Public health experts are raising new concerns that achieving herd immunity in the United States looks increasingly unlikely. Although this doesn’t reduce the urgent need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, it does mean that we may need to begin planning for how we will live with COVID-19 as an endemic part of life.
This week in our five things you need to know in life sciences, we highlight herd immunity challenges, concerns about waiving patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, using machine learning to reduce trial risks, augmented reality in knee replacements and Apple Watch’s new health monitoring sensors.
1. COVID-19 herd immunity in the U.S. seems to be out of reach
As we are quickly approaching our second summer under the shadow of the pandemic, experts are beginning to confront the possibility that reaching herd immunity may not be possible. The idea of herd immunity, where enough people in a community have protection from the virus and can no longer transmit it, looks unlikely because of a combination of vaccine hesitancy and the emergence of new, more transmissible variants. This points to a future where COVID-19 continues to be a part of daily life.
2. U.S. joins other countries petitioning WTO to waive COVID-19 intellectual property protections
As the world grapples with how to increase access to lifesaving vaccines, numerous countries, including the United States, are requesting that the World Trade Organization waive patent and other protections so that production can be increased. The industry and countries like Germany are opposed to such a waiver because they are concerned about the precedent it could set. They also argue that raw materials and other supply chain restrictions are a bigger impediment to expanding production.
3. Machine learning promises to reduce the risks of clinical trial failure
As a drug candidate progresses through the clinical trial process, there are countless points where it can go off track. In an attempt to reduce these risks, trials are carefully designed—but some problems still remain. For instance, 50% of trials don’t reach enrollment goals. Using machine learning based on the large volumes of data generated in trials could allow for better trial design and reduce risks.
4. Augmented reality is cleared for use during knee replacement surgery
Using precision guidance or robotics to improve outcomes in orthopedic surgery isn’t a new concept. Traditionally, this has required surgeons to adopt new tools and significantly change their surgical approach. However, a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved technology from Pixee Medical uses augmented reality to provide the benefits of surgical guidance without requiring a surgeon to relearn new tools and approaches.
5. Apple appears on the verge of adding additional health sensors to its devices
Since its launch, the Apple Watch has been slowly transforming from a companion for your iPhone into a sophisticated device for monitoring your health and vital signs. First, the device moved from simple heart rate monitoring to features more akin to an EKG, allowing owners to participate in large-scale studies of heart health. Now, with a deal with Rockley Photonics, the company may be preparing to add more health features like glucose monitoring to the watch’s range of features.