosages of an investigational vaccine given with or without one of two adjuvants, which are substances added to a vaccine to increase the body’s immune response. Researchers at each site will gather safety information, risks and benefits of vaccinations and the effectiveness of the vaccines to trigger an immune response.”

(image: LA Department of Public Health)

image via CDC/Dr. David Berd (PHIL #2983), 1972.

Fighting Anthrax with the Ocean

Phys.org has a new piece out discussing the hitherto unknown capacity of one species of Streptomyces to effective counter infections caused by Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria which produces anthrax spores. The molecule, appropriately named  anthracimycin, is equally effective in fighting other Gram-positive bacteria. Read more here.

Excerpt: “By using a variety of methods of analysis, the researchers were able to determine the structure of this molecule, which they named anthracimycin. Anthracimycin contains an unusual system of rings, one with fourteen carbon atoms and two with six each. This is a macrolide whose biosynthesis very likely occurs by the polyketide pathway. X-ray crystallographic studies allowed the researchers to determine the absolute configurations of the seven asymmetric carbon centers in this compound, identifying the complete 3-dimensional structure.”