Researchers begin trials of COVID-19 vaccine

Researchers begin trials of COVID-19 vaccine
In this file photo taken on February 10, 2020 Doctor Paul McKay, who is working on an vaccine for the 2019-nCoV strain of the novel coronavirus poses for a photograph using a pipette expresses coronavirus onto surface protein to apply cell cultures, in a research lab at Imperial College School of Medicine (ICSM) in London on February 10, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 23 May 2020

Researchers begin trials of COVID-19 vaccine

Researchers begin trials of COVID-19 vaccine
  • Oxford group could have 1 million doses ready by September if successful
  • The trial, now in its second phase following preliminary testing on a small sample size of 160 patients, will involve people of all age demographics

LONDON: A team of researchers has begun recruiting volunteers for clinical trials of a vaccine against COVID-19, while another team has started work on a treatment that may help critically ill patients recover from the disease.

Research at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, carried out in conjunction with an organization called the Oxford Vaccine Group, has been ongoing since January, with scientists now looking to recruit in excess of 10,000 people to take part in further trials following preliminary efforts in April.
The trial, now in its second phase following preliminary testing on a small sample size of 160 patients, will involve people of all age demographics — from children older than 5 years to the elderly — to help test the effectiveness of the vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, in a wider variety of people.
The vaccine — which was developed using an altered virus that affects chimpanzees, combined with the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, SARS-CoV-2 — had positive effects in animal trials.
It will now be given to subjects alongside a licensed vaccine, MenACWY, which is used to combat meningitis and blood poisoning, which will serve as a “control comparison.”
It is one of only four major vaccine trials currently taking place worldwide, though over 100 experimental vaccines are known to be in development.
The head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Prof. Andrew Pollard, said: “The clinical studies are progressing very well, and we are now initiating studies to evaluate how well the vaccine induces immune responses in older adults, and to test whether it can provide protection in the wider population.”
Preparation for mass production of the vaccine is already underway in anticipation of the trial proving successful.
The Oxford team has said it expects to have around a million units of the vaccine ready for use by September should that prove to be the case.
This week, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said it had the capacity to make a billion doses of the Oxford vaccine, and had secured an agreement to produce at least 400 million doses.
Meanwhile, scientists working at King’s College, London, as well as the city’s Francis Crick Institute and Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital, have started clinical trials of a drug called interleukin 7 to test its effects on combating COVID-19.
Interleukin 7 is known to boost a certain kind of human immune system cell, known as a T-cell, which is vital for clearing the body of infection.
A common theme among particularly serious cases of COVID-19 is a low T-cell count, though it is not yet known why. It is hoped that the introduction of the drug to patients suffering low counts may aid their recovery. The Crick Institute’s Prof. Adrian Hayday said: “They (the T-cells) are trying to protect us, but the virus seems to be doing something that’s pulling the rug from under them, because their numbers (in tested patients) have declined dramatically.”
The team believes that as well as boosting T-cell levels in critical patients, the findings of the trial may help develop a “fingerprint test” to check T-cell levels in the blood, which could help identify at an early stage patients at risk of developing more critical symptoms.
The team also hopes it will lead to the development of a treatment specifically aimed at reversing the effects of T-cell decline in COVID-19 patients.
“The virus that has caused this completely earth-changing emergency is unique — it’s different. It is something unprecedented,” said Hayday. “This virus is really doing something distinct, and future research — which we will start immediately — needs to find out the mechanism by which this virus is having these effects.”

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump
Updated 14 June 2021

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump
  • The summit at NATO’s Brussels headquarters is set to greenlight a 2030 reform program
  • Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump undermined faith in the West’s security architecture 

BRUSSELS, Belgium: US President Joe Biden will seek to restore bonds of trust at NATO’s first post-Trump summit on Monday, as leaders push to revitalize the alliance despite differences over dangers ahead.
The allies will agree a statement stressing common ground on securing their withdrawal from Afghanistan, joint responses to cyberattacks and relations with a rising China.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump undermined faith in the West’s security architecture by questioning Washington’s commitment to defend European partners.
And he clashed publicly with counterparts the last time leaders met in 2019, before abruptly heading home early.
In contrast, Biden has firmly reasserted American backing for the 72-year-old military alliance — and his administration has been making a show of consulting more with partners.
But there remain divisions among the allies on some key issues — including how to deal with China’s rise and how to increase common funding.
Partners are concerned about the rush to leave Afghanistan and some question the strategy of an alliance that French President Emmanuel Macron warns is undergoing “brain death.”
“We do not view NATO as a sort of a protection racket,” Biden said Sunday after a conciliatory G7 gathering in Britain.
“We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security.”
He stressed the United States had a “sacred obligation” to the alliance and the principle of collective defense, promising he would “make the case: ‘We are back’, as well.”
The summit at NATO’s cavernous Brussels headquarters is set to greenlight a 2030 reform program.
The leaders will agree to rewrite the core “strategic concept” to face a world where cyberattacks, climate change, and new technologies pose new threats.
Looming large in the background is the scramble to complete NATO’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan after Biden surprised partners by ordering US troops home by September 11.

“I’m very confident that this summit will demonstrate the strong commitment by all NATO allies to our transatlantic bond,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP.
“We have a unique opportunity to strengthen our alliance.”
European diplomats insist that confronting an emboldened Russia remains the “number one” priority for an alliance set up to counter the Soviet threat in the wake of World War II.
Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea gave renewed purpose to NATO and fellow leaders will be keen to sound Biden out ahead of his Wednesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On China, Biden is picking up from where Trump left off by getting NATO to start paying attention to Beijing and is pushing for the alliance to take a tougher line.
But National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, briefing reporters from Air Force One, played down how big a part this would play in the statement. “The language is not going to be inflammatory,” he said.
Many allies are wary of shifting too much attention away from NATO’s main Euro-Atlantic sphere.
“This is not about moving NATO into Asia, but it’s about taking into account the fact that China is coming closer to us,” Stoltenberg told AFP.
He pointed to attempts by Beijing to control critical infrastructure in Europe, its moves in cyberspace and heavy spending on modern weapons systems.
“NATO has to be ready to respond to any threats from any direction,” he said.

As NATO looks to the future, it is putting one of its most significant chapters behind it by ending two-decades of military involvement in Afghanistan.
Allies are patching together plans to try to avert a collapse of Afghan forces when they leave and figuring out how to provide enough security for Western embassies to keep working.
Biden will discuss a Turkish offer to keep troops at Kabul airport, in a meeting with leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara has offered to secure the essential transport hub, but insists it would need American support.
Sullivan said the leaders would discuss how “our embassies can stay in a safe and secure way in Afghanistan, to be able to do all the things they definitely want to do, providing for the Afghan government and security forces, the people.”
But the US president is also set to push Erdogan on Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defenses and human rights.
As part of a reform agenda over the next decade, Stoltenberg is pressing for allies to improve political cooperation.
But there have been disagreements over proposals for increased common funding for NATO, with France especially arguing it would distract from efforts by individual nations.
On that front Biden is expected to tone down Trump’s rhetoric, bashing allies for not spending enough.
But he will still push European allies and Canada to further boost defense budgets to reach a target of two percent of GDP.
Stoltenberg said allies are expected to sign off on a new cyber defense policy and to create a fund to help start-ups developing groundbreaking technology.
They could also rule for the first time that an attack on infrastructure in space — such as satellites — could trigger the bloc’s collective self-defense clause.

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech
Updated 13 June 2021

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech
  • Internet finance platforms fetched about $22m mainly from abroad since January
  • Abhi, to be launched in July this year, will provide employees with salary advances based on accrued wages

KARACHI: Venture capitalists injected more than $85 million in Pakistani startups in the first five months of 2021, with fintech companies riding a wave of interest by overseas investors, according to data from Invest2Innovate Ventures (I2I), which supports early-stage enterprises in untapped developing markets.
Pakistani Internet platforms engaged in finance and business, or fintech companies, fetched about $22 million, mostly in foreign funding, since January 2021, according to Alpha Beta Core, a tech-driven boutique investment banking and financial advisory services platform.
It includes recent deals by TAG Innovation, KTrade and Abhi, which raised $12.1 million in separate rounds.
Industry experts said that Pakistan’s increasing mobile phone penetration and growing young population are major attractions for foreign funding in startups.
Official data shows Pakistan has 85 percent teledensity, with 183 million cellular, 98 million 3G/4G and 101 million broadband subscribers.
The decrease in global air travel during the coronavirus pandemic has also provided an unexpected advantage for startups in Pakistan, cutting out the requirement that investors visit the country as part of the due diligence process, and making them more open to discussing deals remotely over Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
Syed Amin Ul Haque, federal minister for IT, told Arab News that fintechs were “gaining traction” in Pakistan due to government measures to create an “enabling environment,” including increasing broadband connectivity and reducing taxes on telecoms.
“IT enabling environment has been created in Pakistan through policy measures,” Haque said.
“Withholding tax was 12.5 percent and now it has been approved by the cabinet to bring it down to 10 percent. Federal excise duty on SIM cards was 17 percent, and now we have reduced it to 16 percent.
“All these measures will be part of the financial bill in the upcoming budget, to be implemented from July.”
During the last 10 months of the current fiscal year, IT exports had also increased by 46 percent, the minister said.
Kalsoom Lakhani, founder and partner at I2I, told Arab News that data collected by her firm showed that Pakistani startups had already raised close to $85 million in funding.
“This means that we have already surpassed the total amount, $65.6 million raised in 2020, by the middle of the year,” she said.
“Most of the funding has been made in e-commerce, but a high number of deals in fintech, mainly pre-seed and seed, were made.”
Khurram Schehzad, CEO of Alpha Beta Core, said that the growth of fintech in Pakistan was due to a realization that the country’s growing retail, wholesale and trade sectors required a better financial ecosystem.
“Pakistan is a highly under-tapped market as far as financial inclusion goes — just under 25 percent of the population use banks, while mostly cash is used for payments,” Schehzad told Arab News.
“There is a massive retail, wholesale and trade sector that needs a financial ecosystem with ease and comfort. With all these points, and a large middle class and tech-savvy population and youngsters, there is a need for solutions at various stages of the financial ecosystem.”
TAG, Pakistan’s first digital financial super app, last week announced that it had closed $5.5 million in a pre-seed round led by Venture Capitals Quiet Capital management and Liberty City Ventures from the US, and Fatima Gobi Ventures.
The funding round is the largest ever pre-seed in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region.
“The funds will be utilized to give access to Pakistan’s large unbanked population through digital accounts,” TAG co-founder and CEO Talal Ahmed Gondal told Arab News.
Ali Farid Khwaja, chairman of Karachi-based stock brokerage KASB Securities, which owns and operates stock trading app KTrade, said that the company wanted to “target 10 million mobile phone users to invest in Pakistani stocks within the next four years.”
“We will be spending money to educate people how to become partners in the country’s corporations and connecting them with financial markets,” he said.
The KTrade app, which launched in 2019 and allowed investors to trade in equities in the Pakistan Stock Exchange, raised $4.5 million in a funding round spearheaded by Hong Kong-based investment firm TTB Partners and New York-based VC HOF Capital.
German investor Christian Angermayer also took part in the round, according to a statement issued on Monday.
Another Pakistani fintech, Abhi, a Karachi-based salary advance platform, this week raised $2 million in a seed round led by Vostok Emerging Finance. Village Global, a US-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage startups, also took part in the round, marking its first fintech investment in Pakistan.
Other participants in the round included Sarmayacar, I2I, Zayn Capital and Portman Wills, the co-founder of Wagestream, a London-headquartered financial wellness platform.
Abhi, to be launched in July this year, will provide employees with salary advances based on accrued wages.
“We have been working on this idea for the past three years, and our core point was financial inclusion,” Omair Ansari, co-founder of Abhi, told Arab News.
“We want to address pain points in the manual payments process and allow employees to access their salary in advance when they need it.”
The startup is now conducting a three-month pilot run involving 20 companies from the pharmaceutical, textile and retail sectors.
Ansari believes that the Pakistani startup market is increasingly on the radar of global venture capitalists and “looking much better now.”
He plans to tap into the improving conditions to expand in Pakistan and then take his venture abroad.
“After focusing first on Pakistan, we plan to expand to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Ansari said.
“Overseas operations are expected to commence within the next two years.”

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’
Updated 13 June 2021

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’
  • Ian Acheson carried out govt-commissioned review into extremism in prisons
  • Justice Ministry spokesperson: ‘A whole range of tools help us to manage extremist offenders’

LONDON: An attack by radicalized former inmates is “in the pipeline” in the UK because of a lack of control over extremism in the country’s jails, a former prison governor has warned.

Ian Acheson, who carried out a government-commissioned review into extremism in prisons, said attacks like those carried out by convicted terrorist Usman Khan and extremist Sudesh Amman were likely to be repeated.

“There are good people doing their best to make sure that another outrage won’t happen,” Acheson said, “but being good isn’t the same as doing well. Another Khan is in the pipeline.”

Khan murdered two people in London in November 2019, less than a year after being released from jail.

Amman carried out a knife attack in the capital three months later, a few days after he was released.

There was an attack on a prison officer by an extremist cell at HMP Whitemoor, and in June 2020 Khairi Saadallah, another released prisoner, murdered three people in an attack in a park in Reading. 

Acheson’s review, in 2016, led to the creation of three separation centers to remove terrorists and extremists from general prison populations, but only two are currently in use.

An anonymous prison officer working in a high-security facility told The Independent that he was worried about what was happening to extremists in British jails.

“The new ones that come in with an extremist view leave with a stronger one,” he said. “You’re releasing people onto the streets and you dread to think what’s going to happen. No matter what ministers say, everything is not great in UK prisons, it’s appalling.”

Jonathan Hall QC, the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, is undertaking a review of terrorist offending inside jails after concerns were raised that crimes committed inside were not being prosecuted, causing “lost opportunities to mitigate risk.”

An inquest into Khan’s attack on Fishmongers’ Hall in London Bridge found that he had been radicalizing fellow inmates for years, but despite this being known to authorities, he was never moved to one of the separate facilities. He was originally jailed in 2012 for trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Kashmir.

An MI5 officer gave evidence to the inquest to say there “was a suggestion that Khan had become more extreme since entering prison,” and there were fears he could even coordinate terrorist activities from inside jail.

Another officer gave evidence to suggest that Khan had voiced his desire to commit an attack to fellow inmates prior to his release in 2018.

Acheson said: “I find it inconceivable that a man with Khan’s well-understood danger to national security was not even considered for separation let alone isolated.”

While in prison, Khan had direct content with radical preacher Abu Hamza and helped radicalize vulnerable inmates.

Khan also wrote a poem in prison about decapitating non-Muslims, and kept newspaper clippings about terrorist attacks and Daesh

Brusthom Ziamani, an associate of Khan, was found to have access to Daesh propaganda while in HMP Whitemoor.

Ziamani and fellow inmate Baz Hockton attempted to murder a prison officer at the facility in January 2020, six weeks after Khan’s attack on Fishmongers’ Hall.

A Justice Ministry spokesperson said in a statement: “We are locking up terrorists for longer, and have tough measures in place to prevent them from spreading their poisonous ideology in prison.

“More than 37,000 prison staff have been trained to identify, report and stop such behaviour, and a whole range of tools help us to manage extremist offenders.

“These include separation centres, which were introduced shortly before Khan left prison, but also monitoring communications and financial transactions and ensuring the strictest possible conditions on release.”

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
Updated 13 June 2021

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
  • Military commends joint task force efforts to nab ASG’s ‘extremely violent’ Yadah

MANILA: Philippine government forces have killed a notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) commander, blamed for a series of kidnappings for ransom in the southern Philippines, along with three other ASG members during an intense battle on Sunday, officials said.

A report from the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the ASG commander as Injam Yadah, who was killed in a joint military and police operation in Barangay Alat, Jolo island of Sulu province.

Two of the other slain members were identified as Al-Al Sawadjaan — reportedly the youngest brother of ASG bomb maker Mundi Sawadjaan — and a man known by the alias “Rauf.”

The identity of the third ASG member has yet to be established.

“Based on the report from the ground, combined elements of the military and police conducted a law enforcement operation to serve a warrant of arrest against ASG sub-group leader Injam Yadah ... around 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 13, 2021,” Wesmincom Commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr. said in a statement.

However, after “sensing the presence of troops” in the area, Yadah and his followers opened fire, which “prompted the government forces to retaliate.”

The Joint Task Force–Sulu (JTF) said that all four ASG members were “killed on the spot.”

“We’ve long been on the hunt for Yadah; he has a reputation of being extremely violent — beheading captured innocent civilians and security forces alike. Finally, his hideous acts will now come to a full stop,” a report obtained by Arab News quoted Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of JTF-Sulu, as saying.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Wilfredo Borgonia, Army 35th IB commander, said Yadah was involved in the kidnapping for ransom of several foreign nationals and Filipinos, including the ex-wife and daughter of former Talipao Mayor Tambrin Tulawie in 2018.

“His latest reported activity was the kidnapping of Filipino-American Rex Triplett in Sirawai, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Dr. Moreno in Jolo, in 2020,” Borgonia said, adding that Yadah also played a vital role in the kidnapping of five Indonesian nationals in Malaysia in January 2020.

“These are the kidnap victims rescued in Tawi-Tawi early this year,” Borgonia said.

Meanwhile, Al-Al Sawadjaan, according to Borgonio, was a bomb maker and had been in his early twenties.

“All the forces under JTF-Sulu are doubling their efforts to apprehend Mundi Sawadjaan. His brothers are now dead, and we are optimistic that he will also be neutralized,” Gonzales said.

“When that day comes, we can say that we have achieved total peace in the province. The local government and people here are one with us in this endeavor,” he added.

Operating troops seized an M653 carbine, a .45 caliber pistol, bomb components, and 15 mobile phones from Yadah’s house before detaining his wife, and rescuing their three children.

Since Jan. 2021, 121 ASG members have either been killed, captured or surrendered to government forces in Sulu, according to the military, out of which 18 were killed, 86 surrendered, and 17 were apprehended.

“Congratulations to the troops of JTF-Sulu and our partners for this successful operation,” Vinluan said, adding: “JTF-Sulu continuously implements its all-out campaign to eliminate the remaining ASG personalities in the province.”

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities
Updated 13 June 2021

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities

India holds vaccination drive for people with disabilities
  • “The vaccination process is now more convenient,” said Mahendra Chudasma, a 45-year-old man who is visually impaired
  • Despite being a major producer of coronavirus vaccines, India faces a huge task in inoculating its 1.3 billion people

AHMEDABAD: Authorities in an Indian city have organized a special drive-through vaccination camp for disabled people in a bid to address low vaccination rates, especially among more vulnerable members of society.
Organizers of the weekend campaign in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in Gujarat state, aim to vaccinate 500 disabled people, who often struggle to book slots and get access to vaccination centers.
People taking advantage of the offer queued up at the center in vehicles, wheelchairs, and on customised mopeds for their free COVID-19 vaccine shots.
“The vaccination process is now more convenient,” said Mahendra Chudasma, a 45-year-old man who is visually impaired.
“It’s a very nice feeling.”
Despite being a major producer of coronavirus vaccines, India faces a huge task in inoculating its 1.3 billion people, partly due to the logistical difficulties of reaching remote areas and also skepticism about the shots.
People with disabilities often face additional problems of being unable to reach vaccination sites due to a lack of transport or no ramps at the centers for easy access, said Bhushan Punani, general secretary of the Blind People’s Association in Ahmedabad, one of the organizers of the campaign.
Some people have struggled to use a government-mandated smartphone app required to register for shots, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said it aims to vaccinate all eligible and willing Indians by the end of this year, but only 240 million of the country’s 950 million adults have had at least one shot, according to health data.
India was hit hard by a surge of coronavirus infections in April and May but there are signs the worst could be over.
Authorities on Sunday reported 80,834 new COVID-19 infections over the previous 24 hours, the lowest daily tally in more than two months, according to health ministry data.
There were 3,303 deaths over the same period.