Press review

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AI discovers antibiotics to treat drug-resistant diseases

LONDON, 21 Feb (APM) - Artificial intelligence has been used to discover new antibiotics effective against untreatable diseases, marking the advent of a major new tool in the global fight against drug resistance, The Financial Times reported on Thursday.
In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported the discovery of a potent new antibiotic, halicin, which was able to able to kill 35 powerful bacteria, the FT added.
Among the pathogens targeted were Clostridium difficile, tuberculosis and Acinetobacter baumannii, an effectively untreatable infection often seen among U.S. veterans, which enters wounds and frequently causes death.
The new antibiotic was discovered using a deep-learning algorithm that was trained to analyse the structure of 2,500 molecules, including current antibiotics and other natural compounds such as glucose, to determine their anti-bacterial potency.
The algorithm then scanned through a library of 100 million molecules to predict how effective each would be against specific pathogens. It was also primed to seek out molecules that looked physically different from existing antibiotics, to avoid perpetuating the problem of resistance among the newly discovered compounds, the newspaper added.

Brexit poses threat to pharma research

The pharma industry fears Brexit poses a big threat to drug research and manufacturing in the UK, potentially driving up manufacturing costs and deterring future investment, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
AstraZeneca and other companies have frozen all manufacturing investments. The UK's second-biggest drugmaker decided to halt further investments at its Macclesfield site in the summer of 2017. Its chairman, Leif Johansson, has said the UK needs to make sure it "does not become an isolated island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean".
David Jefferys, a senior executive at the European arm of the Japanese company Eisai, told the Guardian: "Nobody likes uncertainty. We are not making any new investments in the UK until there is clarity."
Other major companies, such as Novartis and Pfizer, have announced plans to close UK manufacturing or packaging sites by 2020. Both decisions were made after the June 2016 referendum but the companies said they were not linked to Brexit.
Industry executives worry about their post-Brexit ability to bring highly skilled scientists to the UK, while researchers are concerned about being frozen out of EU-funded research collaborations. A no-deal Brexit would almost halve the UK’s funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme - a £70 billion pot aimed at cutting-edge science - a report from the House of Lords said last week.

AstraZeneca expects growth to be hit by coronavirus outbreak

Several newspapers at the weekend reported comments from AstraZeneca that sales growth and profits will be knocked this year by the coronavirus outbreak.
The company said that it would monitor closely the development of the epidemic and would provide an update on its impact at its first-quarter results due on 29 April, according to The Times.
The story was also picked up by the FT and the Daily Telegraph.

Doctors look to HIV and Ebola drugs for coronavirus cure

Doctors are likely to know within two to three weeks whether other infectious disease treatments being used to for patients infected with the new coronavirus are working, according to the World Health Organization, The Guardian reported on Thursday.
The timetable for early results from two trials taking place in China is short but feasible because of the large concentration of sick people at the centre of the outbreak in Hubei province. That allows a significant number of people of similar ages, fitness and stage of illness to be compared, the newspaper said.
The drugs being used have been approved for other conditions, which means they do not have to undergo safety tests in animals and then humans.
Two trials were expedited on the recommendation of the WHO’s experts. Patients in one are being given Kaletra, taken by people with HIV. The drug is a combination of two antiretrovirals, lopinavir and ritonavir. Scientists are awaiting the results from the first 200 people to be treated with it.
The other drug in trials is remdesivir, made by Gilead. It was tested during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018 but it was not sufficiently effective against that virus.
The new trial of remdesivir will be "gold standard" and investigate how well it works in moderately and severely ill patients compared with others given a placebo, The Guardian said.

Coronavirus could lead to drug shortages

Europe, the U.S. and India have all flagged possible drug shortages following China's coronavirus outbreak, the Daily Telegraph said on Wednesday.
The paper said China produces around 80% of the raw materials used in India's medicines but production has slowed due to outbreak and stockpiles are running low.
It added that prices of common drugs in India have risen due to disruptions causes by the outbreak.

Concerns over future of Truvada in England

The Observer on Sunday had a feature on the lack of availability in England for Gilead's Truvada (emtricitabine+tenofovir) as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to protect against the transmission of HIV.
The drug is only available on the NHS through a national trial set to end this year, and PrEP users and campaigners are concerned continued access is being prioritised by public health systems in England, said the paper.
NHS England has publicly committed to a "seamless" transition when Impact concludes. What that looks like has not yet been made clear to anyone in the sector, or PrEP users, said the paper.

Penicillin alternatives during pregnancy risk birth defects, study

Common antibiotics taken in pregnancy raise the risk of birth defects in babies, The Daily Mail cites a study as saying on Wednesday.
The study found macrolides - a group of antibiotics commonly used to treat chest and urinary tract infections - significantly increase the chances of disorders of the heart, genitals and brain.
These treatments have been given to about 3% of pregnant women in the UK over the past 26 years, according to the study by researchers at University College London.
A total of 31% of mothers take antibiotics during pregnancy, with 21% using penicillin. But macrolides are among the most frequently prescribed for the many women who are allergic to penicillin.
The research team, whose work is published in the British Medical Journal, found babies whose mothers took macrolides in the first trimester of pregnancy were about 55% more likely to be born with a defect than those whose mothers took penicillin.
The story was also carried in The Times on Thursday.
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