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UK government signs contract for first coronavirus human challenge studies

Up to 19 volunteers at a time will take part in the tests, to be held at the Royal Free Hospital in ..

Up to 19 volunteers at a time will take part in the tests, to be held at the Royal Free Hospital in London, which houses a Biosafety Level 3 ward. They will be run by hVIVO, a medical research company that specializes in running challenge trials, in partnership with Imperial College London. These clinical trials will be a little different from most.For the current Covid-19 vaccine candidates that are in Phase 3 — the final stage of testing — tens of thousands of volunteers are given an experimental vaccine and then released to live their everyday lives; researchers assume that a certain percentage of them will be exposed to the virus naturally.In a challenge trial, by contrast, participants are deliberately dosed with virus.Proponents of challenge trials say that they are more efficient, requiring far fewer volunteers — likely in the hundreds — because researchers know for certain that everyone will be exposed to the virus, and that they can deliver scientific data more quickly. Critics worry about exposing people to a virus for which there is no fail-safe treatment, and say that the young, healthy volunteers are not representative of the wider population. The trials will be held at the Royal Free hospital in London."We are doing everything we can to fight coronavirus, including backing our best and brightest scientists and researchers in their hunt for a safe and effective vaccine," said Alok Sharma, the UK's Business Secretary. "The funding announced today for these ground-breaking but carefully controlled studies marks an important next step in building on our understanding of the virus and accelerating the development of our most promising vaccines which will ultimately help in beginning our return to normal life."

Characterization study

As a first step, hVIVO, a subsidiary of the Irish company Open Orphan, will conduct a characterization study at the beginning of 2021. That involves deliberately exposing a small number of healthy volunteers to the coronavirus, to determine the minimum dose that leads to symptomatic infection. "We want to find out right from the word go how the human body reacts to a dose of the virus," Dr. Martin Johnson, Senior Medical Director at hVIVO, told CNN.The company plans to be able to test the efficacy of up to three vaccine candidates sometime next year.A September article in the New England Journal of Medicine argued that challenge trials could "accelerate development of later rounds of vaccine candidates," as well as help researchers better see how the virus attacks the human body.Several potential vaccines are already nearing the end of traditional phase 3 trials using "natural" exposure to the virus, but simply showing that as vaccine has some effectiveness in preventing the onset of Covid-19 does not mean it is the best that scientists can do.The characterization study, and vaccine trials, will still need ethics approval from UK regulators. England's Health Research Authority tells CNN that it has already set up an ethics committee to assess any challenge trial proposals.Volunteers will be rigorously screened to ensure they are in good health, with no pre-existing conditions. They will need to be between the ages of 18 and 30, hVIVO says. They will be compensated for their participation, but regulators will want to ensure that the amount does not appear coercive.Volunteers will remain in residence at the Royal Free Hospital for the duration of the trial, which could last several weeks. hVIVO has isolated a strain of the virus taken from a British Covid-19 patient, and will expose the volunteers to the virus through the nose, using a pipette."We are actually going to take the very smallest dose," Dr. Johnson said. "What we're trying to do is we're trying to get the minimum number of symptoms that are safe."As soon as a patient has displayed symptoms of Covid-19, he said, doctors will administer the antiviral remdesivir. Scientists at hVIVO point out that unlike coronavirus patients who are admitted to the hospital, challenge trial volunteers will be treated at the first sign of infection. However, there are no treatments shown to help patients early on in the course of the virus.

Vaccine trials

Once the characterization study is complete, hVIVO will ready itself for testing up to three vaccine candidates, as determined by the UK's government-led Vaccine Taskforce. Those candidates could be vaccines that are not yet in Phase 3 trials, or field-tested vaccines for whiRead More – Source



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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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