Virus has multiple pathways into cells, Moderna vaccine clears safety hurdle in mouse study

By Nancy Lapid
(Reuters) - The following is a brief summary of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Coronavirus has more than one gateway in cells
Two teams of European researchers working independently have identified a new entrance through which the coronavirus enters and infects cells, suggesting a different approach to stop it. A key pathway - via a protein on cell surfaces called ACE2 - is known. The newly identified gateway is a cell surface protein called Neuropilin-1 or NRP1. A "spike" on the surface of the corona virus binds to NRP1, which allows the virus to enter the cell, similar to how a virus spike binds to ACE2. Other viruses also use NRP1 to enter cells, including the one that causes mononucleosis. In laboratory experiments with human cells, one of the teams found that an antibody that binds to NRP1 can block the attachment of the coronavirus spike and prevent infection. None of the studies went through the peer review process. One was published on Wednesday and the other at the end of last week on the preprint server bioRxiv. The research groups say their results suggest that NRP1 could be another target for drugs and vaccines against the new virus. (https://bit.ly/2C1nKk4; https://bit.ly/2UE2pDJ)

A mouse study suggests that the Moderna vaccine is safe in humans
A study of Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine in mice indicates that it does not increase the risk of a more severe human disease and that a dose, according to preliminary data released on Friday, may offer protection against the novel coronavirus. Previous studies testing vaccines with similar viruses have shown that they can not accidentally, but accidentally, cause more serious diseases, especially in people who do not produce a sufficiently strong immune response. Scientists see this risk as an important hurdle that must be overcome before vaccines can be safely tested in thousands of healthy people. While data released by the U.S. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease and Moderna was encouraging, mouse data is no guarantee of what will happen to humans. Further testing also indicated that the vaccine induces strong neutralizing antibody responses - the type of response needed to prevent the virus from infecting cells - and that it protects against lung and nose infections with no evidence of toxic effects seemed. The study, which has not yet been reviewed by experts, was published on the bioRxiv website. Moderna said on Thursday that it is planned to begin end-stage studies involving 30,000 people in July. (; https://reut.rs/37pvckt;https://bit.ly/30Br3sr)

Hydroxychloroquine does not help the immune system against viruses
Researchers who study how hydroxychloroquine changes the body's immune response have found that it is unlikely to be helpful in fighting the coronavirus. This emerges from the latest findings against the use of the decades-old malaria drug, which was promoted by the US President Donald Trump. The drug, which is also used to treat inflammatory diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, has been shown to prevent replication of the new coronavirus in test tube experiments. While reducing severe inflammation, it also suppresses the immune responses needed to fight the virus and doesn't allow the body to develop what is known as a trained immunity that helps fight infection. "The fact that hydroxychloroquine averts trained immunity speaks against the usefulness of this drug in the elimination of SARS-CoV-2 infection," the researchers wrote in an unpublished article on Tuesday on the preprint server medRxiv was published. (https://bit.ly/30CRQoe)

COVID-19 is also a neurological disorder
Add brain and nervous system problems to the list of complications in COVID-19 patients, doctors say, and provide further evidence that it's far more than a respiratory disease. For a report on Thursday in the Journal of Neurology, the researchers summarized data from 41 previously published studies on the neurological effects of the coronavirus. The most common non-specific neurological symptoms were fatigue (in 33.2% of the patients), loss of appetite (30.0%), shortness of breath (26.9%) and general malaise (26.7%). The most common, less common, specific neurological symptoms included odor and taste disorders, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and inflammation of the brain, spinal cord, and meninges. These numbers did not include any strokes due to bleeding disorders caused by the coronavirus. In a report published on Sunday in Annals of Neurology, a separate medical team called COVID-19 "a global threat to the nervous system" and said, "the number of neurological manifestations of SARS-CoV-2 infection identified is increasing rapidly." "( https://bit.ly/2YnRuz6; https://bit.ly/3hgFCYp)

Wearing a mask significantly reduces the risk of infection
Of all the lifestyle changes that have been imposed to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, wearing masks may be the most important, according to a new study. Researchers say infection trends shifted dramatically when rules for wearing masks were introduced on April 6 in northern Italy and on April 17 in New York City - two epicentres of the pandemic. "This protective measure alone reduced the number of infections in Italy by over 78,000 from April 6 to May 9 and in New York City by more than 78,000 from April 17 to May 9," they calculated in a PNAS study published on Thursday : The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. When mask wear came into force in New York, the daily new infection rate dropped by about 3% per day, researchers said. Daily new infections continued to increase in the rest of the country. Direct contact arrangements - social distancing, quarantine and isolation, and hand disinfection - were all in place before the rules for wearing masks came into force in Italy and New York City. However, they only help to minimize the transmission of viruses through direct contact, while the face covering prevents transmission in the air, the researchers said. "The unique function of the face covering to block the atomization and inhalation of aerosols containing viruses explains the significantly reduced infections," they said. This would indicate "that COVID-19 transmission in the air is the dominant route of infection," they conclude. (https://bit.ly/3fvbabp)

(GRAPHICS: The lifeline pipeline, COVID-19 treatments, vaccines in development - https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/yxmvjqywprz/index.html)

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Julie Steenhuysen; editing by Bill Berkrot)

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