🦠 COVID-19 | We must work together

I am a scientist by education, banker at JPMorgan for a few years, then mature PhD student in Chemical Biology at Oxford under the supervision of Christofer Schofield (FRS) and Peter Ratcliffe (Nobel laureate in medicine in 2019). Founder and tech investor focusing on media and education. I care about science, learning and Democracy which are good bedfellows.

📊 Daily Data Brief: 

Cumulative case: 4,885,968 (+106,934cumulative cases 

Active cases:  2,662,889 (+45,764) (this is the number of currently infected patients)

Total Deaths:  319,878 315,643  (+5,778)

Serious/Critical Cases: 44,754 (-134)

Recovered:  1,903,201 (+56,935)

Source: Worldometers

1) Seven-day rolling average of new deaths (updated daily as ECDC releases). Major update with per country graphs now available (Link) (USUKFranceGermanySweden,  Nordic Comparison) (👈NEW❗️)

Showing a chart from the FT today highlighting the worrying situation in Brazil and Mexico

2) U.S. states reopening risk map (Link) (No Change)

The big news yesterday was the data from Moderna’s vaccine Phase 1 trial. Beyond the “so far, so good” news, the reaction of the financial markets and the public is testament to the strong shared and pent-up hope that we will soon come out of our current predicament. Beyond knowing whether Moderna’s vaccine, will or will not go past large scale Phase 3 trial, it also shows that science and companies are every day working towards improving our ‘tool box’ against COVID-19. And even if we knew it, this news made it more tangible.

The video of the day today is again from Angela Merkel (the 3rd time the Corona Daily features an interview of the former physicist and German chancellor) urging us to work together to solve the COVID-19 ‘problem’.

Three papers today: one on potential climate modulation of COVID-19 transmission and two exceptional papers with direct relevance to monoclonal antibody based treatments and vaccine - part of the ‘toolbox’.

A study on excess mortality where the U.K. fares particularly badly.

A report on Australia garnering support for an independent inquiry into the pandemic and a deplorable reaction from China. The Jihin province in China has seen an outbreak threatening to put 108 million people in quarantine and a stark warning to all of us.

A management leadership study for both managers and employees to assess how to be better leaders or assess their leadership respectively.

We must work together.

👏 Video of the day: “No country can solve this problem alone. We must work together.

💉 Helen Branswell writes “Early data show Moderna Covid-19 vaccine generates immune response” in STAT news.

Branswell reports on the preliminary Phase 1 trials results from Moderna’s vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 (Moderna’s press release here) which appears to generate dose-dependent immune response in patients in the trials. The company announced that it was moving to Phase 2 trials, and would look to start Phase 3 in July.

This is how Branswell posted her article on Twitter:

This is obviously good news (and the financial markets reacted emphatically to it), but we need to thread cautiously. Last week, some observers were critical of the pre-print study from the ‘Oxford vaccine’. The Menachery Lab (whose research focuses on “virulent respiratory viruses and the host immune response”) tweeted the following:

The Moderna study is undeniably good news, and there are real prospects of having their vaccine candidate being used in large scale trials in the early fall amongst key workers and selected cohorts. The optimism in the market was also giving support to the belief that the ‘toolbox’ (drugs and vaccines) will get better over time. (Link)

🦠 Rachel E. Baker et al. publish“Susceptible supply limits the role of climate in the early SARS-CoV-2 pandemic” in Science.

This is an interesting paper looking at a potential climate impact on transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2. While the paper does not dismiss a potential role for climate based on other ‘coronavirus biology’ and modelling, the main point in the paper is the following.

“Our results suggest that while climate may play a role in modulating detailed aspects of the size and timescales of a pandemic outbreak within a particular location, population immunity is a much more fundamental driver of pandemic invasion dynamics.”

In summary, we should not count on climate to get us an easy card out. (Link)

🦠 Two great papers published recently.

David Veesler and Davide Corti  et al.Cross-neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 by a human monoclonal SARS-CoV antibody” in Nature. Significantly this is a collaboration between Vir Biotechnology (a private company developing monclonal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2) and a number of public research labs and institutes. It is always a good sign when companies working on vaccines or drugs publish findings in peer review journals. Both SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 belong to the betacoronavirus sub-family of sarbecovirus, and share 80% amino acid identity in their amino acid sequence. The paper focus on S309 (a SARS-CoV-1 antibody) and how it enhances neutralisation of SARS-CoV-2.

“Antibody cocktails including S309 along with other antibodies identified here further enhanced SARS-CoV-2 neutralization and may limit the emergence of neutralization-escape mutants. These results pave the way for using S309- and S309-containing antibody cocktails for prophylaxis in individuals at high risk of exposure or as a post-exposure therapy to limit or treat severe disease.”

A great route to explore for companies like Vir Biotechnlogy working on monoclonal antibodies for treatment of COVID-19.

The second paper “Potent neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 identified by high-throughput single-cell sequencing of convalescent patients’ B cells” is published by X Sunney Xi et al. in Cell. This paper reports on a selection method to rapidly identify neutralising antibodies to SAS-CoV-2 by part utilising cues from neturalising antibodies to SARS-CoV-1. This type of work will help both companies working on monoclonal antibodies and vaccines, and in particular in attempting to design them to protect patients against future mutation of the virus.

(Link and Link)

🏛 Janine Aron and John Muellbauer write “Measuring excess mortality: England is the European outlier in the Covid-19 pandemic” in VoxEU. The authors compare countries in Europe on their ‘excess mortality’, as there is an increasing debate raging about how accurately the official report of fatality numbers in most countries reflect the reality of the death toll caused by COVID-19. This is why three leading publications have started to report comparative study of excess mortality across countries: the Financial Times, the New York Times and The Economist.

Increasingly, the public and policy makers have started to look at excess mortality as an important metric, as it probably better reflect the death toll of the pandemic by capturing two components which official case numbers fail to do: mis-diagnosed deaths and related-deaths (for example overwhelmed health care systems not being able to provide the standard of care to patients with non-COVID-19 life-threatening conditions).

There are a number of statistical numbers and scores which statisticians and the authors use for reporting on excess mortality which they explain in the early part of the article. The Z-score numbers for the U.K. look the worst:

  1. Overall:

  2. In the 15-64 age group:

Great work by the authors. (Link)

🇨🇳 Joseph Guzman  writes More than 100 million people in renewed lockdown in China after spike of new coronavirus cases” for The Hill. An outbreak of 34 cases causing one death was reported in the province of Jilin.

Shulan, one of the cities, imposed a strict lockdown:

“it would impose its strictest restrictions yet to try to contain the outbreak, including closing off residential compounds with confirmed and suspected cases. Officials would also allow only one person from each family to leave to buy essential supplies for two hours every two days, according to Bloomberg.”

A must read, in particular for the proponents of swift reopening. Imagine the psychological cost and fear by a second strict lockdown. (Link)

🇨🇳 SBS (Austalia) publishes “Coalition of 116 countries back Australia's push for independent coronavirus inquiry”.

Australia has called for an independent inquiry, which will inevitably include a look at China. Given the exponential nature of COVID-19 transmission, as most countries have found out, the quality of your early behaviour inexorably impacts the number of deaths caused by this virus. As the starting point of this pandemic, China and its response will deservedly be in focus. Until recently China has shown no accountably towards its actions towards the international community and it is therefore no surprise to see them trying to bully Australia in its call for an inquiry:

It doesn't mention China, but Australia's push for the inquiry has angered Beijing, which has threatened a huge tariff on barley and blocked some beef imports.

China has since then announced that they will impose tariff. It shows how a regime like China uses power in times of crisis. It will disserve its ambition to be a global leader on the world stage. (Link)

🤝 Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio writes “In Times of Anxiety, Lead With ‘We’ and ‘Us’’”. This is an interesting article on how good leaders should manage their enterprise or group during a time of crisis like COVID-19.

Interestingly and citing an Edelman survey on trust, employees trust their employers better for reliable information than the government. It is actually also playing out now with school re-openings in the U.K. with teachers not trusting the government’s decision. Consequently consistent and clarity on messaging to employees (and citizens) is key.

The findings of the study reported on by the author is full of interesting learnings for managers:

1. Take the pulse of workforce well-being regularly
2. Send regular messages to employees that emphasize “we” and “us.”
3. Managers should help their staffs understand where to focus their time and energy
4. Encourage social interaction and highlight positivity

A good read for both managers to lead better and for employees to assess their leaders and company culture. (Link)

📊 A picture is worth a thousand words:  Global (🌎) and local (with relevant flag) visualisation and forecasting tool

  1. 🦠 NEW❗️Science Forum: SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) by the numbers” (Link)

    “The COVID-19 pandemic is a harsh reminder of the fact that, whether in a single human host or a wave of infection across continents, viral dynamics is often a story about the numbers. In this article we provide a one-stop, curated graphical source for the key numbers (based mostly on the peer-reviewed literature) about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is responsible for the pandemic. The discussion is framed around two broad themes: i) the biology of the virus itself; ii) the characteristics of the infection of a single human host.”

  2. 🇺🇸  “Is your community ready to reopen?”: A map of the US (50 states and 2,100+ counties) looking at reopening risks with metrics around 3 criteria: 1. Is COVID in retreat? 2. Are we testing enough? 3. Are our hospitals ready? (Link)

  3. 🌎 The Financial Times (visualisation) has a data tracking page which is in front of the paywall, looking at cases and fatality curves for selective countries and metropolitan areas/region. It is not as extensive as the Madlag link below, where you can see static as well as animated images for a greater number of individual countries. (Link)

  4. 🇺🇸  The Johns Hopkins University resource center was the first one I used back in January they have now made available in their latest iteration a county by county dashboard in the US including information about health capacity, insurance coverage, ethnicity and age breakdown of the populatio (Link)

  5. 💊 The "Map of Hope" provides a geographical overview of planned, ongoing and completed clinical trials. It is put together with data from WHO Clinical Trials Search Portal by the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation technology. (Link)

  6. 🌍 MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis started to publish weekly death estimates for countries (Link)

  7. 🇺🇸 The US Center for Disease Control and Surveillance (CDC) publishes “A Weekly Surveillance Summary of U.S. COVID-19 Activity” (Link)

  8. Google has published a new website to “See how your community is moving around differently due to COVID-19”. They have a lot of data to do so… (Link)

  9. 🌎 Country by Country Curves: This is a GitHub made by my friend Francois Lagunas. He has written a script to scrape deaths and number of cases in order to visualise the rate of growth on a logarithmic scale.  Great resource (Link)

  10. 🌎A great resource put together by Ben Kuhn and Yuri Vishnevsky.  At a time when we need solidarity and cooperation, I prefer their subtitle “We need stronger measures, much faster” than their title. It’s a simulator on what case growth looks like depending on your community’s measures. Fantastic resource to stir communities and governments to action (Link)