Day One Highlights from the COVID-19 Symposium

ASGCT Staff - September 15, 2020

Catch up on highlights from the first day of ASGCT's COVD-19 Symposium.

Attendees at the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) COVID-19 Symposium heard from an excellent lineup of disease experts on Tuesday, the first of a two-day virtual meeting that aims to highlight advances in understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and treating COVID-19.

The morning kicked off with a keynote address from Anthony Fauci, M.D., who told the audience he was “cautiously optimistic” regarding a COVID-19 vaccine this year.

Speakers during the morning session, Understanding SARS-CoV-2: Virology, Epidemiology, and Pathogenesis, discussed the biology of coronaviruses and how they enter cells, the immune defense tolerance of bats, and the need for surveillance data to improve disease projections and resource utilization including testing and contract tracing. Tom Gallagher, Ph.D., (Loyola University Chicago) provided a technical description as to why chloroquines (including hydroxychloroquine) are ineffective in defending against coronavirus entry in humans.

Jason McLellan, Ph.D. (University of Texas at Austin) described research he and his colleagues did to characterize the virus’ spike designs, which resulted in identifying substitutions that increased protein yields and stability. And Dan Barouch, M.D., Ph.D. (Harvard Medial School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) described his development of a COVID-19 vaccine that has been tested in hamsters and macaques, and will hopefully begin phase 3 clinical trials this month.

Dr. Barouch said he didn’t view the vaccine development as a competition, and that collaboration would instead yield the strongest results.

“Vaccine development for COVID-19 is proceeding faster than for any pathogen in history,” he said, adding that the world will need multiple successful vaccines to be approved to achieve the much-needed herd immunity.

In the afternoon session, Diagnosing and Measuring Immune Responses to SARS-CoV-2 Infection, Janice Chen, Ph.D. (Mammoth Biosciences) talked about her company’s efforts to develop CoviDETECTR, a CRISPR-based SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test. During the session on Treatment of COVID-19, other experts from institutions around the country profiled the difficulties and breakthroughs in treating the disease. These included a profile of nursing home treatment options from Myron Cohen, M.D. (UNC School of Medicine) and a talk about the potential use of convalescent plasma in both preventative and treatment applications from Michael Joyner, M.D. (Mayo Clinic).

To close the afternoon, Larry Corey, M.D. (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington) profiled the extensive and ongoing strategies to develop a number of COVID-19 vaccines and the “social medicine” challenges that go beyond the medical science of vaccine development.

All presentations from ASGCT’s COVID-19 Symposium are free to view for the next 30 days by registering online. We’ll see you on Wednesday for discussions on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and presentations of brand new research!

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