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Biotech Research Roundup – October

As October wraps up, we’re dropping our latest installment of Excedr’s monthly research roundup. We focus on cutting-edge research and study in this roundup, covering everything from the month’s major news regarding a COVID-19 vaccine as well as research published on a couple of different topics. By splitting our roundups, we hope you’re able to access the news that matters most to you without experiencing any friction. Here’s the link to our other roundup, Biotech Business, where we cover fundraising, M&As, IPOs, and more.

Interested in other posts? Our blog is filled with informative pieces on different topics that range from lab equipment to the flexibility of operating leases.

Research News

As the world continues to grapple with case numbers, COVID-19 research races on at an incredible pace. Although much of it is speculative, extensive data is accumulating, with countless tests and trials happening constantly, all over the world. We all hope that a vaccine will be available soon. However, we don’t know how soon that will be. In the meantime, we continue to wear our masks and practice the safety guidelines issued by the CDC and WHO.

Regeneron antibody cocktail proves effective in preventing SARS-COV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in rhesus macaques

According to a study published earlier this month in Science, Regeneron’s antibody treatment comprising two different types of antibodies has demonstrated the ability to greatly reduce virus loads in both lower and upper airways of rhesus macaques and golden hamsters. The report, covered by GEN news, also demonstrated REGN-COV2s ability to decrease virus-induced pathological conditions that occur after the initial infection’s symptoms. These specific animal models were used in the study because they mimic the diverse pathology of SARS-COV2 infection. The results highlight the antibody treatment’s potential to lower the chances of infection, as well as treat for infection.

COVID-19 causes problems in our nervous system, but how and why are still unclear

One of the more mysterious aspects of SARS-COV2 is the effect it has on people’s nervous systems. Many people report symptoms that include headaches, muscle and joint pain, overall fatigue, and a strange mix of memory issues, mental haziness, and loss of taste and smell. In many cases, these symptoms can last for weeks, if not months, after the infection has run its course. People infected with the virus have already had to contend with severe coughing, fevers, and respiratory illness, but neurological effects as well? The strangeness of this novel coronavirus remains as strong as ever deep into 2020. Scientific American covers some of the studies dedicated to understanding how exactly the virus affects our nervous system, and what we now know after the better part of a year.

Targeting out-of-control immune cells could be key to stopping SARS-COV2

Researchers at John Hopkins University are trying to tackle the question many scientists, medical professionals, and healthcare experts have been asking themselves: How does the virus prompt the immune system to attack healthy cells? Can controlling the reaction of specific immune cells control the body’s response to SARS-COV2? The team focused on two specific proteins that help the immune system clear out pathogens from the body and discovered a chain reaction tied to COVID-19’s infamous spike protein and the two present in our bodies. Earlier in the month, another team of researchers discovered another protein that plays a role in moderating the immune response to the virus. Both studies show the possibility that controlling how immune cells react to SARS-COV2 could help stop dangerous immune system attacks.

Now, in an effort to think about something else, some news unrelated to the novel coronavirus.

Guardant360 liquid biopsy shows marked improvement in GI cancer clinical trial enrollment

Guardant Health, a developer of blood tests for early cancer detection in high-risk populations and recurrence monitoring in cancer survivors, developed a liquid biopsy called Guardant360 that has improved the rate of clinical trial enrollment for patients with gastrointestinal cancer. A report published in Nature Medicine at the beginning of this month, covered by GenomeWeb, highlights the data collected regarding a side-by-side comparison of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) analysis to tissue genotyping. The two trials were conducted by researchers from Japan’s National Cancer Center Hospital East. The first trial, SCRUM-Japan GOZILA, relied on ctDNA and the Guardant360 liquid biopsy, while the second trial, GI-SCREEN, relied on tissue genotyping. Using ctDNA genotyping, the researchers reported, increased the speed at which a patient was screened for enrollment, as well as the turnaround time for actually becoming enrolled in a clinical trial.

Two women make history, win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for CRISPR-Cas9 discovery

Earlier this month, it was announced that biochemist Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier were the recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. They became the first team of women to win the science Nobel, making scientific history and smashing old records. Their discovery and co-development of CRISPR for the purpose of editing DNA has revolutionized genetics and biomedicine. CRISPR-Cas9 gives scientists the ability to edit DNA much like rewriting a sentence or editing a misspelled word, changing specific letters to correct mutations. This means that diseases caused by a DNA mutation could ultimately be cured using CRISPR-Cas9.

NGS-based technique could guide treatment plans for patients with cancer of unknown primary

When cancer spreads, it typically starts in a primary site and spreads to one or more metastatic sites through the blood or the lymphatics, or both. However, the primary site defines the type of cancer a patient has. Sometimes it’s not clear where a cancer may have begun. When this is the case, the cancer is referred to as cancer of unknown primary, or CUP. NGS-based profiling, according to the results of a study published earlier this month, may offer a solution to predicting the tumor origin site and detecting gene alterations for CUP. Based on this study’s results, there is potential that NGS-based DNA and RNA profiling may be able to predict types of tumors and inform a decision for treatment. Although the team of researchers agreed there were limitations to the study, the findings suggested that an NGS-based strategy could have positive impacts in a clinical setting.GenomeWeb summarizes the report.

CRISPR Therapeutics’ cell therapy shows promising results, one death is tied to the therapy

CRISPR Therapeutics recently released results of a clinical trial involving off-the-shelf CAR-T cell therapy. The company, which developed the therapy, was co-founded by Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of two recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Despite the new data providing additional evidence that another generation of CAR-T cancer treatments could become more widely available, the death of a patient is tied to the trial. STAT news covers the company’s announcement, earlier this month. CRISPR framed the overall data set as positive, belied by their belief that the company can bring the power of cell therapies to the larger population. However, this latest data is definitely overshadowed by the death of a patient. Nonetheless, the CAR-T cell therapy CRISPR developed brought about complete remission in some patients with advanced B-cell lymphoma.

A newly discovered immune cell presents a way to treat a number of brain diseases

Diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cause irreversible damage to the brain and spinal cord, affecting nerve fibers and destroying a person’s ability to function normally. Without a cure, MS, ALS, and other brain diseases have turned lives upside down. Now, scientists at Ohio State University have unearthed a possible path to reversing the damage done. An immune cell, discovered by studying mouse models, secretes growth factors that aid in regenerating axons of the central nervous system, the team reported. The cell is known as granulocyte and is a newly discovered type of white blood cell that is similar to a neutrophil. FierceBiotech reports on the discovery.

An infant, diagnosed with leukemia, beats the odds with the help of CAR-T therapy

Shawanda Prather and Cariorl Mayfield’s daughter, Chasity, was able to beat blood cancer with the help of CAR-T cell therapy. At just 5 weeks old, she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. The parents knew something was wrong the minute Chasity was born, but it took several pediatrician appointments and an emergency care visit to figure out what was wrong with her. CAR-T cell therapy begins when a sample of the patient’s T cells are collected and then altered to produce their own CARs, known as chimeric antigen receptors. These edited cells are reintroduced into the body and begin destroying the tumor cells. The treatment that Chasity received was a last-ditch effort that ended up saving her life. Biospace covers the story.