Daily briefing: A popular unproven COVID treatment is hindering drug trials

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Hepatitis C virus (close to the Flavivirid family).

A transmission electron microscope image of hepatitis C virus particles.Credit: Cavallini James/BSIP/SPL

Earlier this month, Michael Houghton was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the identification of hepatitis C virus. His former collaborators, George Kuo and Qui-Lim Choo, were not among the three recipients. For Houghton, receiving the prize — and other prestigious awards — has prompted mixed emotions. “It’s sweet to get them,” he says. “But it’s a bitter taste, because they don’t acknowledge the whole team directly.” Kuo felt disappointed, but adds that prizes were never the goal. “I was motivated by a dream that I could make a difference in helping people,” he says. As for Choo, the news of the Nobel prompted tears of joy. “It’s my baby; I’m so very proud,” says Choo. “How can I not be proud?”

Nature | 8 min read

Springer Nature has agreed to its first deal for researchers to publish in Nature and 33 Nature-branded titles under open-access (OA) terms. The deal is being offered to around 120 German institutes. Those participating would pay a lump sum covering the reading and OA publishing of articles in the 34 journals, as well as access to articles in a further 21 Nature Reviews titles. The deal is calculated on the basis of a price of €9,500 (US$11,200) per OA article. Springer Nature says that the cost is much higher than at less-selective journals partly because of Nature journals’ high rejection rate: 60% of editors’ time is spent on assessing manuscripts that they don’t publish. The publisher also produces journalism and content beyond primary research. But the high price-tag has some OA advocates worried. Such big-ticket agreements “do nothing to improve the accessibility and equitability of the scholarly publishing system”, say scholarly communication researchers Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer.

Nature | 5 min read

(Nature is editorially independent of its publisher, Springer Nature — as is this Briefing.)

Wellcome, one of the world’s largest health-research foundations, has announced that it will expand it’s remit to include goal-oriented, as well as basic, research. It highlights three areas of focus: infectious diseases, global heating and mental health. “It’s a big shift,” says Jeremy Farrar, the charity’s director and an infectious-disease researcher. “It’s not just about discovering stuff, it’s also about making sure that changes come to peoples’ lives.”

Science | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Doctors in biosecurity suits tend to patients with COVID-19 at the Regional Hospital of Iquitos, Peru

Peru (a hospital in Iquitos shown here) has been one of the nations hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.Credit: EFE News Agency/Alamy

Latin America’s embrace of an unproven COVID treatment is hindering drug trials

Some people in Latin America who are seeking a treatment for COVID-19 are turning to ivermectin — an inexpensive, over-the-counter medicine that has been used for decades to treat livestock and people infested with parasitic worms — despite a lack of evidence that the drug is safe or effective as a coronavirus therapy. Hope was stoked by a preprint study about the drug, which later fell foul of the Surgisphere scandal and was withdrawn. Scientists hoping to collect the necessary evidence have struggled to recruit participants to clinical trials because so many are already taking it. “What we’re having is a populist treatment, instead of an evidence-based treatment,” says global-health researcher Patricia García.

Nature | 7 min read

First ‘human challenge’ trial in January

London will host the first ‘human challenge’ trial for COVID-19, which will involve intentionally infecting healthy, young volunteers with the coronavirus to test potential vaccines. The trial will be paid for by the UK government and led by a Dublin-based commercial clinical-research organization called Open Orphan and its subsidiary hVIVO, which runs challenge trials on respiratory pathogens. An estimated 30–50 participants will be exposed to the virus in a high-level isolation unit of a hospital in north London. Critics note that the focus on young, healthy people will skew any results — and even then, there are risks. “We don’t yet know enough about this disease to say for this person: you will not die,” says vaccine scientist and virologist Meagan Deming.

Nature | 7 min read

Tough calls are coming for COVID vaccine

Public-health officials should plan now for decisions on which vaccines should go to whom, when and how often, says physician–scientist Kanta Subbarao, who advises on the composition of each year’s influenza vaccine. “There will be a lot of tough calls,” says Subbarao. “The best thing that authorities can do is to be very clear about what is known and not known, to engage the public in discussions, take their input seriously, and build trust through transparency.”

Nature | 5 min read

Notable quotable

Palliative-care physician Richard Leiter asks how COVID-19 care can move forward when many clinicians have not healed from the trauma of the worst of times. (New England Journal of Medicine)

Image of the week

An endangered Asiatic cheetah photographed against a rocky backdrop in Iran.

This striking image of an Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) was made using a camera trap by photographer Frans Lanting, who worked in Iran with some of the environmental researchers who are currently imprisoned there. Today marks the 1,000th day of the 8 researchers’ incarceration under charges of spying while taking camera-trap photos during field work. A ninth scientist, Kavous Seyed-Emami, has already died in jail.The photo is from a new photography book, Remembering Cheetahs, created to raise funds and awareness about the world’s most endangered large cat. The book is dedicated to the imprisoned scientists. “Their ordeal is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by conservationists in Iran,” says Lanting. “We can’t forget them.”View all the images in the book in the virtual gallery. Frans Lanting/Remembering Cheetahs

Quote of the day

Paleontologist Brigid Christison was among the attendees who noticed that the profanity filter for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s virtual annual meeting was not up to snuff. (Vice)

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