The delta between the Delta variants
Happy Thursday, readers.
What is it that sustains a virus? Transmissibility, of course. The ability to take advantage of its host to the full extent possible while, in the pathogen’s “mind,” also spreading to others. But our bodies have a way of fighting back and developing immunity, either through exposure to a virus or with the help of vaccines.
Viruses respond the only way they can: They mutate. They evolve. They become different versions of themselves hoping to outwit the body’s defenses. In short, they change.
Here’s another, if more mathematical, word for change: Delta. And so there’s a bit of irony that the highly transmissible COVID Delta variant, first identified in India, has itself changed into another type of strain the country has dubbed Delta Plus and was first identified in Europe. It’s a mutation of a mutation, if you will.
India’s health ministry has decided to dub Delta Plus as a so-called “variant of concern,” meaning that it poses an increased threat to humans either through a combination of far more transmissibility, causing more serious illness, being able to evade currently available COVID therapeutics or vaccines, or a combination.
But some public health experts say it’s a bit early to toss that designation onto the Delta Plus variant given that there have only been a few dozen cases reported in India and a more thorough analysis of the strain’s effects will be necessary.
“There is no data yet to support the variant of concern claim,” virologist and fellow at the Royal Society of London Dr. Gagandeep Kang, told the BBC regarding the decision. Why? Because, as Kang explained, labeling a virus a variant of concern usually takes far more time since medical professionals have to see whether or not the mutation makes hospitalization and death more likely in patients, or a response to existing COVID drugs and vaccines less likely in patients.
So it’s still far too early to tell whether this mutation of a mutation is of truly special concern. But we do know that the original Delta variant is wreaking plenty of havoc as is, raising the urgency of the global COVID vaccination campaign, including in the U.S. where a quickly growing share of new COVID cases are attributed to the strain.
Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Fortune‘s MPW Next Gen 2021 virtual conference, which just wrapped up today. Make sure to check out all of our coverage of the lessons, advice, and aspirations of women in corporate America from this year.
Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next Thursday.
Peloton's next evolution: Wearables? The latest rumor in the digital health world? Peloton, the at-home smart fitness mainstay, may be venturing into world of wearables with reports of new arm bands equipped with heart rate sensors. These bands would ostensibly come in two different sizes and pair up with just about any smart device, including the Peloton bike itself (of course), cell phones, tablets, and TVs. And it wouldn't exactly be a shock following Peloton's acquisition of wearables maker Atlas Wearables earlier this year. (CNBC)
Pfizer chief Bourla dishes on doubling COVID vaccine production. My colleague Erika Fry spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on a range of critical forthcoming issues in the COVID vaccination campaign, including the specter of booster shots, ensuring vaccine equity, and scaling up Pfizer's vaccine production on a massive scale. Just how was Pfizer to get so many doses out so quickly? It's all about the manufacturing lifecycle. "Our scientists worked a lot to improve the manufacturing process, the yield," Bourla tells Erika. "We were able, from 110 days—that was the cycle of manufacturing, from start to finish—to reduce that to 60, so by almost 50%. That means we’re doubling the output from the same infrastructure." (Fortune)
Glaxo aims to become a leader in the mRNA space. Can it? GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley has long been on a mission to transform the British drug giant's pipeline and overall corporate structure through a series of investments and spinoffs. On Wednesday, the company announced another series of goals as part of an investor day presentation (under the specter of activist investor pressure) seeking to become a leader in mRNA-based technologies through its collaboration with CureVac and by hiring 200 scientists who focus on this still-relatively-new therapeutic space. CureVac's own COVID vaccine candidate was a disappointment, but the firm is also working with GSK on an influenza vaccine. But given the head start other firms have in this space, can Glaxo achieve that ambitious milestone of being a dominant mRNA player? (Endpoints News)
THE BIG PICTURE
The devastating paradox of mental health for medical workers. I highly recommend you take some time to read Vox's Julia Belluz's heartbreaking look into the mental health needs of medical professionals, especially after the pandemic. The trouble is, medical professionals in a pandemic are almost expected to burn out and just deal with the consequences. The whole thing is worth a read. (Vox)
Everyone learned to pivot during the pandemic, by Chris Morris
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