Trials of HIV vaccines set to begin 

Trials of HIV vaccines set to begin 
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Updated 18 April 2021

Trials of HIV vaccines set to begin 

Trials of HIV vaccines set to begin 
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna jabs based on technologies used to develop COVID-19 vaccines
  • HIV estimated to have killed 32m people since it was identified in 1981

LONDON: Two teams of scientists are set to begin trials of HIV vaccines based on technologies used to develop COVID-19 jabs.
Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, which was behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, and US pharmaceutical giant Moderna in partnership with Scripps Research, will use different techniques.
The Oxford team’s HIV vaccine utilizes a modified adenovirus taken from chimpanzees, while the Moderna one is based on messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA).
Both methods have been used successfully to stimulate the human immune system against COVID-19 in the past year.
It is hoped that they can be applied to HIV, the disease that leads to AIDS, which has killed an estimated 32 million people since it was identified in 1981 and currently affects 38 million worldwide, with almost 690,000 dying annually.
The Oxford team is set to start the first phase of trials this month on 101 HIV-negative volunteers aged 18-50 from the UK, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Moderna will launch two mRNA trials later this year.
The location of the trials in Africa is significant; in recent years, treatments have been discovered to allow many people with HIV to live relatively normal lives, but can cost upward of $500,000 in developed countries.
Despite lower prices in developing countries, treatment is still often unaffordable for many African patients.
It is thought that up to half of the infected population on the continent are not even aware of their condition.
Despite the success in developing various COVID-19 vaccines, HIV remains far harder to treat than coronaviruses given its propensity to lie dormant for long periods, mutate more quickly than any other known disease, and imbed itself in patients’ DNA, making it all but impossible to permanently cure.
Oxford University’s Prof. Tomas Hanke told The Times: “The moment you’re infected with a single virus, it diversifies in your body. For the coronavirus there are four main variants we are worrying about around the world. For HIV we have to deal with 80,000.” 
The team at the Jenner Institute will aim to stimulate the production of T-cells — which destroy other human cells already infected with a virus — through its modified adenovirus, ChAdOx-1, designed to train the cells to specifically recognize HIV. 
Hanke said the T-cells could prove HIV’s “Achilles heel,” targeting areas “essential for the virus to survive and, importantly, common to most virus variants around the globe.”
The team hopes that if successful, the vaccine could be used to treat HIV-positive patients as early as August this year.
The Moderna team, meanwhile, believes that mRNA technology might be able to trigger enough B-cells — the part of the immune system that makes antibodies — to prevent HIV from adapting to its host.
This belief is based on a trial by Scripps Research, which found that in a small sample of 48 people given a similar vaccine, 97 percent showed a strong immune reaction against HIV. 
Moderna’s European head Dan Staner told The Times: “I believe that mRNA technology is going to be revolutionary. It could be something spectacular if we were able, in the coming years, to bring a vaccine to treat HIV. Let’s let the science speak in the coming months and years, but I do think the sky’s the limit.”
Scripps Prof. William Schief said: “The rapid development and high efficacy of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine bodes really well for our work on HIV.”


German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
Updated 18 min 53 sec ago

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
  • The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers
  • Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer”

DUBAI: An intelligence report from Germany revealed on Friday details of how the Islamic Republic uses proliferation techniques to smuggle illicit technology for deadly weapons.
“Proliferation-relevant countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, but also Pakistan, try to circumvent safety precautions and legal export regulations and to disguise illegal procurement activities. To do this, they turn to mostly conspiratorial means and methods,” wrote the intelligence agency in northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein,” the report explains.
“Proliferation is still one of the central tasks of counter-espionage in Schleswig-Holstein,” the report adds.
According to the agency, proliferation is the “spread of weapons of mass destruction (ABC weapons) and the necessary know-how, as well as the products used for their manufacture and associated carrier technologies.”
ABC commonly refers to atomic, biological and chemical weapons.
The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers and establishes “illegal procurement networks which belong to the front companies and middlemen.”
Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer” and “the use and misuse of inexperienced freight deliverers and transporters,” the report added.
Iran also breaks down the deliveries of illegal deliveries into several “individual non-suspicious deliveries to avoid exposing the entire business.” 
The report also said that Iran “conceals the end user” and the “individual, company or institution with which the goods ultimately remain.”
The report cited Iran 19 times in the 218-page report, covering security threats to the state’s democracy.
It also said that states such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria and Russia strive to acquire dual-use goods, items which have both civil and military use.
“Proliferation is a serious threat to security in many regions of the world, including the Federal Republic of Germany and thus for the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the most important export nations in the world. The export of military as well as civilian goods are subject therefore to special control,” the report added.


China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry
Updated 07 May 2021

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

BEIJING: China said Friday the risk of damage on Earth from a rocket which fell out of orbit after separating from Beijing's space station was "extremely low", after the United States warned it could crash down onto an inhabited area.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said "most of the components will be destroyed by ablation during the re-entry" into the atmosphere and "the probability of causing harm to aviation activities or people... on the ground is extremely low".


Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
Updated 07 May 2021

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
  • Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals
  • The prime minister’s move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens

SYDNEY: Australia will not extend a controversial ban on citizens returning from COVID-hit India, the prime minister said Friday following widespread public outrage.
Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia’s already strained quarantine facilities.
The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.
The conservative prime minister on Friday said that the measures would remain in place until May 15 as planned, but then repatriation flights could resume.
“The determination was designed to be a temporary measure and the medical advice... is that it will be safe to allow it to expire as planned on 15 May,” he said.
Three flights are being planned to return the most vulnerable Australians still in India, bringing them to a remote Outback quarantine facility.
No decision has been taken yet on whether commercial flights will also resume.
Morrison’s ban caused widespread outrage, with even allies describing it as racist and an abandonment of vulnerable Australians overseas.
He had already walked back the threats to prosecute returning Australians, saying it was “highly unlikely” the punishment would ever be meted out.
The legality of the ban is being challenged in federal court, with a hearing set to take place on Monday.
Australia has no widespread community transmission of COVID-19, but has seen several outbreaks emerge from hotel quarantine facilities, causing disruptive city lockdowns.
Since March 2020, Australians have been barred from traveling overseas and a hard-to-get individual exemption is needed for foreign visitors to enter the country.


India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
Updated 07 May 2021

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
  • Lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns
  • On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours

NEW DELHI: With coronavirus cases still surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead.
On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.
Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India’s 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year.
Modi, who held consultations with top elected leaders and officials of the worst-hit states on Thursday, has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus to poorly equipped state governments.
Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said a complete, aggressive lockdown is needed in India just like last year, especially in areas where more than 10 percent of those tested have contracted COVID-19.
Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that different states were experiencing different intensities of the epidemic, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.
According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated by the center. “Like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections.
“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian television CNN News18 news channel on Thursday. He did not provide specifics of what a shutdown should entail.
He said it appears there are at least two types of virus variants circulating in India. He said B117, which is the UK variant, tends to be concentrated in New Delhi and that the 617 variant is concentrated in the worst-hit western Maharashtra state.
“Both of those have increasing capability of transmitting better and more efficiently than the original Wuhan strain a year ago,” Fauci said.
Modi imposed a two-month stringent lockdown last year on four hours’ notice. It stranded tens of millions of migrant workers who were left jobless and fled to villages with many dying along the way. Experts say the decision helped contain the virus and bought time for the government.
Modi’s policy of selected lockdowns is being supported by some experts, including Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. She said different states have different needs, and local particularities need to be taken into account for any policy to work.
In most instances, in places where health infrastructure and expertise are good, localized restrictions at the level of a state, or even a district, are a better way to curb the spread of infections, said Bal. “A centrally mandated lockdown will just be inappropriate,” she said.
Dr. Yogesh Jain Ganiyari of the Peoples Health Support Group, a low-cost public health program in the central state of Chhattisgarh, said that scientifically, lockdowns are the most effective way of curbing infections.
“But we don’t live in a lab. We need to take into account the humanitarian aspect,” said Ganiyari. “Those who look at lockdowns just as disease control mechanisms are heartless. You have to think about the people.”


4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff
Updated 07 May 2021

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff

4 people freed from ongoing Minnesota bank robbery standoff
  • Police officials initially said an unspecified number of hostages were being held by a male suspect.

ST. CLOUD, Minnesota: A standoff between Minnesota police and an alleged hostage-taker continued into the evening Thursday despite the release of four bank employees.
Three women and a man were released from a Wells Fargo Bank branch in St. Cloud, according to authorities. The first woman ran from the bank toward members of a SWAT team with her hands up. After being searched, she was escorted to safety. Two women and a man later emerged from the bank and were led to safety.
It wasn’t immediately clear if other bank employees were being held against their will.
The incident began around 1:45 p.m. Thursday, with a report to police of a robbery in progress. Law enforcement officials initially said an unspecified number of hostages were being held by a male suspect. Police said negotiations were continuing with the suspect, and there were no reports of injuries.
St. Cloud resident Abdi Kadir told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he was in the bank drive-through when the teller hurriedly told him to leave. As he drove off, he saw people running out the bank’s front door, he said.
“We recognize this is a traumatic moment for the community and our colleagues,” Wells Fargo said in a statement. Company spokeswoman Staci Schiller confirmed “a hostage situation” at the bank’s south branch. She said bank officials are cooperating with local law enforcement and will do whatever they can to assist the authorities.
Two armored vehicles were stationed near the bank’s front door along with several armed officers. Police moved onlookers away from the bank, but a crowd gathered across the street to watch the drama unfold.