Vir Biotech CEO Says His Covid-19 Medicine Offers Promise for Next Outbreak

(Bloomberg) — Vir Biotechnology Inc.’s stock has lost some of its luster after quadrupling earlier this year as competition heats up for Covid-19 antibody therapies. Yet its chief executive officer is looking ahead to the next viral scourge.

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With two well-heeled competitors ahead of it, Vir has pared a February surge to a still impressive 122% leap this year. Eli Lilly & Co.’s antibody treatment received an emergency use authorization on Nov. 9 and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s therapy got its nod over the weekend. Vir’s medicine is unique because it targets a variety of coronaviruses, CEO George Scangos said.

It “has the potential not only to be effective against Covid-19, but it has a reasonable chance of also being effective against the next coronavirus outbreak,” Scangos said in an interview. An interim look at late-stage data for VIR-7831 is expected in January.

Regeneron has touted its two-antibody cocktail as being better than single-antibody treatments like those from Lilly or Vir. Yet Scangos, a former Biogen Inc. chieftain, said that while Lilly and Regeneron’s medicines block the ability of the virus to infect cells, the virus could evade these antibodies by mutating.

‘Babe Ruth’

“Would you rather have two random baseball players or Babe Ruth?,” he said. “It’s not just the number but the quality and the characteristics of the antibody.”

Vir’s antibody was developed not from a Covid-19 patient but from one who’d recovered from severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which is also caused by a coronavirus. The company chose an antibody that also works against Covid-19 and Scangos postulates that it responds to something in the SARS and Covid viruses that hasn’t changed over years of viral evolution.

He also sees potential advantage for Vir’s antibody in its engagement of part of the immune system where Lilly and Regeneron’s molecules have had less potent activity.

Baird’s Madhu Kumar, the only analyst with a sell-equivalent rating on Vir, is skeptical. He said this particular component of Lilly and Regeneron’s antibodies may be what led to some safety signals and “could trigger inflammatory cascades that could be detrimental to patients.” This particularly concerns hospitalized patients, which Vir is still studying, Kumar told Bloomberg.

Email requests for comment to Lilly and Regeneron weren’t returned.



chart: Vir rally on antibodies hit by other's Covid scientific advances


© Bloomberg
Vir rally on antibodies hit by other’s Covid scientific advances

Much of Kumar’s skepticism is tied to Vir’s valuation. Even after the stock pulled way back from a Feb. 27 record, it’s still has more than doubled this year. He’s also wary of the market for antibodies in general because successful vaccine results from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE as well as Moderna Inc. have blunted its longer term “tail value.”

Outside of Covid-19, Kumar has a positive view on Vir. “There’s a real company behind this,” he said, calling out Vir’s hepatitis B RNAi platform.

Others on Wall Street take a more optimistic view with five analysts deeming it a buy, and one with a hold rating. The average analyst price

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Outbreak Fueled By Small Get-Togethers, Puts LA In Tough Spot

LOS ANGELES, CA — At least a third of the people recently infected with the coronavirus in Los Angeles admitted to attending small get togethers while about 10 percent admitted to attending larger gatherings, according to ongoing USC study. More than half of those recently infected reported being close contact with people outside their household.

The study also found that roughly one-third of recently infected respondents reported visiting another person’s home in the previous seven days, while one- third said they had visitors at their own home. About 10% said they had attended a gathering of 10 or more people in the past week.

The study is among the mounting evidence that the outbreak is on the rise again in large part because of small gatherings and parties in defiance of health orders. The damage such gatherings can do during the pandemic is staggering.

“I know this sounds like a small number, but if 10% of L.A. residents attend gatherings, this translates to 1 million people gathering with others not in their household,”Los Angeles County’s Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “And if we assume that 2% of people can be infected, we could possibly have 20,000 people capable of infecting others who are milling about at these gatherings each week.”

The findings should serve as a warning that the virus can as easily spread among friends and family as it can among strangers in public places. Los Angeles County’s public health director warned Monday of an already worsening COVID-19 situation becoming even more dire during the upcoming holiday season without rapid behavioral changes.

Patients who have become infected with the coronavirus show steady increases in interactions with people outside their own households,Barbara Ferrer said . The ongoing USC study found that for the week ending Oct. 20, 57% of survey respondents reported being in close contact with someone they don’t live with in the previous seven days.

Ferrer said the USC data, combined with information collected during contact-tracing interviews with virus patients, shows “there’s ample evidence that gatherings are increasing and are one of the drivers of the increases in cases in L.A. County.”

And with Thanksgiving just weeks away, Ferrer said concern is mounting that the holidays could make things worse.

“With our case numbers already on the rise, we are concerned about the upcoming months,” Ferrer said. “Holiday gatherings and cooler weather, when people are more likely to gather indoors, are perfect conditions for spreading COVID-19.”

Ferrer announced another 1,406 coronavirus cases on Monday — a day that is typically marked by relatively low daily case numbers due to reporting lags from the weekend. She noted that the county has reported almost 3,000 new cases over the last two days, a time of week when numbers are always lower than the rest of the week.

“So if that trend holds true, then we’re going to see higher numbers for the rest of this week,” she said. “And that would in fact not only create a

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Fred Hutch researchers uncover new genetic details of White House COVID-19 outbreak

Since it was revealed in early October, details about President Trump’s COVID-19 infection have been in short supply, including the likely source of his exposure and when he was tested.



a group of people standing in front of a building: Judge Amy Coney Barrett delivers remarks after President Donald Trump announces her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sept. 26, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. The event is believed to be responsible for the spread of COVID-19 among some attendees. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks, Public Domain )


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Judge Amy Coney Barrett delivers remarks after President Donald Trump announces her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sept. 26, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. The event is believed to be responsible for the spread of COVID-19 among some attendees. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks, Public Domain )

New research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle gives a glimpse into the spread of the disease among America’s first family and White House staff and guests.

Two journalists who directly interacted with White House officials at the end of September — but were not in each other’s company — contracted variations of the virus that were “highly genetically similar.” The genetic code from the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, that infected the journalists contained five unique mutations and were distinct from the genomes of more than 160,000 publicly available virus sequences.

The scientists said this particular lineage of the virus was first documented in the U.S. in April or May, but its exact spread from there was unclear.

Shortly after Trump was infected, Anthony S. Fauci — the nation’s top infectious-disease expert — said that the White House had been the site of a so-called super spreader event when it hosted a Rose Garden reception for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photos show that many in attendance did not wear masks. At least 50 COVID-19 cases have been connected to an outbreak associated with the White House, according to the researchers.

Trump Administration officials at the time of the outbreak made little effort to do contact tracing to potentially help contain the spread — a decision that drew criticism from some health experts.

When it comes to the source of the White House infections, “it’s sort of an unknowable question, where it entered the environment,” said White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern, in a press conference on Oct. 7.

The Fred Hutch-led research calls that assertion into question. While it’s too late to use the information to limit spread from the initial event, genomic sequencing could provide additional insights into the path of transmission if more samples were tested. It could also help build a more complete picture of the outbreak’s spread by analyzing infections that occur weeks or months following the White House event.



chart: Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have created a family tree for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and identified the form associated with the White House outbreak. (Fred Hutch Image)


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Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have created a family tree for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and identified the form associated with the White House

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Santa Cruz County reports 16th death in Watsonville skilled nursing facility coronavirus outbreak

WATSONVILLE — The County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency reported Friday that a 16th person has died in relation to the Watsonville Post Acute Center COVID-19 outbreak that started in September.

A man in his 90s that had several underlying health conditions in addition to a positive case of COVID-19 died at a local hospital Oct. 20, according to county spokesman Jason Hoppin.

The county has to wait for each death certificate and note whether the virus was a component before adding it to the dashboard, which is why the news came 10 days after the death.

Hoppin said Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel alluded to the state of the outbreak during her press conference announcing the possibility of the county moving to the orange tier of the state coronavirus measurement model Tuesday. At that time, there were still people in the hospital but no new infections had been reported in over a week.

“But we are not out of the woods, she said,” Hoppin recounted Newel’s remarks on Friday afternoon.

Hoppin was unsure upon query whether there were still active cases at the Watsonville skilled nursing facility, but he said that 50 total residents and 21 total staff members had been infected since the first cases were reported Sept. 18.

“It’s a very unfortunate tragedy,” Hoppin said.

As of deadline, Santa Cruz County health officials reported 2,884 cases of COVID-19, with 226 of those cases being active. Nearly 190 of the cases were severe enough to require hospitalization. Nearly 60,000 tests conducted in county labs have come back negative. Person-to-person contact through shared households remains the most likely source of exposure to COVID-19 in the county.

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Michigan At Risk For ‘Imminent’ Coronavirus Outbreak, Group Says

MICHIGAN — Michigan is at risk for an imminent outbreak of the coronavirus, according to the national nonprofit COVID Act Now.

The website, which updated its status for Michigan Friday, reported that Michigan is either actively experiencing an outbreak or is at extreme risk. The site reports that coronavirus cases are growing in Michigan and its preparedness is significantly below international standards.

According to COVID Act Now, Michigan is averaging a 25.7 new cases per 100K people, which is calls a “dangerous” number.

Don’t miss important updates from health and government officials on the impact of the coronavirus in Michigan. Sign up for Patch’s daily newsletters and email alerts.

The infection rate in Michigan is 1.23 as active cases increase rapidly, according to the site.

Michigan has an adequate testing amount, according to COVID Act Now, with a 6.4 percent positive test rate.

The state can likely handle a new wave of COVID-19 cases, according to the nonprofit, with 24 percent of ICU headroom used.

Michigan has seen an alarming trend recently, with the number of new cases growing and COVID-19 deaths increasing as well, according to state health officials.

On Thursday, the state reported its highest single-day increase in new COVID-19 cases, adding more than 3,600 cases. That came less than a week removed from its previous highest influx of new cases, and just a day after reporting its second-highest single-day increase.

State health officials on Thursday tightened restrictions on indoor gatherings and shifted the Traverse City region backward in the state’s reopening plan, saying that coronavirus hospitalizations have doubled in the last three weeks and the statewide death rate has risen for five straight weeks.

“The only way to beat COVID is to act on what we’ve learned since March,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said. “Wear masks. Keep six feet of distance. Wash hands. And avoid the indoor get-togethers where we have seen COVID explode.”

This article originally appeared on the Detroit Patch

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Organised ‘overkill’: China shows off rapid lockdown system after latest outbreak

BEIJING (Reuters) – Days after a 17-year-old girl tested positive for COVID-19 in a remote part of western China last week, health authorities said they had tested over 4.7 million people in the region.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin speaks during a news conference in Beijing, China July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

China’s strict formula of immediate lockdowns and mass testing even at the first signs of infection has been vital to its success in controlling the disease, allowing its economy to quickly recover from the crisis, officials say.

The highly orchestrated strategy – described as “overkill” even by its own proponents – is unique among major economies at a time when Europe and the United States are facing a massive surge of new cases and often chaotic policies.

At the time the girl was diagnosed, the Kashgar region of Xinjiang had reported no new cases for almost 70 days.

“China has taken the most comprehensive, strictest and most thorough control and prevention measures since the COVID-19 pandemic started,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday.

“The facts show China’s measures are effective.”

Key to the programme are factors unique to China, including the Communist Party’s tight grip on all aspects of society.

Authorities have unimpeded access to personal information as part of an expansive surveillance network, which has played a major role in tracing infections.

The government has also quickly enlisted the help of businesses, which are churning out tens of millions of test kits, and tightly controls their pricing and distribution, issues which have severely set back efforts to contain the disease in other countries.

China has reported just 2,382 cases since June. By contrast, Germany and France are set to follow Italy and Spain back into partial lockdowns, as Europe reported a record 230,000 cases in one day earlier this week, while U.S. cases are set to hit 9 million soon.

MASS TESTINGS

In August, Beijing ordered all major hospitals in the country to offer testing, and said there should be one urban testing base constructed for every million residents, with the capacity to scale up to 30,000 tests a day in a local outbreak.

Regions are also required to share resources, in sharp contrast to the early days of the outbreak, when several cities were accused of stealing equipment from each other.

The system, like all Chinese Communist blueprints, is highly structured around specific targets; testing teams should be able to complete a campaign within seven days.

Earlier this month, almost 11 million test results were delivered in around five days in the eastern port city of Qingdao. In Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the pandemic, over 9 million samples were taken over 10 days in May.

The mass testings are mandatory. Some are held in outdoor sporting venues and city parks, with hundreds of people lining up.

PUTTING PEOPLE AT EASE

Epidemiologists have called into question the efficacy of the mass testing events, noting some patients require multiple tests over time

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School Event Occurs Despite COVID Outbreak, Causes Montco Spread

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, PA — While the fall coronavirus surge is chiefly attributed to cooler weather and more time spent indoors, officials say that decisions made by both institutions and individuals have also been instrumental in foiling suppression.

One string of cases in Montgomery County was traced to a recent recreational event which was held at a private school in Philadelphia. The event occurred even though school officials and participating students knew of a recent outbreak in the school.

>>Montco Warns Of ‘Exponential’ COVID Surge, Hospitalizations Rise

A student from Montgomery County attended the event, and became contagious without showing symptoms, according to Commissioner Val Arkoosh. Not knowing he was infected, he attended a different recreational event in Montgomery County days later, passing the virus on to at least five adults.

Two of those five adults were coaches of youth sports teams, Arkoosh said. Those two coaches then spread it to children on their teams.

“This is an illustration of quickly this can spread, how individuals who are contagious, who don’t have symptoms, can infect a number of individuals,” Arkoosh said. “And how those individuals can continue to spread the virus.”

The county did not specify the nature of the event in Philadelphia or provide details on where the spread occurred in this instance in Montgomery County. But transmission has been everywhere, especially in schools that have reopened.

There have been a total of 564 “close contacts” with the virus in schools that have reopened across the county thus far this school year, officials said Wednesday. They did not say how many of those individuals had tested positive.

The number was a result of the county’s robust contact tracing program. A close contact is defined as any student who is within six feet of a student who is infected.

Where these contacts take place largely depends on the school. Many schools are large enough, or have been able to plan their reopens carefully enough, that students are almost always six feet away from one another in classrooms.

However, there are many places where this is impossible. One infected student could easily become a “close contact” for dozens throughout a single school day, officials note.

This article originally appeared on the Norristown Patch

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Nursing home VP says federal inspection diverted resources to COVID response during nation’s first outbreak

The executive in charge of the nursing home where the first known outbreak of coronavirus patients erupted in the U.S. says a federal inspection diverted precious time from her staff’s desperate efforts to care for critically ill residents. Bill Whitaker and his team were the first reporters allowed inside the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, since the outbreak there last February. His report reveals the details of the early stages of a medical emergency that soon grew into a pandemic and the federal government’s bungled response to it. The report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, November 1at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.  

Nancy Butner, a vice president at Life Care Centers of America who ran the Kirkland facility for 14 years, was desperate for more staff. Forty of them, including the medical director, could no longer come to work because they had COVID-19 symptoms. She asked the federal government for an emergency team of doctors and nurses. A team of doctors and nurses did come five days later, but not before the federal government sent a team in to inspect Life Care Center of Kirkland in the middle of the outbreak. “It was infuriating– they didn’t truly understand COVID or what the facility was going through,” Butner tells Whitaker. “Hours of staff time were averted to managing a survey process instead of managing a crisis in the facility and patient care.”    

Life Care Center says inspectors from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services interviewed staff and demanded documentation, diverting 400 hours of staff time away from patient care. “They knew how many staff were lost. They knew how many patients were hospitalized. They knew there was a lot of  patients that were sick and it was an unknown virus,” says Butner. “I explained that to them. But I can’t… tell them to leave.”   

60 Minutes searched hundreds of public documents and turned up emails that show state health officials pressed the governor’s office to call off the inspection. Dr. Jeffery Duchin, the head of outbreak response at Public Health Seattle-King County called the inspection “Not an appropriate use of precious time.” He tells Whitaker he believes the government knew its investigation was taking place during a public health emergency at a critical time. “I don’t have any reason to believe it. That it was a mix-up. I believe it was an intentional decision to conduct a survey at that time.”    

Says Butner, “I think they wanted a scapegoat for what happened at Life Care Center Kirkland. I think that they wanted someone to blame for COVID-19 spreading. We had nothing to do with the spread across the nation.”

60 Minutes wanted to ask Seema Verma, the federal administrator in charge of the inspection, about the timing of the inspection and the findings, but her office declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview.  

Life Care was fined more than $600,000 by the federal government and state inspectors working with federal investigators working with federal investigators found the

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The politics of the pandemic lead Elkhart County, Ind., to face its worst covid-19 outbreak alone

But they also know that’s not going to happen now.

“There’s no help coming before the election,” said Lydia Mertz, the county’s health officer, calling the current situation “extremely alarming.”

“I think right now some elected officials are just looking to get through the first weeks of November before they do anything unpopular,” said Dan Nafziger, chief medical officer at Goshen Hospital, referring to the restrictions seen in the state earlier this year that he believes are needed again.

“Without a doubt the election is a factor,” said Mike Yoder, a Republican county commissioner.

The pandemic has become politics. And on the eve of a contentious national election, with cases of the novel coronavirus surging in many parts of the country, places like Elkhart County — where President Trump is popular — feel they are being left alone to face outbreaks spiraling out of control. Trump has long disparaged efforts to fight the virus, clashing at times with his own public health officials. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reinforced the president’s message, saying during a CNN interview, “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”

The result, according to officials in Elkhart County, is that state and federal authorities in recent weeks have showed little interest in helping them push for the tougher measures needed to control the pandemic — a change from earlier this year, when they worked together on encouraging mask-wearing or limiting public gatherings. And local officials worry they lack the authority or support to go it alone.

“I’ve talked with the mayor, county officials and corresponded with the Indiana State Health Department and the governor, and I’ve asked them to make stronger interventions,” said Rebecca Stoltzfus, president of Goshen College, who is part of the county’s coronavirus fight. “There’s not been much of a response.”

The business community, too, has noticed the lack of action, said Levon Johnson, president of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

“Unfortunately, politics has gotten in the way of the common-sense things that need to be done,” said Johnson.

A spokeswoman for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, referred questions from The Washington Post to the state health department. A statement from the state health agency said cities and counties are free to impose, “ANY additional health emergency restriction they determine necessary to control the spread of the virus.” The agency said it has provided advice and funding for testing clinics and education campaigns in Elkhart and across the state.

Elkhart County is rural and conservative, home to 200,000 people, 150 miles north of Indianapolis and best known for a manufacturing base that makes it part of the “RV Capital of the World.” A Democrat hasn’t been elected to county office in years. Trump won nearly 57 percent of the vote here in 2016.

And the area is accustomed to serving as a stage for presidential politics. Barack Obama, when he was president, visited the county in 2009 to highlight how much work was needed to get the

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The Latest: China Says Latest Outbreak Appears Contained | World News

BEIJING — Officials in the northwestern China region of Xinjiang say they believe they have contained the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak.

Xinjiang reported 23 new confirmed cases Thursday, all involving people who had initially tested positive but displayed no symptoms. It was the second consecutive day in which newly confirmed cases emerged entirely among such people.

Officials say that development appears to show new infections have been curbed in Kashgar prefecture, where the outbreak appeared Saturday. They say all the cases seem to be linked to a garment factory that employs 252 people and has since being sealed off.

More than 4.7 million people in Kashgar have been tested for the virus.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— US plans to buy initial antibody doses from Eli Lilly

— Task force member Giroir: Cases, hospitalizations, deaths up in US – not just testing

— President Emmanuel Macron announces second national lockdown in France starting Friday. German officials agreed four-week partial lockdown.

— Belgium and Czech Republic top Europe’s highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 citizens, ahead of hotbeds France and Spain.

— Love blossoms amid pandemic for two TikTok creators in Los Angeles, using goofy dance videos, heartfelt vlogs and affirmations.

— Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Officials in Anchorage, Alaska, say the city is on a “dangerous path” as coronavirus cases rise and are urging people to avoid gatherings and follow orders to wear masks in public.

Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson says she has been meeting with business leaders, health officials and others to make decisions that protect health but also impose minimal restrictions so businesses can stay open.

The mayor says that “none of us wants another hunker-down” order.

The city’s health director says that after months of dealing with the pandemic, some people may have let down their guard. She says people should stay home except to get food, exercise outside or go to work. She says it is important to wear masks and social distance in public and to avoid contact with those at higher risk for severe illness.

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota health officials are warning against traditional Halloween festivities amid the recent rise in coronavirus cases statewide.

Officials say that instead of traditional trick-or-treating and indoor haunted houses, people should look to lower risk activities like carving pumpkins and decorating homes or holding virtual gatherings.

he state’s infectious diseases director said Wednesday that warmer weather this weekend may encourage outdoor gatherings, but cautioned against disregarding health guidelines with virus infections rising steadily.

Officials reported 1,916 new coronavirus cases and 19 new COVID-19 deaths. Daily case counts statewide have exceeded 2,000 three times in the past two weeks, and the state has reported more than 1,000 new daily cases for the last 21 days.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Medical professionals in Iowa are expressing concerns that a surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations could overwhelm medical facilities if

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