💊 LMICs free from J&J’s TB drug patents; Malaria vaccine likely to get WHO approval; ModeX wins BARDA contract
#440 | Prison for anti-vaxxers in Pakistan; Malaria’s Malaysian comeback; Au revoir to French poultry in the US
Hello, and welcome back to a brand new day, week and month with the same old Kable. In the city of Mbandaka, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities have detected a new case of poliomyelitis. Under the second phase of their mass polio vaccination campaign, they are adopting a door-to-door approach to vaccinate all children between the ages of 0 and 5 years in this health zone.
In 2022, Malaysia recorded 404 cases of malaria. This year is worse, though there have been no malaria-linked deaths. With the onset of El Nino, malaria has the company of dengue as it rages across the country. Zoonotic transmission of malaria is also a growing concern.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, conspiracy theories about polio vaccines abound, with vaccinators even being killed; it doesn’t help that most polio cases worldwide are now vaccine-derived. But rather than addressing people’s concerns, the country is resorting to coercion. A controversial bill in the final stages of becoming law proposes to punish parents – with up to a month in prison and possibly a fine of up to Rs 50,000 (~$168) – if they fail to get their children vaccinated against polio, measles, pneumonia, pertussis and certain other diseases.
In the Pakistani province of Punjab, over 56,000 schools remained shut for most of last week in an attempt to stop the progress of a conjunctivitis outbreak. The province has recorded 357,000 conjunctivitis cases since the start of the year.
The Philippines has recorded 1,114 measles cases until August 19 this year, marking a 215% increase in cases compared to the 354 cases reported in the same period in 2022. Fatalities this year are already at four, compared to only one last year.
Over in Europe, Germany’s Duesseldorf regional court has suspended proceedings in a patent trial brought by CureVac against BioNTech over the use of mRNA tech in Covid shots. They are waiting for the German and European patent offices to decide on a legal challenge filed by BioNTech over the validity of CureVac’s IP rights.
Germany is holding on to its reputation as a top donor to the WHO for its emergency response. Last week, the country entered two new agreements with the WHO. Under the first, Germany will contribute another €40 million for WHO’s response to active health emergencies worldwide. The second is a host agreement for the Berlin-based WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence which provides the world with data and analytics to better respond to health crises.
In the US, clinical-stage biopharma ModeX Therapeutics has won a BARDA contract to advance the development of potent multispecific antibodies - designed to address viral infectious disease threats - using its proprietary MSTAR technology. Under Project NextGen, BARDA is providing ModeX $59 million for early work for a broad neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. On achieving certain milestones in developing antibodies for other viruses like influenza, ModeX can unlock another $109 million in funding.
In an update from South Africa on its bird flu situation, the chair of the Poultry Group of the South African Veterinary Association highlights the “catastrophic numbers” of H5N1 and H7N6 cases. About 2.5 million broiler breeders – that’s nearly a quarter of the industry - have been affected by the outbreak. The government has said that it plans to fast-track the rollout of vaccines, but chicken and egg eaters in the country should probably prepare to make do without these for some time.
Meanwhile, starting this month, France has decided to require vaccinating ducks against bird flu. In response, the US has decided to restrict imports of French poultry.
But birds aren’t the only animals in Europe being plagued by disease. 19 outbreaks of epizootic haemorrhagic disease, which mainly affects cattle, were reported in France this week – a rise from just 3 reported the week prior. The Minister of Agriculture is pointing fingers at climate change. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease, but measures have been implemented to curb its spread.
In the Netherlands, up to 600 farms might already be contaminated by the bluetongue virus. The four cases reported last month were the first since 2009. Sheep and cows are most susceptible to this insect-borne disease. Again, vaccines are absent for the current strain, and cow and sheep exports will be limited.
Routine surveillance of mammals for bird flu infection only tests nasal and anal swabs, but it turns out this approach is limited. A study conducted in The Netherlands focused on carnivorous species displaying neurological signs. The researchers found that 60% of them tested positive for HPAI H5N1 IAV, with the virus detected in the brain despite low or no virus detection in nasal and anal swabs. These animals, which all carried a certain mutation related to mammalian adaptation, may have contracted the virus by consuming infected birds. The findings mean that the virus can infect many species like foxes, otters, polecats, badgers, and even your dear feline friends, all while evading detection during routine surveillance.
And finally, in our last story (phew!) related to animal diseases and their potential spread to humans, the Streptococcus zooepidemicus pathogen is usually a cause for concern mainly for horses, pigs, dogs, and increasingly cats. But this study describes the case of an elderly patient who got infected with the pathogen in the first case of cat-to-human transmission. We always knew cats were evil. (Editor: no, they aren't.)