The world as we know it has forever changed. With a greater focus on science and technology than before, experts in the biotech and life sciences spaces are grappling with what comes next as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness, has spread and mutated across the world.
Even with vaccines being distributed, so much still remains unknown.
Better Diagnostic Testing for COVID<p>Expect improvements in COVID diagnostic testing and the ability to test at home.</p><p>There are currently <a href="https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/coronavirus-disease-2019-testing-basics" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><u>three types of coronavirus tests</u></a>. The molecular test—also known as the RT-PCR test, detects the virus's genetic material, and is highly accurate, but it can take days to receive results. There are also antibody tests, done through a blood draw, designed to test whether you've had COVID in the past. Finally, there's the quick antigen test that isn't as accurate as the PCR test, but can identify if people are going to infect others.</p><p>Last month, Lucira Health secured the U.S. FDA Emergency Use Authorization for the first prescription molecular diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can be performed at home. On December 15<sup>th</sup>, the Ellume Covid-19 Home Test received authorization as the first over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic antigen test that can be done at home <em>without</em> a prescription. The test uses a nasal swab that is connected to a smartphone app and returns results in 15-20 minutes. Similarly, the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Home Test received authorization on Dec. 16 for its 15-minute antigen test that can be used within the first seven days of onset of COIVD-19 symptoms. </p><p>Home testing has the possibility to impact the pandemic pretty drastically, Auclair says, but there are other considerations: the type and timing of test that is administered, how expensive is the test (and if it is financially feasible for the general public) and the ability of a home test taker to accurately administer the test.</p>
Rise of mRNA-based Vaccines and Therapies<p>A year ago, vaccines weren't being talked about like they are today.</p><p>"But clearly vaccines are the talk of the town," Auclair says. "The reason we got a vaccine so fast was there was so much money thrown at it." </p><p>A vaccine can take more than 10 years to fully develop, according to the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/vaccine-development-barriers-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><u>World Economic Forum</u></a>. Prior to the new COVID vaccines, which were remarkably developed and tested in under a year, the fastest vaccine ever made was for mumps -- and it took four years. </p><p>"Normally you have to produce a protein. This is typically done in eggs. It takes forever," says Catherine Dulac, a neuroscientist and developmental biologist at Harvard University who won the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. "But an mRNA vaccine just enabled [us] to skip all sorts of steps [compared with burdensome conventional manufacturing] and go directly to a product that can be injected into people." </p><p>Non-traditional medicines based on genetic research are in their infancy. With mRNA-based vaccines hitting the market for the first time, look for more vaccines to be developed for whatever viruses we don't currently have vaccines for, like dengue virus and Ebola, Auclair says.</p><p>"There's a whole bunch of things that could be explored now that haven't been thought about in the past," Auclair says. "It could really be a game changer."</p>
Vaccine Innovation over the last 140 years.
Max Roser/Our World in Data (Creative Commons license)