BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Pfizer

Is The Virus That Has Turned Our World Upside Down Able To Be Solved With a Pill?

The scientific method of developing a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis, collecting the data and presenting the data to other scientists has led the world to many of its greatest scientific accomplishments. As we face greater and greater scientific problems each year, it is necessary to continue this method to find the best treatments for the world’s diseases. Covid-19 and its variants will continue to be at the top of the world’s problems since we see that vaccines don’t stop the spread of the disease and we just don’t know what new variants will do. To solve this, scientists are working hard to create new drug solutions to treat this deadly virus once a patient has been infected. The most recent being the Merck and Pfizer’s pills: Molnupiravir and Paxlovid. Both of these drugs are to be ingested soon after noticing symptoms. Both have shown promising results, but if we want this pandemic to be over with so we can get back to normal, we need assurances that these pills work now and for the coming variants.

Pfizer tested their antiviral combination Paxlovid pill and found that their pill works with an astonishing 89% decrease in hospitalization given in a 3 day symptom onset. When given within 5 days it was slightly less, yet still an improvement from our current numbers. Their research found three of the 389 people with Covid-19 (.08%) were hospitalized, compared to a 27 out of 385 (7%) in the placebo group. The pill is a protease inhibitor, just like the ones used to help stop the spread of HIV. It stops the action of protease, which halts the ability of the virus to replicate. Paxlovid uses a decades-old HIV drug, called ritonavir, that accelerates the protease inhibitor. With this data, the FDA approved Paxlovid just before Christmas.

Pfizer (2021)

Merck partnered with Ridgeback Therapeutics to produce their molnupiravir pill. It is a nucleoside analog, meaning it is an artificial building block of RNA, this introduces errors into the DNA of the Covid virus so it can’t replicate. The early trial stages gave a 48% reduction of the chances of hospitalization or death. The trial stopped once these results were revealed in hopes that it would be distributed to the public early. It was approved by the FDA one day after the Pfizer drug, but can’t be used in kids because of side effects. The effective success rate of the drug later dropped to 30%, so much lower than the Pfizer drug. After staying at a 30% success rate, there were more problems that arose. Due to it being a nucleoside analog, it was shown to be able to potentially harm human RNA in pregnant women. There were animal tests completed that showed both growth problems which would make it impossible to give the pill to pregnant women, children, or adolescents. Lindsay Baden, an infectious disease doctor who was apart of the FDA’s advisory committee said the drug might be helpful for “the right patient population, the right virus at the right time.” Ridgeback and Merck recently decided to let developing, poor countries make molnupiravir so that the drug can help countries that can’t usually afford expensive medicine we buy in the USA.

Merck & Co

Although a lot of the world is desperate for a swift end to the virus that has changed our lives over the past 2 years, these studies have shown how difficult this virus is to prevent and treat. Paxlovid looks like the most usable and safe drug to take when it is compared to molnupiravir.

Optimus Prime, Megatron, Proteins? The New Transformer Vaccine Candidate!

Amid the global outbreak of COVID-19, with no end in sight after nearly two years, the future wellbeing of humans is in danger. Coughs, fevers, and shortness of breath have lent way to millions of deaths across the globe. As thousands of researchers relentlessly work to find solutions to this virus, multiple vaccine candidates have emerged. Specifically, in the United States, millions of Americans have received doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines. However, scientists at Scripps Research recently recognized a new, self-assembling COVID-19 vaccine as a potentially more efficient and effective way to fight this worldwide battle.

 

Primarily, it is critical to understand how vaccines function as they help protect the immune system. The COVID-19 vaccines currently in effect are mRNA-based; in other words, the messenger RNA signals one’s body to produce a harmless viral protein that resembles the structure of a spike protein. The body, with the help of T-Helper cells, recognizes this structure as a foreign invader as B cells bind to and identify the antigen. The T-Helper cells will then signal these B cells to form B-Plasma cells and B-Memory cells. When getting the vaccine, the B-Memory cells are especially important as they prevent reinfection. This is a process known as adaptive immunity. Here, in the event of future infection with the spike-protein COVID-19, the memory cells would help carry out the same response more quickly and efficiently. Essentially, this process acts as the body’s training in case of any future infections.

 

While the Scripps Research COVID-19 vaccine would evoke a similar immune response to that described above, it differs from other candidates in how it assembles in the human body; this new vaccine would be comprised of proteins that are able to self-assemble. On their own, these nanoparticle proteins would transform into a sphere protein structure surrounded by smaller proteins, mimicking the coronavirus’s shape. Here, the self-assembled spike proteins are more sturdy and stable than in an mRNA-produced structure. Thus, it more accurately prepares the body for future infection with COVID-19. In fact, multiple tests found that mice who were given the experimental vaccine were able to fight off not only SARS-CoV-2 but also SARS-CoV1 along with the alpha, beta and gamma variants.

 

Nonetheless, influencing the public to get a newer vaccine instead of the well-trusted vaccines already in production requires proof of the candidate’s benefits. Primarily, as mentioned, early results find that this new candidate would perform well with many different strains of COVID-19. Additionally, researchers assert that this vaccine would be relatively simple to produce on a mass scale. Lastly, scientists found that this vaccine may well be more protective and long-lasting than current vaccine candidates. Although the process of vaccine approval is lengthy and often difficult, I am hopeful for the future of the Scripps Research vaccine if it is put into production. Moreover, I believe that such experimentation with self-assembling nanoparticle proteins transcends the current pandemic. The benefits of this field present a wide array of opportunities, and I look forward to seeing what its future may hold.

 

What do you think? Are these transformer-like self-assembling particles a gateway to the future of medicine or an unnecessary distraction from effective treatments already in circulation?

PAXLOVID: A Breath of Fresh Air?

Right now, it seems like the only defense against the evasiveness of COVID is the vaccine. However, there has been a new emergence that might help alleviate some worries. This is the PAXLOVID anti-viral drug. This new drug is given to people with high-risk cases of COVID a few days after they are infected. Though, before this pill is approved, it has to run through many trials, and it has to be confirmed by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The numbers that are coming out of the trials of the drug are nothing short of astonishing….

Pfizer made the announcement that within 3 days of infection, the PAXLOVID drug reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%. The trials for the drug were over a substantial amount of time. The numbers that have been received as of now are that out of 607 people tested, only 6 were hospitalized and NONE died. These are very promising numbers for the drug, and it is a big step towards approval. To further boost PAXLOVID’s credibility, placebo, a “control” drug was tested alongside PAXLOVID. This control drug is a fake pill to make people believe it is doing good for them. This is called the placebo effect. In the end, the fantastic numbers produced by PAXLOVID against placebo proved that PAXLOVID is the way to go and that it is a successful drug that actually works. Now you may be wondering how does this “anti-viral drug” work to defend against COVID?

The answer is not so simple. The primary goal for PAXLOVID, and any other anti-viral drug is to prevent the virus from replicating. As we learned in our biology class, the way a virus replicates itself is by entering the dendritic cell or macrophage, then it can actually copy RNA virus and take command of the cell, basically hijacking it. However, the anti-viral drug is made up of two clear components that instead of interfering with RNA copying enzyme, it blocks something else. The drug has the ability to inhibit Protease enzymes. Protease enzymes are mainly responsible for activating long strains of protein by cutting them down.

Altogether, PAXLOVID is a versatile, and very useful drug that we will likely be seeing and hearing more about in the near future. If you contracted COVID, would you be willing to take PAXLOVID?

Prozac pills

Not 1, But 2: The Antiviral Pills That Could Change The Game For Covid-19

Right on time. As cases begin to rise again due to the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the race for treatments against the virus becomes more urgent. Well, celebration is in order, for both Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Pfizer have developed antiviral drugs in the form of a pill to fight the virus. 

Molnupiravir, the drug created by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, and Paxlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral pill, are both pills that can be taken at home when one identifies early signs of Covid in themselves. For Merck, the latest data reads that their pill cut the rate of hospitalization or death by 30%. On the other hand, Paxlovid’s trial displayed reduced death and hospitalization rates of 89%, as long as the pill was consumed within 3 days of symptoms. 

Both effective medications and exciting progress, these two contrasting antiviral pills work in two distinct ways to stop viral replication. As we learned in AP Bio, viral replication is what occurs when a virus escapes the innate immunity responses, or the 1st line of defense, and enters the nasal epithelium, replicating in nasal passages and tissue fluids. This is what makes immunity responses to viruses often a long process, and is why we have to take sick days to allow time for our B and T cells to destroy the many invading pathogens and infected cells, respectively. A nucleoside analogue, Molnupiravir disguises as one of the aspects of RNA that makes up SARS-CoV-2. Normally, once inside the cells the virus would use a polymerase enzyme to assemble all the pieces of RNA into new copies of viral RNA, ultimately replicating itself. However, with the Molnupiravir drug’s deception, the virus creates new versions of itself with defective genetic materials, making it noninfectious. In juxtaposition, Paxlovid has a similar process of HIV treatments in that it is a protease inhibitor. After replicating its RNA, SARS-CoV-2 makes a large polyprotein containing all of the virus’s parts. But to function properly, this polyprotein must be broken into many small pieces by the enzyme protease. What Paxlovid does is it blocks that enzyme from its function, preventing the necessary production of small virus particles. Again like protease inhibitors for HIV, though, the Pfizer drug requires a second drug called ritonavir to make it last longer (like a booster).

COVID-19 Virus

Because both of these antiviral pills target the immune response in a general, nonspecific way (the replication process), they can work similarly against many different coronaviruses found in animals such as ​​bats, pigs, people, and mice. This is not only reason to believe these pills will probably be effective against other variants such as omicron, but it also means this scientific progress plays a role in fighting future pandemics, as well as the current one. 

While it is easy to get caught in the incessant loop of bad news concerning the pandemic, especially lately, I recommend balancing that awareness of threats with the acknowledgement of the improvements and steps forward, for everyday scientists are hard at work fighting this pandemic. In a similar lens, our work in AP Bio with beginning to understand immunology and how viruses work is our baseline in becoming the future of medicine, doctors, and scientists!

Is A Vaccine Update On Its Way?

On December 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved for its first public use. Since that day, there have been multiple variants of the virus, varying in their mutations from the original strain. One of these strains, in particular, is the Omicron variant. This variant is a new strain of COVID-19 and was first identified on November 24, 2021, in Botswana. With the emergence of this new unknown variant, in addition to all of the past variants, has the time come for an updated vaccine that is tailored specifically to the variants? This question is explored in the Bloomberg article Third Pfizer-BioNTech Dose Is Ket To Fight Omicron’s Spread

Solo-mrna-vaccine-8

After researching the Omicron variant in relation to two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, there was seen to be a 25% reduction in antibodies capable of fighting the virus. However, after a third dose of the vaccine, increased antibody levels close to that of those made for the original COVID-19 strain. With this information in mind, Pfizer stated that an Omicron-specific vaccine may be required. This new vaccine is projected to be ready for the public by March of 2022. The company also stated that their vaccine would change from a two-dose to a three-dose vaccine with the third shot being for Omicron. The third shot would be administered about three months after the first two doses have been given.

Fab fcfragment colors

While the public is waiting for the third dose from Pfizer, Pfizer says that people should use their current vaccine for a third dose, as it would give further protection against the virus. Then, once the Omicron vaccine comes out in early 2022, people should get a dose of that vaccine as well. This new strategy of getting the vaccine is due to new research from multiple labs on the effectiveness of the vaccine on the Omicron variant. An original observation saw a 25 times drop in antibodies, but two other labs found that there is actually a 40 times reduction with this variant. Globally, South Africa found a 41 times drop in antibodies, and a 37 times drop from a German lab. With this research, Pfizer is beginning to look into an Omicron vaccine but must find that it heavily increases protection against the new variant, and if not it will keep the current vaccine in circulation. There is also speculation about a yearly booster for the vaccine, but there must be research conducted on that as well.

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