For the past few months, we’ve shared stories of positive developments in the race for COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinations. This week, we look at the long backstory of the challenges that have haunted the AstraZeneca vaccine efforts and why it is so critical for the world that these issues are resolved. We also look at the use of machine learning to improve drug delivery, groups fighting to improve diversity in the life sciences industry, genetically modified mosquitos and a monkey playing Pong with its mind.
Each week, we highlight five things you need to know about in the life sciences industry. Here’s the latest.
Although the headlines in the U.S. have focused on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week, the backstory of the current challenges for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shows how promising results from a clinical trial alone are sometimes not sufficient. Although the U.S. appears to have sufficient doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, these other cheaper and easier-to-transport vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are critical to global vaccination efforts.
Researchers from MIT have developed a screening platform that leverages machine learning to quickly identify nanoparticles with high drug payload carrying capabilities. Initial research is helping to improve the efficiency of these existing drugs and has the potential to further the advancement of personalized medicine. By using machine learning in this way, researchers can quickly look at individual genetics and take into consideration important things like drug absorption and allergies to help maximize the delivery efficiency throughout the body.
3. One group’s efforts to improve diversity and access to internships is expanding even during a pandemic
A long-standing challenge in life sciences is finding talented employees at all levels. To combat this, internships have long been a staple of the industry. Unfortunately, for many first-generation, low-income college students, there are numerous roadblocks to finding internships along with challenges once they start these programs. Groups like Project Onramp, which started in Boston and recently expanded to Philadelphia, aim to breakdown those barriers to increase opportunities for students.
CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which made the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines possible, has also been used in a range of high profile applications, including an ongoing effort to curb the spread of mosquito-spread diseases such as dengue, Zika and malaria. Genetically modified (GM) mosquitos have been tested for over a decade in Brazil, and this spring the first generation of Oxitec’s GM mosquitos are set to be released in the Florida Keys, a major test of public opinion over gene editing in a post-pandemic, and increasingly biotech-savvy, world.
Last week, Elon Musk’s Neuralink released a three-minute video of a macaque monkey with two Neuralink devices implanted in his brain apparently playing the video game Pong with his mind. The devices, implanted flush with the skull, are invisible and connected via Bluetooth. The company is hoping to begin human trials for the devices later this year, with the target of helping quadriplegics to connect and quickly communicate with smartphone devices. Neuralink hopes that future devices will shunt signals from the brain and allow visually impaired people the ability to see again, and for paraplegics the ability to walk.