💊 India's Himalaya Wellness goes to Dubai; Brazil scientists develop a cocaine addiction vaccine; AREF, Roche launch fellowship in Africa
#458 | More tipping points; Familiar music ftw; Brushing away bacteria
Hello, and welcome back to The Kable. We’re all aware of the barrage of information, not all accurate, available online, especially during a disease outbreak. Now in line with its Preparedness and Resilience for Emerging Threats (PRET) initiative, the WHO has developed a new taxonomy for social listening on respiratory pathogens. The taxonomy encompasses viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens across the five areas of cause, illness, intervention, treatments, and information. It is available for regional and country WHO teams to use to guide their infodemic response. The new taxonomy has been integrated into WHO EARS, with a pilot being trialled in 30 countries and 17 languages.
In Kenya, hydatid disease (caused by a type of tapeworm called Echinococcus granulosus) has long been endemic in north-western Kenya and Maasailand. But as populations in other parts of Kenya grow, the demand for meat is also growing, as is the spread of the zoonotic disease. Researchers, as part of a collaboration between the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the University of Liverpool, and other institutions, have mapped the spread of the tapeworm and written about it in The Conversation.
R&D in Africa is critically underfunded, with significant implications for health research on the continent. The Africa Research Excellence Fund (AREF) and Roche are taking a small step to change that. The partners have launched the AREF-Roche and Genentech Fellowship Programmeto support emerging scientists from the continent. They will support three African scientists to become leaders in the fields of clinical pharmacology, pathology, and human genetics by giving them 9 months of access to Genentech and Roche laboratories. Here, the selected fellows will develop and refine their research ideas, engage with mentors from around the world, and develop their capacity to address the health challenges that plague Africa. Applications will launch this November, and the fellowship will begin in July 2024.
Africa is suffering from a severe mental health services gap. A lack of data has long led to an under-appreciation of the problem. Most African governments invest less than 1% of their health budgets into mental health – this has left about 85% of people with depression without access to effective treatment. A severe shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health officers, and nurses worsens the situation. There is also a dearth of training and expertise at the primary care level. Add to that the concentration of the few available resources in urban areas. This article in The East African calls for more investment and better policies and systems, with a special focus on child and adolescent mental health.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa, WHO Geneva, WHO Namibia, and the country’s Ministry of Health and Social Services conducted a training to improve antimicrobial resistance surveillance in 12 selected Member States - Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Chad, Eswatini, Gabon, The Gambia, Liberia, Namibia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
Coming to the Middle East and its bid to localise pharma production, India’s Himalaya Wellness is opening a $54.4 million herbal pharma factory in Dubai. With financing support from the Emirates Development Bank, the factory will have an annual production capacity of 3 billion tablets, 15 million syrup bottles, and 3 million units of ointment.
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, at least 11 more dengue deaths and 1,917 dengue hospitalisations were reported across the country in the 24 hours leading up to yesterday morning.
Also, in Bangladesh, the country’s biggest pharma manufacturer, Square Pharmaceuticals, wants to get bigger. The drugmaker intends to invest Tk 400 crore (~ $36.2 million) in BMRE (Balancing, Modernisation, Rehabilitation and Expansion) and the purchase of land and machinery to support future expansion of the business.
Over in Brazil, scientists are developing Calixcoca, a vaccine for cocaine addiction. The experimental shot triggers an immune response that blocks cocaine and crack from making their way into the brain. This effect, the researchers hope, can break the cycle of addiction. It has already shown promising results in animal trials. If approved, this would be the first vaccine for cocaine addiction.
On the animal disease front, bird flu has killed at least 522 seals and sea lions in Brazil, with their bodies being found along the southern coast of the country.
Meanwhile, CEPI and Emervax have announced that they are partnering to advance the latter’s circular RNA vaccine technology. This tech will be employed to develop vaccine candidates against emerging viruses with pandemic or epidemic potential. CEPI will provide funding of up to $2.15 million to optimise the platform and generate necessary data to support pre-clinical proof-of-concept.
Human challenge trials seem to be all the rage these days. Australian Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics has received $5 million from the International Leducq Foundation for the development of a Strep A and rheumatic heart disease vaccine. The researchers will be vaccinating volunteers and then giving them a deliberate Strep A infection to see if the vaccine does its job. Human challenge trials are already ethically contentious, plus you know what they say about everything in Australia…
The European VC firm Sofinnova Partners has raised a $200 million fund focused on digital medicine. The firm expects to invest between $3 million and $12 million in 15 to 18 companies, mainly seed- and Series-A-stage startups at the intersection of biology, data, and computation.
GSK has announced that its RSV vaccine Arexvy met primary endpoints in a phase 3 trial in adults between 50 and 59 years of age. The shot has already been approved in the US, Europe, Japan, and other countries for adults aged 60 years and over.
What the US FDA learned in the pandemic, it continues to practise post-pandemic. The agency has released draft guidance on how it intends to request and conduct voluntary remote interactive evaluations of drug manufacturing, packaging, compounding, holding, and other facilities.
And finally, we knew onions could make you cry, but we didn’t imagine that would be from fever, abdominal cramps, or diarrhoea. Bagged, precut onions have been linked to a salmonella poisoning outbreak that got 73 people sick across 22 US states.