Thursday, August 06, 2020

Promising antibody response in Australians given Novavax COVID-19 vaccine

An early-stage trial of a promising coronavirus vaccine found high levels of neutralising antibodies in Australians who volunteered to get the experimental injection.

The US Biotech company Novavax announced the results of the Phase 1 trial on Wednesday, flagging its intention to start large-scale Phase III trials as soon as September and manufacture up to two billion doses of the vaccine in 2021.

The data – published on a pre-print site and not yet peer-reviewed – appears promising, but the findings are too preliminary to draw firm conclusions about how effective it may be at protecting the public from the COVID-19 virus SARS-CoV-2 and curbing the pandemic.

The trial tested the Novavax vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373 in a trial of 130 heath volunteers in Melbourne and Brisbane who received varying doses of the vaccine or a placebo.

Participants who received two doses of the vaccine three weeks apart had neutralising antibody levels roughly four times higher than a group of 32 patients who had recovered from COVID-19.

"We are extremely excited," Novavax research chief Gregory Glenn said. "At this point, it looks extremely promising ... We have a technology that is extremely good at inducing functional immunity. [We found] very robust and very strong immune responses that we know will neutralise the virus," Dr Glenn said.

"This virus is extremely infectious so it's our view that it is going to need an extremely functional immune response," he said.

The vaccine uses synthesised pieces of the surface protein of the coronavirus created in the laboratory that enables the virus to invade human cells, triggering the body's immune response by way of the production of antibodies to fight off the infection.

Some participants were also given Novavax's Matrix-M adjuvant - a substance designed to boost the body's immune response, which it claimed enhanced the effect of the vaccine in the trial.

Participants were given 5 microgram and 25 microgram doses of the vaccine, with and without the adjuvant. Novavax said it would likely move forward with the lower dose.

Among participants given two doses of the vaccine, roughly 80 per cent had pain and tenderness at the site of the injection. Overall, just over 60 per cent of participants had other side effects, the majority mild to moderate and most commonly headache, fatigue and muscle pain.

Eight trial participants experienced adverse side effects after receiving a second vaccine that was deemed "severe". None required hospitalisations. All side effects resolved in a few days.

Overall the vaccine was extremely well tolerated and had a very good safety profile, Dr Gregory Glenn said.

Dr Glenn said he hoped further trials of the vaccine would secure regulatory approvals as early as December.

The Novavax vaccine is among the first of a handful of programs singled out for US funding under Operation Warp Speed, the White House program to accelerate access to vaccines and treatments that can fight the virus.

Novavax is yet to bring a vaccine to market but has advanced trials under way for vaccines to protect against Ebola, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus vaccines (the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children).

Australian-based company Nucleus Network conducted the Phase 1 trial. "The way we do that is not by exposing the volunteers to the virus in any way," said Nucleus Network Principal Investigator Dr Paul Griffin when the trial commenced in May.

"[Instead] we take blood tests from them and we test that in about half a dozen different ways, to show that this vaccine has hopefully provided the immune response that we need to protect people from COVID-19," Dr Griffin said.

The US government gave Novavax $US1.6 billion ($2.2b) to help cover costs related to testing and manufacturing the vaccine, with the aim of procuring 100 million doses by January 2021.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations also tipped in $US388 million ($401m) to fund its development.


The silver lining that could recharge Australia's manufacturing

This is a very optimistic article.  It is true that Australia mines some of the rare earths used in electric car batteries but most such rare earths are mined more cheaply in China.  So there is no clear reason why Australia has any advantage that would cause the fabrication work to be done here

And the article assumes that the demand for electric cars will boom.  There is no good sign of that and as the poor performance of electric cars in cold weather and in cold climates becomes well-known, the boom is more likely to be a bust.  Anyone with shares in Tesla should sell them now

With the closure of Holden, Australia has reached the end of an era of car manufacturing domestically. Sadly, 100 Holden engineers finished up with the company in Port Melbourne last month, and another 100 are set to leave the company's Lang Lang proving ground in Victoria soon.

This news was so grim that Queensland MP Bob Katter turned up to Parliament House recently dressed as the Grim Reaper himself. Armed with a plastic scythe and flanked by a procession of classic Holden cars, Katter blamed the government for the death of Holden and Aussie manufacturing.

However, as one door closes another door opens. At the former Holden factory in Elizabeth, South Australia, global battery manufacturer Sonnen has opened a battery assembly plant, employing a number of former Holden workers in the process.

Workers like operations supervisor Craig Johnston, whose parents met at the Holden factory and who worked in car manufacturing himself for 25 years before starting a new career in clean energy in 2018. Craig left the Holden factory on a Friday and returned the following Monday to join Sonnen, helping manufacture batteries under the same roof where he once made cars.

Australia has historically had a large and productive manufacturing industry, but the past 30 years has seen this sector decline. Faced with the dual threats of COVID-19 and climate change, is now the time to revitalise Australian manufacturing?

In 2015, the world committed to act on climate change, with the aim of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees. This commitment has sparked a new industrial revolution in zero-carbon technologies such as wind, solar and renewable hydrogen, and zero-carbon commodities such as steel and batteries. Batteries in particular are going to play a substantial role in the global decarbonised economy, helping to power our homes, stabilise our electricity systems and drive millions of cars and buses around the world.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global energy storage is set to boom by 2040, and this represents a $662 billion investment opportunity.

The biggest area of energy storage growth will be in lithium-ion batteries, due to their energy density. In the next five years, demand for lithium for the global electric vehicle market alone is likely to increase fivefold.

BNEF anticipates that Australia is one of only 10 countries able to secure three-quarters of this global battery market. The reasons: Australia has the mineral deposits essential to the production of batteries, we are an excellent investment destination, we are an attractive market for small and big scale batteries, and we are close to major markets in Asia.

According to the WA government, Western Australia alone produces nine out of the 10 minerals needed to make lithium-ion batteries.

Now is the time to assertively position Australia as the world's leading battery nation. While we are already the world's largest exporter of lithium ore - spodumene - this just continues our trend of being a "dig it and ship it" nation. A new approach is required if we are to rekindle our manufacturing sector and ensure the full economic value of our resources benefits Australia.

TheAustralian Trade and Investment Commission found Australian lithium realised $213 billion in the global market in 2017, but only 0.53 per cent ($1.13 billion) of this wealth stayed in Australia.

Most of Australia's lithium is exported to China for processing. Afterwards it is sent to Japan and Korea and transformed into battery packs, which are then imported back to Australia and other countries.

However, in the past two years, we have seen the beginnings of an advanced manufacturing battery supply chain develop in Australia. Western Australia has seen the first lithium processing facility, Victoria the first battery recycling facility, and South Australia the first two battery assembly plants.

Then of course there are the thousands of households installing batteries, and the energy companies and governments who are following suit at a community and grid scale. In the ACT, the government is running a tender to deliver one of Australia's largest battery storage facilities, able to power 25,000 homes for two hours when needed.

The remaining gaps are battery component and battery cell manufacturing. The good news is that the Western Australian government's battery manufacturing strategy is looking to target the next step - battery cathode manufacturing. Up in Townsville, there is an ambitious plan to establish a battery cell "Gigafactory".

COVID-19 has demonstrated the fragility of many global supply chains. This in turn is leading to a national conversation about the importance of Australian manufacturing.

If we are serious about both increasing our economic resilience to global crises, stimulating the economy, growing new jobs now and into the future and revitalising this dwindling sector, we need to focus on manufacturing for a clean energy future - and an economic stimulus package for batteries would be a great place to start.

Targeted government support now will unleash a global battery powerhouse that drives investment and jobs right across the value chain from mining to refining, making and recycling.

In Europe, a focus on cleaning up transport as a stimulus measure has buoyed the electric vehicle market, and in turn the global metals and minerals markets.


Adelaide man charged with sacrilege, a crime described as a 'throwback to a different time'

An Adelaide man has appeared in court charged with sacrilege, raising questions about whether such a crime deserves to still be on the books.

Police allege Shane Gray, 19, stole two guitars from the church in Adelaide's northern suburbs early this morning.

Mr Gray, of Elizabeth, was today granted bail in the Elizabeth Magistrates Court after the alleged theft from Elizabeth Park's Adelaide Chin Christian Church.

He has been charged with sacrilege as well as the lesser charge of dishonestly taking property without consent.

Sacrilege carries a maximum penalty of life in prison — the same possible sentence for murder.

Police said Mr Gray was spotted jumping the fence of the church on Shillabeer Road while carrying items from the church.

"Patrols quickly attended the scene and located property from the church on the ground. They searched the area and found a man carrying two guitars belonging to the church a short distance away," an SA Police statement said.

They also found a sound mixer on the ground outside the church.

Chin community persecuted in Myanmar

Adelaide Chin Christian Church pastor Chung Hnin said he was shocked to discover his community's church had been targeted by an alleged thief.

The Chin community are a persecuted, mostly Christian minority from Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Many who have arrived in Australia are refugees.

"We bought this church in 2016 and we have 1113 members… The church is everything for the Chin community," Mr Hnin said.

"The persecution was so severe, and they fled to India and Malaysia, from there after staying there for 10 years the government of Australia opened the way and they could settle in Australia.

"It is a bit shocking that in a very developed country like Australia we do not expect that somebody would steal things, but it happens."

Mr Hnin said he would spend the day working out if the congregation could still use their equipment caught up in the alleged theft. "It was a mess and very expensive stuff lying outside the church and it was really shocking, and when we entered the church… it was a mess," he said.

Sacrilege a 'crime of gravity'

According to Section 167 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act SA 1935, sacrilege is defined as when a person "breaks and enters into a place of divine worship and commits an offence" or "breaks out of a place of divine worship after committing an offence".

Sacrilege is different to aggravated theft, which carries a maximum 15-year prison term.


Defamation overhaul seeks to rein in 'eye-watering' payouts

Capping awards will not work unless the cap is absolute for all cases except serious physical illness

Defamation payouts are likely to be reduced and trivial claims may be thrown out of court before a trial under changes to Australia's defamation laws.

But experts say the jury is still out on how many of the changes, including a new defence to protect public interest journalism, will work in practice.

On Wednesday NSW became the first state to introduce a nationally agreed defamation reform bill in Parliament. Other states and territories will follow suit shortly.

The adjustments include a new "serious harm" threshold, modelled on British law, aimed at weeding out minor cases before a trial, and changes to ensure courts stick to a cap on damages for non-economic loss.

The cap, currently $421,000, has been exceeded in cases brought by celebrities including Rebel Wilson and Geoffrey Rush. Separate damages for economic loss, also awarded in the Rush case, are uncapped.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said in Parliament on Wednesday "exorbitant" damages should not be awarded. Mr Speakman spearheaded the national defamation reform process and all Attorneys-General agreed on Monday to introduce the changes "as soon as possible".

In his parliamentary speech, Mr Speakman said the "serious harm" threshold would help filter out "trivial and vexatious" claims, including fights over low-level social media slurs. He said some minor claims "could be solved better over a coffee or a barbecue or even a handshake".

Victorian barrister Matt Collins, QC, who appears regularly in defamation cases, said the changes should be welcomed "but with some quite significant reservations".

The public interest defence was a "vast improvement" on a previous draft, based on New Zealand law.

Under the new defence, modelled on British law, a defendant must show a publication "concerns an issue of public interest" and they "reasonably believed" the publication was in the public interest.

However, the Australian defence also includes a list of factors a jury, or judge if there is no jury, "may" take into account. Dr Collins said the "incoherent" list would "distract" the judge or jury.

Dr Collins believed the "major impact" of the serious harm threshold would be symbolic. Lawyers would be able to point to it to deter trivial claims but, in his view, the threshold would not knock out many cases pre-trial but would be a lingering issue at trial.

He said clarifying the cap on damages for non-economic loss meant "we won't see those eye-watering sums, like in Rebel's case or in Geoffrey Rush's case, again".

The courts had previously said the cap did not apply if aggravated damages were also awarded, which meant Mr Rush received $850,000 in non-economic and aggravated damages, more than $400,000 above the cap. Ms Wilson received $600,000, almost $200,000 above the cap.

The amended laws say the cap remains in place, which is likely to mean a much smaller amount for aggravated damages awarded on top of the capped payment.

But Associate Professor Jason Bosland, director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne Law School, said it was unclear how the courts would interpret the new provisions including the public interest defence.

There was also no guarantee courts would not award "huge" sums in aggravated damages.

"You can legislate all you like but it's the way in which the courts interpret those provisions that is really where the work is done," he said.

Marcus Strom, federal president of the media section of Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said the union "welcomes NSW being the first jurisdiction to introduce legislation to update Australia’s defamation regime". However, there remained "outstanding issues" to be addressed, including "preventing plaintiffs using defamation to go after journalists' confidential sources".


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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