Posts Tagged Bill Gates

Coronavirus: Treatments and Vaccines


Recently a science teacher said that treatment for covid with remdesivir or hydroxychloroquine is better than a vaccine. I said, treatment like that is good but a vaccine is better. She said, “no. since many people get adverse reactions from vaccines, a treatment is better”. So I decided to write this blog post. First, let us consider what are drug treatments and how they are different from vaccines.

Drug treatments: Currently over 70 companies are working on various drug treatments for novel coronavirus. Although this virus is novel, not all drugs being considered are entirely novel. For instance, like the previously considered malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, Gilead’s drug, Remdesivir, that is in the news, is not a novel drug. Remdesivir is a broad spectrum antiviral drug that has been found to successfully prevent MERS coronavirus in rhesus monkeys. Besides antiviral drugs, there are other anti-inflammatory drugs. Scientists believe that in the end, what might work may be a sort of a cocktail or some combination of antiviral and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Drug treatments do not prevent Covid-19. These drugs are offered to patients who are already suffering from coronavirus. On the other hand, vaccines prevent people from contracting the disease in the first place.  

Drug treatments are not cures. 1) there isn’t a 100% response rate among people treated with remdesivir or any other treatment. So despite many drugs showing promise, there are a few people who will respond to a drug; many still die. 2) many who suffer from the disease but go on to recover, they still utilize huge amounts of hospital resources during their illness phase. 3) during the illness phase, these sick people also spread the virus with the possibility of making others (including healthcare professionals) sick. 4) even people who may recover with the help of these drugs from covid, may have suffered substantial damage to their lungs and that may reduce their lifespan or affect them in other ways.

Vaccines:  Vaccines prevent people from getting sick. So when people don’t get sick, they don’t spread the virus, don’t utilize healthcare resources, don’t infect healthcare professionals or others in the community, and don’t get any kind of long lasting damage to their lungs. Clearly, vaccine is a far superior way to deal with coronavirus.

Why are vaccines taking much longer than drugs for covid?

Virus, Pathogen, Infection, Biology

As I mentioned above, many of the drugs considered currently for treatment of covid are already in existence for some other illnesses or diseases. So there are existing drugs considered for either preventing covid deaths or preventing people from becoming sicker and helping them recover faster and ending hospital stays earlier.

Vaccines on the other hand, have to be developed. There are considerable challenges at each stage of vaccine research, development and manufacturing. First of all, pharmaceutical companies have decreased vaccine research and development in the last several years, because vaccine development and manufacturing is expensive, time consuming and offers smaller payback in terms of revenues. For each new virus and for all mutations, the vaccine has to be developed and then when the virus is not active then the vaccine is not useful. Clinical studies take place during the research and development phase. Only if the studies show the vaccine to be safe and effective then the vaccine proceeds to the next phase where it has to be manufactured in large quantities required.

During a pandemic like this one, not only do we need a vaccine quickly but the world will also need  hundreds of millions of doses for the entire world population.  Fortunately, pharma companies, scientists from all over the world, billionaires like Bill Gates and Governments and countries have stepped up to tackle this challenge, with an unprecedented spirit of collaboration.  There are measured expectations for an effective vaccine to be available within 12 to 18 months. That is an unprecedented and highly aggressive timeline. Bill Gates has offered to support manufacturing of top 7 candidates during the research and development phase. That means, even without the proof of effectiveness of any of them, he will foot the bill for manufacturing all of them, in the hope that at least a couple of them will prove to be safe and effective and the world will get required doses speedily. Meanwhile, countries like India are getting ready for manufacturing of vaccines. India has proven capability and expertise to ramp up production of vaccines, while keeping costs down. Regulatory hurdles are likely to be less severe as US FDA and other regulatory bodies have promised EUA (emergency use authorization) for drugs and vaccines that may help contain covid.

If drugs like Remdesivir work then that will help some people recover and recover faster; so let us hope that any one of these drugs alone or in combination with other drugs will reduce mortality, shorten hospital stays, and help reduce spread of covid. But ultimately we need a vaccine for covid-19 and the way in which entire world is coming together, gives much hope for availability of a speedy vaccine.

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“Build” – Play Review (about a startup in Silicon Valley)


Written by Michael Golamco, “Build” is CityLights’ Executive Artistic Director, Lisa Mallette’s yet another bold venture aimed to bring thematically relevant plays to the Silicon Valley audience.  Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, CA, this is a story about — what else? A startup! And what could be more hot than a video gaming company?

I am going to skip a more typical review with detailed plot description, in favor of giving you a glimpse of the future envisioned in this production.  To give a little background of the plot, Kip (George Psarras) and Will (Max Tachis) had earlier conceived a brilliant game that resulted in a grand success, leading to what appears to be a milestone based buyout deal.  Unlike Will, dapper and immaculate, Kip, the creative genius, with disdain for money, and for following procedures, and grave dislike for documenting details to make hand off of work easier for others, has a harder time with monetary success, fast cars, suits and board and shareholder meetings.  Kip spends his days cloistered in his home mourning the loss of his late wife, and has abandoned social life, in favor of staying indoors, in his cluttered apartment, working on his next big project; only this time to give it away via open source and cloud.  And who else to keep him company but an “artificially intelligent” being, an AI robot, oddly resembling his late wife Allison (Morgan Voellger).

English: IBM's Watson computer, Yorktown Heigh...

English: IBM’s Watson computer, Yorktown Heights, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you think that it might be too far fetched, think again.  Sometime back, IBM’s AI computer, Watson made history when it appeared on Jeopardy, the popular game show beat most of the contestants http://bit.ly/JOZmwH .  Watson is a computer system, capable of answering questions posed in natural language.  This is no small feat.  Human language is infinitely complex.  That alone makes for a huge challenge in building an artificially intelligent, interactive being.  Puns, idioms, and other contextual expressions, and even the tone of voice http://bit.ly/17FvMmW  and a pause at a different place in a sentence, can completely alter the meaning.  In medicine, AI computer like Watson is expected learn the nuances of the language to offer complex diagnosis, and even indicate the level of confidence it has in the diagnosis offered.

ASIMO uses sensors and intelligent algorithms ...

ASIMO uses sensors and intelligent algorithms to avoid obstacles and navigate stairs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “Build”, Kip’s AI being is keenly aware of her identity “16 terabytes of data”.  But she is far superior than any ordinary machine and he has built it in human avatar.  The robot takes on Allison’s personality, even the loneliness Allison experienced when she was married to Kip and Kip was occupied with his gaming venture.  This AI machine made out of code is incredibly smart (beats Kip in the word game they play), is intuitive and curious, and even talks about her dreams.  When Will discovers Kip’s secret AI being, he is both astounded and concerned that Kip will forever stay a prisoner of his home, as long as he has the companionship offered by the robot.  Along with this ulterior motive, Will also has fond memories of Allison and is mesmerized by Allison-like-robot.

This is not stuff of idle imagination.  Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have all said that we should be concerned about the future of artificial intelligence.  Louis Del Monte, an entrepreneur, has said that some day, machines could surpass humans and could become the most dominant species, and Hawking has said that machines could eventually “outsmart financial markets” and “out-invent human researchers”.  Days may not be far when machines will fulfill the roles of companions and caregivers.

While it is challenging to imagine the future, this production is tackling the challenges of reproducing that “future” on stage.  It takes the audience into the fascinating world of video gaming as Will and Kip work on deliverables, cleaning out bugs, and packet drops.  Then with the help of high tech design and lighting, the audience is introduced to the AI robot.  Video designer, Nick Kumamoto has worked wonders with some scattered computer screens and lighting.  While AI robot appears caring and concerned, and seems to be a perfect companion, the story revolves around three human beings, one who has passed away, leaving behind memories, and two friends who struggle through their growth and transformation, to keep the ties that brought them together in the first place; gaming, innovation, and their urge to “build” something, in the heart of Silicon Valley.  “Build” will be running at CityLights in San Jose, till February 22, 2015.  For tickets, go to www.cltc.org

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