Tag: vaccine

Increasing certainty in flu vaccine effectiveness

According to CDC data, studies are getting better at estimating the influenza vaccine effectiveness.

With the 2017-2018 flu season still going on in the USA, there are already some indication that vaccines have some effectiveness (although its target strains were mismatched). The CDC reports how it measures vaccine effectiveness here and I was interested in their confidence intervals (the interval that takes into account uncertainties to extrapolate to the broader, unknown population).

Here is the same graph as on the CDC page, but with confidence interval:

* 2016-2017 VE are still estimates. ** 2017-2018 interim early estimates may differ from final end-of-season estimates.

You can already notice it above but the graph below confirms that the confidence interval becomes narrower with the various flu season. This can come from various reasons. One obvious reason is that early seasons (< 2007-08) had a very small sample size (< 1,000). But overall, we can notice a gain of certainty around the effectiveness (the lower the line below, the more certainty).

* 2016-2017 VE are still estimates. ** 2017-2018 interim early estimates may differ from final end-of-season estimates.

As usual, the dataset (and code to generate the graphs above) are on my Github repo.

Medicines coming soon at a printer near you!

The terminator may not come at any time soon but medicines should be coming soon at a printer near you …

Mid last year, Gartner mentionedmedical applications [of 3D printing] will have the biggest impact in the next two to five years“. With 3D printing you can already create a lot of physical artifacts and medical applications go from building medical equipments to prosthetic parts, but also blood vessels, bone, heart valve, cartilage, etc. Complete organs are not too far, with companies like Organovo already printing functional liver assays, prospects to restore a body by replacing or consolidating personalized parts seem interesting.


On the other side, restoring a body function by providing personalized molecules was a dream so far. Preventing body malfunction via similar systems is too.

Plan view of Cronin's robotic systemI recently watched and read about Lee Cronin’s laboratory work and these dreams may come true, one of these days. In a TEDxGateway video in 2013, Prof. Cronin explained briefly how he did it. Last December, they published their method with a basic application in Nature Communications. What I also liked is that, beyond the technical capabilities, this research is based on common components (right) and free software that are available for everyone. And Cronin also insisted on compatibility between “recipes” and the possibilities to exchange them as well as source code – one day, will their software be released on Github like some of their 3D models as STL files?

Cronin also talks about pharmaceutical companies releasing blueprints for drugs that could save plenty of lives in emerging economies, for instance. In my opinion, this is however where the technology goes much faster than the ideological framework we live in: pharma companies will not likely suddenly release recipes for drugs that bring them money (no for-profit company in any other sector would, by the way) and the regulatory framework for healthcare is far from ready to accommodate these advances.

Prevention could also benefit from these advances. Synthetic vaccines are in production since two decades at least. If safety is the first argument often put forward in their favor, rapid prototyping and versatile production could one day become possible. It seems it was already tested for flu vaccines. Now imagine to move the “engineering” part in a computer, sending the recipe for the best-adapted vaccine directly to “vaccine printers” in regions where health hazards are likely to occur or as early as they occur … We would also face many corporate and regulatory hurdles. But it wouldn’t be the first field where technology would push broader changes …

First promising results for a malaria vaccine

Malaria is the 5th cause of death in low-income countries (according to WHO). That’s why I’m very happy to read that a malaria vaccine showed promising results in a phase 3 clinical trial (in The Guardian, The New York Times or Google News). As usual, I find very interesting to get all the information at the source: the original scientific paper was just published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The main result of this study is that “the vaccine reduced malaria by half in [young] children […] during the 12 months after vaccination”. The study also showed that “the vaccine has the potential to have an important effect on the burden of malaria in young African children“. The conclusion of the article ends with “additional information on vaccine efficacy among young infants and the duration of protection will be critical to determining how this vaccine could be used most effectively to control malaria“.

Indeed, as highlighted by the timeline reproduced below, the clinical trial isn’t over yet. Some data still needs to be reported (regarding younger children and duration of protection, as stated above).

RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate timeline (Source: PATH MVI)
RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate timeline (source: PATH MVI)

If you want to follow what’s happening with this vaccine, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative seeks “to accelerate the development of malaria vaccines and ensure their availability and accessibility in the developing world” and their website contains lots of useful information.

Disclaimer: I’m currently working for the pharmaceutical company that discovered and produced the RTS,S vaccine in this study. I’m however not part of the malaria team in any way. There is only publicly available information in this post.