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BioNTech using COVID jab technology to develop effective malaria vaccine | Science & Tech News

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The German pharmaceutical group behind one of the most successful COVID-19 vaccines wants to use the same technology to develop a malaria vaccine. 

BioNTech, who developed the first coronavirus jab with US company Pfizer, is aiming to begin clinical trials for a “safe and highly effective malaria vaccine” by the end of next year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria globally in 2019, with about 409,000 deaths that year.

Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of German biotech firm BioNTech, is interviewed by journalists in Marburg
Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of German biotech firm BioNTech, is interviewed by journalists in Marburg, Germany September 17, 2020. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
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Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNtech said the company is in the

The WHO estimates that children under five accounted for 67% of deaths in 2019 and 94% of cases and deaths were in Africa.

Biotech’s chief executive Ugur Sahin said: “We are already working on HIV and tuberculosis, and malaria is the third big indication (disease) with a high unmet medical need.

“It has an incredible high number of people being infected every year, a high number of patients dying, a particularly severe disease and high mortality in small children.”

But Mr Sahin acknowledged the project is at a very early stage and there is no guarantee of success.

He added that the company believes it is “the perfect time to address this challenge” because of insights gained from developing an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organisation, children accounted for 67% of malaria-related deaths in 2019. File pic
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According to the World Health Organisation, children accounted for 67% of malaria-related deaths in 2019. File pic

Malaria is a parasitic infection passed on to victims through the bite of infected mosquitos – that evades recognition by the immune system, said Mr Sahin, adding the goal is to develop a vaccine that makes the parasite visible and attackable.

There is currently only one malaria vaccine – Mosquirix – which took GlaxoSmithKline several years to develop but is only 39% effective.

“The genome of Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, is more complex than viruses,” cautioned Prakash Srinivasan, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute are also developing a potential new malaria vaccine that has shown promise in a year-long trial.

BioNTech also plans to run tests on a vaccine for tuberculosis in 2020, as well as nine jabs against nine different infectious diseases.

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SpaceX Inspiration4 mission: All-civilian crew touch down on Earth after historic three days in orbit | US News

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A SpaceX capsule carrying the first all-civilian crew into space has touched back down on Earth after three days in orbit.

The four amateur astronauts orbited the planet every 90 minutes at a speed of more than 17,000mph and an altitude of up to 363 miles – higher than the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope – during their time in space.

Their dragon capsule safely parachuted into the ocean just before sunset on Saturday, off the Florida coast where the private flight began three days ago.

Commander Jared Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembrosk took part in the Inspiration4 mission, making them the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut.

inspiration4x  Twitter pictures
Source: https://twitter.com/inspiration4x/status/1438716982564696065/photo/4
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(L-R) Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, and Dr Sian Proctor seemed in good spirits after their first day in space. Pic Twitter/Inspiration4x

“Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed as the capsule landed.

“It was a heck of a ride for us… just getting started,” replied trip sponsor Mr Isaacman, hinting at more private flights in the future.

Mr Isaacman, a billionaire, paid undisclosed millions for the trip for himself and his three guests – all of whom were strangers to him before the trip.

The group wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists.

They were treated to unparalleled views of earth during their time in orbit through a large bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule.

The passengers aboard a SpaceX capsule react as the capsule parachutes into the Atlantic. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP
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The passengers aboard the SpaceX capsule react as it parachutes into the Atlantic. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP
The SpaceX capsule lands off the Florida coast. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP
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The all-amateur crew was the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut. Pic: Inspiration4 via AP

The 38-year-old entrepreneur and experienced pilot aimed to raise $200 million (£145 million) for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital through the trip.

Donating 100 million himself (£72.5 million), he held a lottery for one of the four seats. He also held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments.

Ms Arceneaux, 29, a St Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, took one of the seats.

Mr Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Ms Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona won their seats through competitions.

They spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight but did not have to undergo the rigorous preparations that astronauts go through.

During the trip they chatted with St Jude patients, conducted medical tests on themselves, rang the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange, and complete some drawing and ukulele playing.

The four also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2’s Bono.

Ms Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, told her patients: “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.”

Even their space menu was not typical: Cold pizza and sandwiches, but also pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb.

Nearly 600 people have reached space – a scorecard that began 60 years ago and is expected to soon skyrocket as space tourism heats up.

The group are the first space travellers to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns – carrying astronauts for NASA – were in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA had little to do with the mission, only lending the use of its Kennedy Space Centre launch pad.



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Faroe Islands pledges review of dolphin killing regulations after uproar over record slaughter | World News

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The Faroe Islands has said it will review regulations governing its tradition of hunting dolphins after widespread uproar over the killing of more than 1,400 from a “super pod”.

Campaign group Sea Shepherd released footage showing hundreds of dead animals lying on a beach, while others were herded into shallow waters by boats and jet skis.

The footage showed the water turn red as people killed the dolphins with knives for their meat and blubber.

The dead animals are lined up on the beach. Credit: Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign
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The dead animals were lined up on the beach after the slaughter. Pic: Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign

Further out to sea, the fjord boats formed a barrier to stop the Atlantic white-sided dolphins from swimming away.

Sea Shepherd, which is based in the US, described the hunt as “brutal”, with the graphic footage leaving many viewers from around the world shocked and calling for action.

The Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign Facebook page wrote: “We are sharing with you 10 minutes of unedited footage. We are doing this so you can grasp the reality of what happened yesterday.

“Because while the Faroese newspapers have been busy reporting on the reactions to the hunt all through the day, there has been no proper covering of the actual illegalities and brutality of the hunt.

“What will it take for the locals to demand a shut down of all hunts of this sort?

“We believe it takes a good honest look at the truth.”

Pic: Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign
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Over 1,400 dolphins were killed. Pic: Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign

The Faroe Islands has defended its decades-long tradition of chasing dolphins or whales towards the shore and slaughtering them on beaches.

The slaughter has been a part of the archipelago’s tradition since the ninth century, and the meat and blubber are shared within the community.

However, the government said the latest catch had been “extraordinary” due to the size of the pod, and it would look into regulations around the tradition.

Young children were present at the hunt. Credit: Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign
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Young children were present at the hunt. Pic: Sea Shepherd Faroe Islands Campaign

It said the catch was a record – on average around 250 dolphins and 600 pilot whales are caught each year in Faroese waters, it added.

“We take this matter very seriously. Although these hunts are considered sustainable, we will be looking closely at the dolphin hunts, and what part they should play in Faroese society,” Prime Minister Bardur a Steig Nielsen said.

Regin Jacobsen, one of the Faroe Islands’ largest farmed salmon exporters, condemned the slaughter as “totally unacceptable”.

The Bakkefrost CEO said his firm was not involved in the hunt and none of its assets were used.

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Afghanistan: Taliban replaces women’s ministry with ‘vice and virtue’ ministry – as schools reopen for boys | World News

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The Taliban has replaced Afghanistan’s women’s ministry with an all-male “vice and virtue ministry”.

The new ministry is tasked with enforcing the group’s extreme interpretation of Islam.

Officials at the ministry told the Associated Press they had not been informed whether a new women’s ministry is being planned.

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Afghanistan: Women in fear for their freedom

It comes as schools across Afghanistan reopened for boys from Saturday, effectively barring girls from secondary education despite the group’s previous commitment.

The new Taliban ministry of education’s announcement did not mention when girls may be able to return to classes, even in gender-segregated settings.

It said state and private schools at primary and secondary level, as well as official madrasa religious schools, will open from Saturday.

“All teachers and male students should attend school,” the statement said.

It comes after staff from the World Bank’s $100m (£72m) Women’s Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Programme were escorted off the grounds of the old ministry by the Taliban in Kabul.

Sharif Akhtar, a programme member who was escorted out with his staff, said he could not say how or if the programme could continue.

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‘We left our family – our country is destroyed’

Most educational institutions remain closed across Afghanistan, more than a month after the Taliban seized Kabul.

Girls up to the sixth grade have managed to attend some schools and women have gone to university classes, but high schools for girls have been closed.

The Taliban has said it will not replicate the fundamentalist policies of the previous Taliban government, which banned girls from education.

Girls will be able to study as long as they do so in segregated classrooms, the group has said.

Although the Taliban’s leaders have not ordered schools to close, they have said the security situation means many activities for women and girls are not yet possible.

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Footballer’s fears for women under the Taliban

Meanwhile, a series of explosions targeted Taliban vehicles in the capital of Nangarhar province.

The three explosions left at least three dead and 20 wounded.

While no one immediately claimed the attack in Jalalabad, the Islamic State affiliate group ISIS-K, which opposes the Taliban, has its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan.

Also on Saturday, a sticky bomb exploded in the capital, wounding two people, police said.

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