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Research Roundup: A combo flu-COVID vaccine, dengue research with AI, and genetically modified mosquitoes
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
A combo flu and COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax elicits a strong immune response similar to stand-alone flu and COVID-19 shots, according to initial results of a phase 1/2 trial announced last week. The trial, conducted among 642 older adults between 50 to 70 years old in Australia, sought to identify an optimal dose of the vaccine using a modeling-based approach. The shot generated a similar immune response to both a stand-alone influenza vaccine as well as a stand-alone COVID-19 shot, and the modeling showed the combined formulation could reduce the total antigen amount by up to 50 percent, which could boost production and delivery. Novavax is launching a phase 3 study to continue evaluating the combination vaccine.
BenevolentAI and the Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative (DNDi) have launched a joint research project to combat dengue, for which there is currently no effective treatment. The collaboration will use an AI-enhanced approach—using a data foundation developed from various independent data sources—to identify the underlying mechanisms involved in dengue infection and provide a host of potential biological targets and drug repurposing candidates that could help stop progression to severe dengue. Once the most promising drug candidates are identified, they will be evaluated in clinical trials in partnership with dengue-endemic countries. Applying cutting-edge AI technology to help neglected patients opens an exciting opportunity to rapidly identify and evaluate promising drug candidates, according to DNDi.
The first open-air study of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the United States is now complete and shows promising results, according to biotechnology firm Oxitec, which is running the experiment. The experiment, launched in April 2021, involved releasing nearly 5 million engineered Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the Florida Keys over the course of seven months. Oxitec’s engineered male mosquitoes carry a gene that is lethal to female offspring, causing the population to dwindle as each generation mates. While the experiment showed females did die as intended due to the gene, larger tests are still needed to determine whether the insects can achieve the ultimate goal of suppressing a wild population of potentially virus-carrying mosquitoes, and controlled clinical trials will be required to assess whether the method reduces transmission of dengue or other viruses carried by A. aegypti.