NFT of mRNA vaccine research to go on sale

NFT of mRNA vaccine research to go on sale
Dr. Drew Weissman and Dr. Katalin Karikó at the Weissman Lab, University of Pennsylvania. (Penn Medicine)
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Updated 10 July 2022

NFT of mRNA vaccine research to go on sale

NFT of mRNA vaccine research to go on sale
  • The University of Pennsylvania mRNA NFT “ Vaccines for a New Era” will run exclusively online from 15-25 July

LONDON: A new NFT digital asset from the University of Pennsylvania showcases pivotal mRNA research that could lead to life-changing vaccines for COVID-19 and beyond.

Dr. Drew Weissman, a physician and immunologist known for his groundbreaking contributions to RNA biology, and the RNA biochemist Dr. Katalin Kariko developed the modified RNA technology that became a foundational component of BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines for COVID-19.

Now, 18 months later, “Vaccines for a New Era,” the University of Pennsylvania mRNA NFT — non-fungible token — will be released on July 15, a Christie’s press release said.

The digital asset includes a 3D model of the critical technologies that have enabled mRNA vaccines as well as research focused on the discovery and development of mRNA therapeutics for some of the world’s most deadly diseases.

The NFT also features a dynamic video that shows how mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines work, including how the mRNA vaccine enters the body’s cells and stimulates an immune response.

The animated digital art demonstrates mRNA encoding of the SAR-CoV-2 spike protein encapsulated inside lipid nanoparticles and administered as a vaccine, providing protection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

The NFT also includes an explainer, image copies of Penn-owned mRNA patent documents, and an original letter from Dr. Weissman.

The proceeds from the sale of the NFT will be used to further important research at Penn.

While much of the attention focused on how quickly COVID-19 vaccines were developed in response to the pandemic, Dr. Weissman said that it resulted from a career’s worth of research and dedication by him and many other scientists worldwide.

“I laugh because it’s a 25-year overnight success,” Dr. Weissman said.

Initially, he and Dr. Kariko struggled to secure funding for their critical research.

“‘It took over 10 years to get people to recognize the potential of modified mRNA technology for therapeutic and vaccine development,” he said. “But Kati and I weren’t just sitting in a room hoping; we never gave up. The data looked very promising. The feeling that it would someday work and be a useful technology in creating new therapies kept us going.”

Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman together discovered how to modify mRNA to significantly reduce its inherent inflammatory activity.

Dr. Weissman’s lab later developed a delivery technique to package the mRNA in fat droplets known as lipid nanoparticles. These advances contributed to mRNA becoming safer, more effective and more practical for use in vaccines.

When the DNA sequence for the coronavirus was released on Jan. 10, 2020, vaccine developers immediately began to use Dr. Weissman and Dr. Kariko’s modified mRNA technology.

“When we saw that it was a coronavirus, we knew it was the spike protein that would be targeted in a vaccine,” Dr. Weissman said.

The first modified mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, which was initially found to prevent severe disease and death with exceptional efficacy, was an important milestone.

“As a physician, my career aim has always been to contribute to development of technologies and products that help people,” Dr. Weissman said. “So seeing these extremely positive results of the Phase 3 human trials for modified mRNA vaccines against SAR-CoV-2 was an incredible feeling,” he said.

“Art is really important in communicating scientific ideas to the public. It’s a way to introduce people to science, how it works, why it’s so exciting, and its future potential. The COVID-19 vaccine is just one of many potential future products that may benefit from the modified mRNA technology developed at Penn.”

Dr. Weissman and his colleagues are developing a variety of potential future vaccines and therapies, such as a pan-coronavirus vaccine to prevent future pandemics, a universal flu vaccine, as well as vaccines to prevent herpes and malaria, among others.

Dr. Weissman also highlighted the possibility of using mRNA in vaccines to prevent fatal allergies and for gene therapies to treat sickle cell anemia.

The sale of the University of Pennsylvania mRNA NFT: Vaccines for a New Era will run exclusively online from July 15-25.


Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb
Updated 01 December 2022

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

MADRID: A security guard at Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid was lightly injured Wednesday while opening a letter bomb addressed to the Ukrainian ambassador, prompting Kyiv to boost security at its embassies.

The letter, which arrived by regular post, exploded in the early afternoon as the guard opened it in the embassy garden, said the central government’s representative in Madrid, Mercedes Gonzalez.

The guard was discharged from hospital later Wednesday and returned to work, Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev, said.

In an interview with Spanish state television, Pohoreltsev appeared to blame Russia: “We are well aware of the terrorist methods of the aggressor country,” he said.

“Russia’s methods and attacks require us to be ready for any kind of incident, provocation or attack,” he added.

Spain’s National Police force were informed of an explosion at the embassy at around 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), a police source said.

The source said the guard was “lightly” injured and “went himself to a hospital” for treatment.

Police have opened an investigation “which includes the participation of forensic police,” the source said, without giving further details.

Police put a security cordon around the embassy, which is in a leafy residential area in northern Madrid.

A man who lives in front of the embassy, who asked not to be identified, told AFP he had heard the explosion.

“I thought it was gunshot. It was not too loud,” he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered the strengthening of security at all Ukrainian embassies, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on social media after the letter bomb went off.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares spoke with the ambassador over the phone “to ask about the well-being of the Ukrainian worker who was injured,” the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Albares also contacted Kuleba by phone to express his “support and solidarity,” it added.

Later in the evening, a second “suspicious postal shipment” was intercepted at the headquarters of military equipment firm Instalaza in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the interior ministry said.

Experts carried out a “controlled explosion” of the mailed item.

“Investigators are analizing the exploded device and checking if there are any links between this event and what happened this morning at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid,” it added.


Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings
Updated 30 November 2022

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings
  • Prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: ‘Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic’

BRUSSELS: Belgium launched its biggest-ever criminal trial on Wednesday, the landmark prosecution of alleged jihadists accused of directing or aiding 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels’ metro and airport that killed 32 people.

The prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: “Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic.”

Salah is already notorious after being convicted in a separate trial in France for his role in 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Only one of the nine defendants present, 30-year-old Osama Krayem, refused to stand as they were presented to the high-security court in the disused former headquarters of the NATO alliance.

A 10th suspect, 33-year-old Oussama Atar, is believed to have been killed in Syria.

Wednesday’s hearing kicked off jury selection from a huge poll of more than 1,000 citizens.

The court was to choose 12 jurors and 24 potential replacements who will need to attend near-daily sessions of a months-long process leading into next year.

On Dec. 5, the main evidential hearings will begin.

Both the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks and the March 22, 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels were claimed by the Daesh group, and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium- based cell, including Abdeslam.

The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France, but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. 

Four days later, on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city center metro station near the headquarters of the European Union.

Alongside those killed, hundreds of travelers and transport staff were maimed and six years on many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatized.

Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock in Belgium have already been convicted in the French trial, including Abdeslam. He is serving life without parole in France and faces a further sentence in Belgium.

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify in the months to come, some still hope that telling the story of Belgium’s worst peace- time massacre will offer them a measure of closure.


India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
Updated 30 November 2022

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
  • Reduces forex risks, US dollar reliance, says envoy
  • “Landmark model” for other nations if successful

NEW DELHI: The UAE and India are preparing to introduce bilateral transactions using local currencies, New Delhi’s envoy to Abu Dhabi said on Wednesday, with the move expected to boost the free trade deal between the two countries.

The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner after the US and China, with a bilateral trade volume of $43.3 billion in 2020-21. It is also home to more than 3 million Indian expats, who send billions of dollars in remittances to their families each year.

In February, India and the UAE signed the landmark Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The pact, which went into force in May, reduces tariffs on almost 80 percent of all goods and provides zero-duty access to 90 percent of Indian exports.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Sunjay Sudhir, told Arab News that the issue of trade settlements in local currencies was discussed during the 14th India-UAE Joint Commission meeting in Abu Dhabi in September.

Last week, it was also one of the major points of discussion when UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited New Delhi.

“Since then there has been progress, a concept paper has been submitted by the Indian side to the UAE side, discussions are ongoing between the Reserve Bank of India and the UAE Central Bank,” Sudhir told Arab News, adding that modalities would be finalized “as soon as possible.”

Trading in local currencies — in the Indian-UAE context the rupee and dirham — not only reduces transaction costs but also frees trade from dependence on the US dollar.

“Trade between India and the UAE is mostly invoiced in dollars, which can be an expensive affair for businesses on both sides, due to foreign currency conversion fees and exchange rate risk,” Anupam Manur, economics professor from the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, told Arab News.

He said for India it would also ease the pressure on the current account, halt the depreciation of the rupee and the depletion of forex reserves.

“This opens up the possibility of using a common payments system, such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface) to reduce the cost of remittances from Indians in (the) UAE and truly make capital flows easier,” Manur added.

“If the deal to trade in local currencies is successful then this would be a landmark deal and the model can be replicated with many other countries with which India has a strong trading relationship.”


Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
Updated 30 November 2022

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab

Muslim World League and Columbia University launch interfaith research lab
  • The project will develop training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, and prevent discrimination and extremism

NEW YORK: The Muslim World League, in partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, on Wednesday launched the International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence.

Its founders said it aims to be a center of excellence for research, leadership and training to help combat all forms of hate and radicalization based on religion, race or ethnicity.

The Muslim World League has provided a grant to support the work of the lab, which will include the development of innovative, evidence-based training programs to address biases in communities and classrooms, along with the advancement of groundbreaking research to help foster and enhance coexistence and collaboration.

The officials who attended the signing ceremony for the project on Wednesday included Muslim World League Secretary General Mohammad Al-Issa, Teachers College President Thomas Bailey, Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Park East Synagogue Senior Rabbi Arthur Schneier, and members of the US Congress.

“The Muslim World League is dedicated to fighting hate speech and intolerance in all its forms,” said Al-Issa.

“We are honored to support the new International Lab for Research and Leadership in Interfaith Collaboration and Coexistence because it will expand that battle and, through training and research, will help eliminate discrimination and extremism before it can take root in young children.”

 


Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
Updated 30 November 2022

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data

Majority of British Muslims live in most deprived areas of England and Wales: Data
  • 61% of Muslims live in the lowest 40% of areas ranked by deprivation
  • Campaigners call on policymakers to end ‘cycles of poverty’

LONDON: The majority of Muslims are living in the areas of England and Wales with the worst levels of deprivation, the UK Office for National Statistics revealed on Wednesday.

Muslims now account for 6.5 percent of the population in England and Wales, some 3.9 million in 2021, according to the latest ONS census. 

However, the data showed 61 percent of them live in the lowest 40 percent of areas ranked by deprivation score, The Guardian reported.

Tower Hamlets, considered one of the most deprived areas, had the highest percentage of Muslims in England and Wales in 2011. The census in 2021 shows that they now account for 39.9 percent of the local population. 

Meanwhile, only 4 percent of Muslims live in the 20 percent of areas least deprived.

Policymakers have been urged to address the “cycles of poverty” that have affected generations of British Muslims, the numbers of which have increased by 1.2 million in the last decade.

Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Zara Mohammed told The Guardian: “We’re now the second or third generation (of Muslims).

“There’s more of us here, and yet we’re still in these cycles of poverty and deprivation.

“I think part of that is down to socioeconomic conditions where people are housed, and the economic opportunities available.

“There’s something to really be said about what our politics and policies are doing to help those who are really suffering.

“There’s all these stereotypes and tropes around Muslims, but the reality is that people are actually in cycles of poverty. And these need to be broken.”

Sufia Alam, head of the Maryam Centre and programmes at East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets, told The Guardian: “I have worked for almost three decades in this borough and it’s one of the poorest in London and indeed in the country.

“Even though it’s a rich borough as well as a poor borough: We’ve got Canary Wharf on our doorstep.

“The (census data) are not surprising because of so many factors that we’ve often talked about: Islamophobia, cultural biases that exist, racism within institutions from education all the way to employment.

“I remember talking about the same thing in the 2011 census. Nothing’s really changed.”