• IELTS Reading improvement : Coronavirus vaccine: when will it be ready 1

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    Dr. Arian Karimi IELTS Reading Class and Strategies


    Human trials will begin imminently – but even if they go well, there are many hurdles before global immunization is feasible

    Even at their most effective – and draconian – containment strategies have only slowed the spread of the respiratory disease Covid-19. With the World Health Organization finally declaring a pandemic, all eyes have turned to the prospect of a vaccine, because only a vaccine can prevent people from getting sick.


    About 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create such a vaccine, at least four of which already have candidates they have been testing in animals. The first of these – produced by Boston-based biotech firm Moderna – will enter human trials imminently.


    This unprecedented speed is thanks in large part to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. China shared that sequence in early January, allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick.


    But there is another reason for the head start. Though nobody could have predicted that the next infectious disease to threaten the globe would be caused by a coronavirus – flu is generally considered to pose the greatest pandemic risk – vaccinologists had hedged their bets by working on “prototype” pathogens. “The speed with which we have [produced these candidates] builds very much on the investment in understanding how to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses,” says Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Oslo-based nonprofit the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which is leading efforts to finance and coordinate Covid-19 vaccine development.


    Coronaviruses have caused two other recent epidemics – severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in China in 2002-04, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which started in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In both cases, work began on vaccines that were later shelved when the outbreaks were contained. One company, Maryland-based Novavax, has now repurposed those vaccines for Sars-CoV-2, and says it has several candidates ready to enter human trials this spring. Moderna, meanwhile, built on earlier work on the Mers virus conducted at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.


    A researcher works in a lab at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore March 23, 2020. Photograph: Joseph Campbell/Reuters


    Sars-CoV-2 shares between 80% and 90% of its genetic material with the virus that caused Sars – hence its name. Both consist of a strip of ribonucleic acid (RNA) inside a spherical protein capsule that is covered in spikes. The spikes lock on to receptors on the surface of cells lining the human lung – the same type of receptor in both cases – allowing the virus to break into the cell. Once inside, it hijacks the cell’s reproductive machinery to produce more copies of itself, before breaking out of the cell again and killing it in the process.


    All vaccines work according to the same basic principle. They present part or all of the pathogen to the human immune system, usually in the form of an injection and at a low dose, to prompt the system to produce antibodies to the pathogen. Antibodies are a kind of immune memory which, having been elicited once, can be quickly mobilised again if the person is exposed to the virus in its natural form.


    Traditionally, immunisation has been achieved using live, weakened forms of the virus, or part or whole of the virus once it has been inactivated by heat or chemicals. These methods have drawbacks. The live form can continue to evolve in the host, for example, potentially recapturing some of its virulence and making the recipient sick, while higher or repeat doses of the inactivated virus are required to achieve the necessary degree of protection. Some of the Covid-19 vaccine projects are using these tried-and-tested approaches, but others are using newer technology. One more recent strategy – the one that Novavax is using, for example – constructs a “recombinant” vaccine. This involves extracting the genetic code for the protein spike on the surface of Sars-CoV-2, which is the part of the virus most likely to provoke an immune reaction in humans, and pasting it into the genome of a bacterium or yeast – forcing these microorganisms to churn out large quantities of the protein. Other approaches, even newer, bypass the protein and build vaccines from the genetic instruction itself. This is the case for Moderna and another Boston company, CureVac, both of which are building Covid-19 vaccines out of messenger RNA.


    Cepi’s original portfolio of four funded Covid-19 vaccine projects was heavily skewed towards these more innovative technologies, and last week it announced $4.4m (£3.4m) of partnership funding with Novavax and with a University of Oxford vectored vaccine project. “Our experience with vaccine development is that you can’t anticipate where you’re going to stumble,” says Hatchett, meaning that diversity is key. And the stage where any approach is most likely to stumble is clinical or human trials, which, for some of the candidates, are about to get under way.


    Clinical trials, an essential precursor to regulatory approval, usually take place in three phases. The first, involving a few dozen healthy volunteers, tests the vaccine for safety, monitoring for adverse effects. The second, involving several hundred people, usually in a part of the world affected by the disease, looks at how effective the vaccine is, and the third does the same in several thousand people. But there’s a high level of attrition as experimental vaccines pass through these phases. “Not all horses that leave the starting gate will finish the race,” says Bruce Gellin, who runs the global immunisation programme for the Washington DC-based nonprofit, the Sabin Vaccine Institute.


    There are good reasons for that. Either the candidates are unsafe, or they’re ineffective, or both. Screening out duds is essential, which is why clinical trials can’t be skipped or hurried. Approval can be accelerated if regulators have approved similar products before. The annual flu vaccine, for example, is the product of a well-honed assembly line in which only one or a few modules have to be updated each year. In contrast, Sars-CoV-2 is a novel pathogen in humans, and many of the technologies being used to build vaccines are relatively untested too. No vaccine made from genetic material – RNA or DNA – has been approved to date, for example. So the Covid-19 vaccine candidates have to be treated as brand new vaccines, and as Gellin says: “While there is a push to do things as fast as possible, it’s really important not to take shortcuts.”


    An illustration of that is a vaccine that was produced in the 1960s against respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms in children. In clinical trials, this vaccine was found to aggravate those symptoms in infants who went on to catch the virus. A similar effect was observed in animals given an early experimental Sars vaccine. It was later modified to eliminate that problem but, now that it has been repurposed for Sars-CoV-2, it will need to be put through especially stringent safety testing to rule out the risk of enhanced disease.


    It’s for these reasons that taking a vaccine candidate all the way to regulatory approval typically takes a decade or more, and why President Trump sowed confusion when, at a meeting at the White House on 2 March, he pressed for a vaccine to be ready by the US elections in November – an impossible deadline. “Like most vaccinologists, I don’t think this vaccine will be ready before 18 months,” says Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. That’s already extremely fast, and it assumes there will be no hitches.


    In the meantime, there is another potential problem. As soon as a vaccine is approved, it’s going to be needed in vast quantities – and many of the organisations in the Covid-19 vaccine race simply don’t have the necessary production capacity. Vaccine development is already a risky affair, in business terms, because so few candidates get anywhere near the clinic. Production facilities tend to be tailored to specific vaccines, and scaling these up when you don’t yet know if your product will succeed is not commercially feasible. Cepi and similar organisations exist to shoulder some of the risk, keeping companies incentivised to develop much-needed vaccines. Cepi plans to invest in developing a Covid-19 vaccine and boosting manufacturing capacity in parallel, and earlier this month it put out a call for $2bn to allow it to do so.


    Once a Covid-19 vaccine has been approved, a further set of challenges will present itself. “Getting a vaccine that’s proven to be safe and effective in humans takes one at best about a third of the way to what’s needed for a global immunisation programme,” says global health expert Jonathan Quick of Duke University in North Carolina, author of The End of Epidemics (2018). “Virus biology and vaccines technology could be the limiting factors, but politics and economics are far more likely to be the barrier to immunisation.”


    The problem is making sure the vaccine gets to all those who need it. This is a challenge even within countries, and some have worked out guidelines. In the scenario of a flu pandemic, for example, the UK would prioritise vaccinating healthcare and social care workers, along with those considered at highest medical risk – including children and pregnant women – with the overall goal of keeping sickness and death rates as low as possible. But in a pandemic, countries also have to compete with each other for medicines.


    Because pandemics tend to hit hardest those countries that have the most fragile and underfunded healthcare systems, there is an inherent imbalance between need and purchasing power when it comes to vaccines. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, for example, vaccine supplies were snapped up by nations that could afford them, leaving poorer ones short. But you could also imagine a scenario where, say, India – a major supplier of vaccines to the developing world – not unreasonably decides to use its vaccine production to protect its own 1.3 billion-strong population first, before exporting any.


    Outside of pandemics, the WHO brings governments, charitable foundations and vaccine-makers together to agree an equitable global distribution strategy, and organisations like Gavi, the vaccine alliance, have come up with innovative funding mechanisms to raise money on the markets for ensuring supply to poorer countries. But each pandemic is different, and no country is bound by any arrangement the WHO proposes – leaving many unknowns. As Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, points out: “The question is, what will happen in a situation where you’ve got national emergencies going on?”


    This is being debated, but it will be a while before we see how it plays out. The pandemic, says Wilder-Smith, “will probably have peaked and declined before a vaccine is available”. A vaccine could still save many lives, especially if the virus becomes endemic or perennially circulating – like flu – and there are further, possibly seasonal, outbreaks. But until then, our best hope is to contain the disease as far as possible. To repeat the sage advice: wash your hands.


    • This article was amended on 19 March 2020. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Sabin Vaccine Institute was collaborating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) on a Covid-19 vaccine.

  • Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani vows to privatize Iran’s car industry 1

    Rouhani vows to privatize Iran’s car industry


    Rouhani vows to privatize Iran’s car industry


    Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that the privatization of the country’s car industry is a key mission in the economic agenda of his administration – an announcement already seen by analysts as a sign that Iran is already preparing to open up its economy to world markets.


    President Rouhani in his remarks emphasized that people should be happy about the quality of cars in Iran, adding that the only way for this to happen is to have private sector corporations produce cars.


    “The satisfaction of people is of special importance to the administration. To close the doors and to produce cars and impose them on the people and tell them that this is the only thing you can choose is not an acceptable logic to the administration,” he told a conference of auto producers.


    “Everyone should struggle for the satisfaction of the people and we need to take serious steps toward this direction in the car industry. Iran’s car industry should be completely privatized and become competitive.”


    Iran is the Middle East’s largest auto market with a population of 80 million who bought 1.1 million cars in 2014.The automobile industry is seen as Iran’s biggest non-oil sector, accounting for nearly 10% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Iran Khodro and SAIPA companies account for more than 90 percent of the total domestic production in Iran.


    Nevertheless, almost 17,000 people die in road crashes each year which many blame on the poor safety standards of cars produced by the country.


    Rouhani further emphasized that his administration has over the past few years strongly supported the state corporations that produce cars by devising heavy tariffs on imports of cars. He specifically mentioned a plan to provide loans to people as another key step that his administration had taken to encourage consumers to purchase cars.


    However, the president emphasized that the administration's abilities to support the state car producers are limited and cannot continue eternally.




    Rouhani further emphasized that Iran welcomes the formation of joint ventures between Iranian and international automakers, stressing that such ventures should not only satisfy the domestic market but also answer the needs of the regional markets.


    He added that partnerships with international carmakers offer a quick way to improve the industry's technology and safety.


    "There is a shortcut... We have to start partnerships with prominent world carmakers. We will reach to the optimum point in technology, protecting the environment, saving energy and safety," AP quoted Rouhani as saying.


    He further emphasized that partnerships with foreign carmakers will serve the best interests of all sides, and increasing the competitiveness of the local market can only help strengthen the industry.


    "The government will never be a good manager in industry, including the car industry. The sector should be completely privatized and competitive," he said. "The partnership will drive us ahead."


    During his landmark visit to France in January, Rouhani oversaw the signing of a key agreement between the French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën and Iran Khodro to produce cars in Iran.


    The deal whose value is estimated to be €400 million envisages the production of 200,000 cars a year in Iran.


    Discussions over similar projects have also been going on between Iran and other global automakers including Renault (France), Fiat (Italy), Suzuki (Japan) and Daimler (Germany).

  • Junior Iranian squash player ranked best among Asian athletes 1

    Junior Iranian squash player ranked best among Asian athletes


    Iranian squash player ranked best among Asian athletes

    Sun Feb 7, 2016 12:7PM


    Junior Iranian squash player Alireza Shameli has been named among the greatest athletes in Asia thanks to his commendable performance at the REDtone 9th Kuala Lumpur International Junior Open Squash Championships in Malaysia.

    According to the latest rankings released by the Asian Squash Federation, Shameli stood at the top position in the boy’s under-17 category with 1, 149.40 points.

    iran sport news

    Law Yat Long from Hong Kong collected 1,092.20 points, claiming the second spot in Asia. Malaysian and Pakistani athletes Eugene Heng and Kashif Asif gained 972.00 and 900.00 points respectively to land in the third and fourth spots.

    Egypt’s Mostafa Asal is the top-ranked Asian athlete in the boy’s under-15 division with 1,080.00 points. Muhd Hafiz Zhafri from Malaysia accumulated 849.00 points to sit in the second position, while third-place Iranian Mohammadreza Ja’farzadeh garnered 825.40 points. Malaysia’s Danial Bin Shahrul Izham bagged 750.00 points to stand fourth.

    In the boy’s under-19 section, Japanese Ryunosuke Tsukue received 1215.00 points to claim the berth at the top in Asia.

    Second-place Indian Abhay Singh earned 1192.50 points. Sajad Zareian from Iran stood third with 1149.40 points and was followed by Pakistan’s Israr Ahmed with 1080.00 points.

    On October 6, Shameli suffered defeat (8-11, 11-8, 11-2, 9-11, 13-11) against Eugene Heng from Malaysia in the boys’ under-17 category, and settled for the silver.

    Zareian also lost to Tsukue (13-11, 11-9 and 11-3) in the final match of the boys’ under-19 category, and was awarded the silver medal.

    The REDtone 9th Kuala Lumpur International Junior Open Squash Championships started in Malaysia on December 1, and finished on December 6, 2015.

    The tournament brought some 500 squash players together, making it the biggest junior sporting event in Asia.

  • Zarif to meet Kerry amid Iran's frustration 1

    Zarif to meet Kerry amid Iran's frustration


    Zarif to meet Kerry amid Iran's frustration


    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called on Washington to stop meddling in Iran’s relations with other countries ahead of a meeting with his US counterpart.


    Zarif is expected to meet John Kerry in New York on Tuesday before the US secretary of state flies to Saudi Arabia to join President Barack Obama at a summit with Persian Gulf Arab leaders.


    The meeting follows complaints from top Iranian officials that the US is not fulfilling its part of a nuclear agreement reached in July.


    Zarif said Monday he would urge Washington to “seriously” live up to its side of the deal and stop interfering in Iran’s banking and financial ties with other states.


    Iran's top diplomat is in New York to attend a UN debate on Sustainable Development Goals and attend the signing ceremony of the Paris climate change agreement.


    Zarif said the visit is "a good opportunity to prevent groups hostile to Iran from implementing their Iranophobic projects" after the nuclear deal.


    “It is time to rebuild trust with the institutions which suffered losses from their links with Iran in the past. They have to be given assurances that they will not suffer from such links in the future."


    The minister said there is no hurdle on the way of healthy economic ties between Iran and the US but Tehran does not have plans to forge such relations for now.


    Ahead of his visit, Zarif said he would ask the United States to ease restrictions on non-American banks doing business with the Islamic Republic.


    “Iran will definitely put pressure on the United States to pave the way for the cooperation of non-American banks with Iran,” he said on Saturday.


    “The other party, particularly the United States, is required to implement its commitments in banking cooperation,” he said at a Tehran news conference with visiting EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.


    On Friday, Governor of Iran's Central Bank Valiollah Seif hit out at the US and the EU for failing to honor the nuclear agreement by keeping Iran locked out of the international financial system.


    US administration officials have ruled out granting Iran access to the US financial system or direct access to the dollar.


    In a speech at the US Council on Foreign Relations, Seif complained that “almost nothing” has been done to reintegrate Iran into the global economy since implementation of the nuclear deal in January.


    “Unless serious efforts are made by our partners, in my view, they have not honored their obligations,” he said.


    Seif warned that failure to do more to integrate Iranian banks into the global economy could jeopardize the nuclear agreement.


    Effective implementation of the agreement must be done “in such a way that Iran’s economic and business activities will be facilitated,” he said. Otherwise, the deal “breaks up on its own terms.”


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