Every Vaccine and Treatment in Development for COVID-19
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to skyrocket, healthcare researchers around the world are working tirelessly to discover new life-saving medical innovations.
The projects these companies are working on can be organized into three distinct groups:
- Diagnostics: Quickly and effectively detecting the disease in the first place
- Treatments: Alleviating symptoms so people who have disease experience milder symptoms, and lowering the overall mortality rate
- Vaccines: Preventing transmission by making the population immune to COVID-19
Today’s graphics provide an in-depth look at who’s in the innovation race to defeat the virus, and they come to us courtesy of Artis Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on life sciences and tech investments.
Editor’s note: R&D is moving fast on COVID-19, and the situation is quite fluid. While today’s post is believed to be an accurate snapshot of all innovations and developments listed by WHO and FDA as of March 30, 2020, it is possible that more data will become available.
Knowledge is Power
Testing rates during this pandemic have been a point of contention. Without widespread testing, it has been tough to accurately track the spread of the virus, as well as pin down important metrics such as infectiousness and mortality rates. Inexpensive test kits that offer quick results will be key to curbing the outbreak.
Here are the companies and institutions developing new tests for COVID-19:
The ultimate aim of companies like Abbott and BioFire Defense is to create a test that can produce accurate results in as little as a few minutes.
In the Trenches With Coronavirus
While the majority of people infected with COVID-19 only experience minor symptoms, the disease can cause severe issues in some cases – even resulting in death. Most of the forms of treatment being pursued fall into one of two categories:
- Treating respiratory symptoms – especially the inflammation that occurs in severe cases
- Antiviral growth – essentially stopping viruses from multiplying inside the human body
Here are the companies and institutions developing new treatment options for COVID-19:
A wide range of players are in the race to develop treatments related to COVID-19. Pharma and healthcare companies are in the mix, as well as universities and institutes.
One surprising name on the list is Fujifilm. The Japanese company’s stock recently shot up on the news that Avigan, a decades-old flu drug developed through Fujifilm’s healthcare subsidiary, might be effective at helping coronavirus patients recover. The Japanese government’s stockpile of the drug is reportedly enough to treat two million people.
The progress that is perhaps being watched the closest by the general public is the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Creating a safe vaccine for a new illness is no easy feat. Thankfully, rapid progress is being made for a variety of reasons, including China’s efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2 and to share that information with research groups around the world.
Another factor contributing to the unprecedented speed of development is the fact that coronaviruses were already on the radar of health science researchers. Both SARS and MERS were caused by coronaviruses, and even though vaccines were shelved once those outbreaks were contained, learnings can still be applied to defeating COVID-19.
One of the most promising leads on a COVID-19 vaccine is mRNA-1273. This vaccine, developed by Moderna Therapeutics, is being developed with extreme urgency, skipping straight into human trials before it was even tested in animals. If all goes well with the trials currently underway in Washington State, the company hopes to have an early version of the vaccine ready by fall 2020. The earliest versions of the vaccine would be made available to at-risk groups such as healthcare workers.
Further down the pipeline are 15 types of subunit vaccines. This method of vaccination uses a fragment of a pathogen, typically a surface protein, to trigger an immune response, teaching the body’s immune system how to fight off the disease without actually introducing live pathogens.
No Clear Finish Line
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for solving this pandemic.
A likely scenario is that teams of researchers around the world will come up with solutions that will incrementally help stop the spread of the virus, mitigate symptoms for those infected, and help lower the overall death toll. As well, early solutions rushed to market will need to be refined over the coming months.
We can only hope that the hard lessons learned from fighting COVID-19 will help stop a future outbreak in its tracks before it becomes a pandemic. For now, those of us on the sideline can only do our best to flatten the curve.
Visualizing Human Evolution with a New Ancient Human Species
We visualize changes to our understanding of human evolution with the introduction of a new ancient human species, Homo bodoensis.
A New Member of Human Evolution
The next step in understanding human evolution has brought forth the reclassification of some old names.
Mirjana Roksandic, Predrag Radovic, and their team of researchers propose a new human species called Homo bodoensis.
H. bodoensis isn’t a discovery of new fossils but a re-examination of old ones. This reclassification is an attempt to clean up long-standing confusion about our ancestors and how humans evolved.
The Muddle in the Middle
The Middle Pleistocene was a period spanning 780,000 to 126,000 years ago and had a lot of different human species existing at the time. These species included:
- European Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis)
- Asian Denisovans
- African Homo heidelbergensis
- African Homo rhodesiensis
- African Homo erectus
The Middle Pleistocene was a lively time for human evolution, as it eventually spawned our species, Homo sapiens. Despite this bountiful presence of activity, our knowledge of human evolution during this age is lacking. This problem is known as “the Muddle in the Middle.”
Age-Old Thinking about Human Evolution
Human fossils from the Middle Pleistocene in Africa and Eurasia are usually classified as either Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis.
H. heidelbergensis is an extinct species of human whose first fossil was found in a gravel pit in Germany in 1907. Since then, new-found fossils that did not fit the classification criteria of Neanderthals, H. sapiens, or the older H. erectus have been classified as H. heidelbergensis.
Roksandic and her team argue that this ‘lumping’ is a misattribution that muddles our understanding of which species H. sapiens originated from.
In addition, newer DNA evidence suggests that some H. heidelbergensis fossils from Europe originated from early Neanderthals. The name is, thus, redundant.
Some believe that H. rhodesiensis is an extinct species of humans and the most recent ancestor of H. sapiens and Neanderthals.
Despite its importance, it never gained popularity in the paleoanthropology communities. This is because of its poor definition, but Roksandic supports its removal because it is also an alleged namesake to Rhodesia’s violent and aggressive colonizer, Cecil Rhodes.
It was high time for both H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis to go.
Homo bodoensis and What Changes in Human Evolution
Roksandic and her team suggest dissolving the two species to introduce a new merged species, H. bodoensis. The name derives from a 600,000-year-old skull discovered in 1976 in Bodo D’ar, Ethiopia.
All fossils previously classified as H. heidelbergensis and H. rhodesiensis originating in Africa are reclassified as H. bodoensis. As such, this now makes H. bodoensis our direct ancestor.
Fossils from Western Europe are reclassified as H. neanderthalensis to reflect the early appearance of Neanderthal-like traits. Asian fossils, like those from China, may belong to a different lineage.
A Doubted Legacy?
Despite its merits, not everyone agrees with this new proposal.
Renowned anthropologist Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum of London says that the reshuffling of species is unnecessary.
While he agrees that the name H. heidelbergensis is used too loosely and should be confined to a few select fossils, he is happy to continue using H. rhodesiensis. He argues its namesake comes from the country, not from Cecil Rhodes himself.
In addition, Stinger says there are a variety of other species names to choose from before creating a new one. If H. rhodesiensis must be renamed, species like Homo saldanensis, named by Matthew Drennan in the 1950s from a fossilized skull, should take precedence.
Roksandic and her team reclassified H. saldanensis into H. bodoensis.
Visualizing the Scale and Composition of the Earth’s Crust
This animation shows the handful of minerals and elements that constitute the Earth’s crust.
Visualizing the Scale and Composition of the Earth’s Crust
For as long as humans have been wandering the top of Earth’s crust, we’ve been fascinated with what’s inside.
And Earth’s composition has been vital for our advancement. From finding the right kinds of rocks to make tools, all the way to making efficient batteries and circuit boards, we rely on minerals in Earth’s crust to fuel innovation and technology.
This animation by Dr. James O’Donoghue, a planetary researcher at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, is a visual comparison of Earth’s outer layers and their major constituents by mass.
What is the Composition of Earth’s Crust?
The combined mass of Earth’s surface water and crust, the stiff outermost layer of our planet, is less than half a percent of the total mass of the Earth.
There are over 90 elements found in Earth’s crust. But only a small handful make up the majority of rocks, minerals, soil, and water we interact with daily.
Most abundant in the crust is silicon dioxide (SiO2), found in pure form as the mineral quartz. We use quartz in the manufacturing of glass, electronics, and abrasives.
Why is silicon dioxide so abundant? It can easily combine with other elements to form “silicates,” a group of minerals that make up over 90% of Earth’s crust.
Clay is one of the better-known silicates and micas are silicate minerals used in paints and cosmetics to make them sparkle and shimmer.
|Mineral||Major Elements||Percentage of Crust|
|Plagioclase Feldspar||O, Si, Al, Ca, Na||39%|
|Alkali Feldspar||O, Si, Al, Na, K||12%|
|Pyroxene||O, Si, Mg, Fe||11%|
|Amphibole||O, Si, Mg, Fe||5%|
|Micas||O, Si, Al, Mg, Fe, Ca, Na, K||5%|
|Clay Minerals||O, Si, Al, Mg, Fe, Ca, Na, K||5%|
|Other Silicates||O, Si||3%|
2. Aluminum and Calcium
SiO2 bonds very easily with aluminum and calcium, our next most abundant constituents. Together with some sodium and potassium, they form feldspar, a mineral that makes up 41% of rocks on Earth’s surface.
While you may not have heard of feldspar, you use it every day; it’s an important ingredient in ceramics and it lowers the melting point of glass, making it cheaper and easier to produce screens, windows, and drinking glasses.
3. Iron and Magnesium
Iron and magnesium each make up just under 5% of the crust’s mass, but they combine with SiO2 and other elements to form pyroxenes and amphiboles. These two important mineral groups constitute around 16% of crustal rocks.
Maybe the best known of these minerals are the two varieties of jade, jadeite (pyroxene) and nephrite (amphibole). Jade minerals have been prized for their beauty for centuries, and are commonly used in counter-tops, construction, and landscaping.
Some asbestos minerals, now largely banned for their cancer-causing properties, belong to the amphibole mineral group. They were once in high demand for their insulating and fire-retardant properties and were even used in brake pads, cigarette filters, and as artificial snow.
Surprisingly, even though it covers almost three quarters of Earth’s surface, water (H2O) makes up less than 5% of the crust’s mass. This is partly because water is significantly less dense than other crustal constituents, meaning it has less mass per volume.
Breaking Earth’s Crust Down by Element
Though there are many different components that form the Earth’s crust, all of the above notably include oxygen.
When breaking down the crust by element, oxygen is indeed the most abundant element at just under half the mass of Earth’s crust. It is followed by silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, and sodium.
All other remaining elements make up just over 5% of the crust’s mass. But that small section includes all the metals and rare earth elements that we use in construction and technology, which is why discovering and economically extracting them is so crucial.
What Lies Below?
As the crust is only the outermost layer of Earth, there are other layers left to contemplate and discover. While we have never directly interacted with the Earth’s mantle or core, we do know quite a bit about their structure and composition thanks to seismic tomography.
The Upper Mantle
At a few specific spots on Earth, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have been strong enough to expose pieces of the upper mantle, which are also made of mostly silicates.
The mineral olivine makes up about 55% of the upper mantle composition and causes its greenish color. Pyroxene comes in second at 35%, and calcium-rich feldspar and other calcium and aluminum silicates make up between 5–10%.
Going Even Deeper
Beyond the upper mantle, Earth’s composition is not as well known.
Deep-mantle minerals have only been found on Earth’s surface as components of extra-terrestrial meteorites and as part of diamonds brought up from the deep mantle.
One thing the lower mantle is thought to contain is the silicate mineral bridgmanite, at an abundance of up to 75%. Earth’s core, meanwhile, is believed to be made up of iron and nickel with small amounts of oxygen, silicon, and sulphur.
As technology improves, we will be able to discover more about the mineral and elemental makeup of the Earth and have an even better understanding of the place we all call home.
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