football with mask by Capri23auto, Pixabay
football with mask by Capri23auto, Pixabay
(Capri23auto, Pixabay)

The purpose of a vaccine is effectively to train the immune system in recognising and combatting the virus quickly should there ever be a real infection. To do so, vaccines deliver virus components, which are harmless on their own, to the recipient’s immune system. These components are referred to as immunisation targets or immunogens. Once immune cells recognise and bind to these, an immune response follows.

There are a few different vaccine technology platforms in use or development. Here, I very briefly summarise the ones used for COVID-19 vaccines and then highlight one novel approach that has piqued my interest.


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Working across disciplines can be confusing, not only due to professional jargon but also due to basic terminology being used interchangeably by different people or media sources. This is very true in the biomedical sphere. After a recent brief exchange with someone who is interested in technology applications in healthcare and life sciences, I was stimulated to propound some of my interpretations of the following terms: life sciences, bioscience, biomedicine, bioengineering, biotechnology, medtech and healthtech. I enjoy words and languages from a practical perspective. So, let’s see how it goes.

Life sciences

Unsurprisingly, life sciences are concerned with the study of living…


cargo ship in supply chain
cargo ship in supply chain
(hectorgalarza, Pixabay)

Optimising supply chain management provides several tremendous use cases for blockchain applications. Below is a quick summary of two very informative blockchain discussions on supply chain transformation that provide some useful overviews across different industries and various aspects to ponder.

Here are some of my highlights.

What is the minimum viable tracking unit? This may seem straightforward when looking at physical packaged products (e.g. wine bottles), but gets trickier when dealing with raw materials such as mined ores.

It’s not just about tech and outside competition. Getting stakeholders on board inside large enterprises requires a solid business case and clear communication. An intrapreneurs’ challenge.

Consumer supply…


intergenerational support
intergenerational support
Image by anemone123, Pixabay

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on various industries including manufacturing, travel & tourism as well as life sciences and healthcare. When we talk about ‘industries’, inevitably we talk about human lives. Let’s look beyond the immediate turmoil into which many have been thrust. With the world around us changing at a seemingly accelerated speed, what’s out there to help us manage our careers?

Mentoring

I caught the last few talks of the virtual event ‘IEEE Healthcare: Blockchain & AI’ on 7 Oct 20, which discussed the potential of these emerging technologies to improve healthcare systems. In the closing remarks, future…


The Kiss of Death, Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona, 2015
The Kiss of Death, Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona, 2015
The Kiss of Death — Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona

Convalescent plasma (CP) therapy gained FDA emergency use authorisation (EUA) in August. It appears that this is surrounded by some controversy and suspicion of politicisation.

Without getting anywhere near politics here, let’s not forget that health agencies’ interest in CP is nothing new. The FDA has previously encouraged survivors to donate plasma and supported developments in this space along with other international organisations (see also Blue Steens’ April newsletter). This is also not the first time that CP has been a hopeful for the treatment of viral disease.

What may be new in this context is heightened public scrutiny, unvarnished…


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I have had discussions lately about the perception that an immunity passport is the same as a vaccination passport. This is not so. The choice of words matters! Let’s explore this from a basic immunological perspective.

Vaccination vs immunity

Equating vaccination to immunity is a misleading oversimplification. It is crucial to make a clear distinction. Vaccination is a fact. Someone receives a jab. This is an event that can be recorded. Immunity is a speculative outcome that depends on many factors influencing the quality and properties of the vaccine as well as the recipient’s immune response.

Vaccination is a fact. …


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dPlasma Team

Last month I wrote about being a mentor for one of the teams at the Stop COVID-19 hackathon by ConsenSys Health. My team was called dPlasma and amazingly won the first prize in the competition! 🏆

Let’s take a look at the project and its context.

Live hackathon winner announcement

I have been following the COVID-19 pharma news for a few months now in my monthly reviews and noticed that some potential treatment options have attracted more attention than others. The three most prominent are the cheap malaria drug hydroxy-chloroquine, Gilead’s remdesivir and convalescent plasma (CP) from survivors of the…


Winding path in Cairngorms, Scotland
Winding path in Cairngorms, Scotland

Despite potential short-cuts, drug development is a lengthy and risky process that culminates in marketing approval. However, just because a drug achieves regulatory approval, does not mean that it will be instantly available to those in need. The complex journey for a pharmaceutical to gain patient access continues.

From discovery to market

The drug discovery process begins when potential therapeutic targets have been identified. Compounds capable of manipulating disease mechanisms to prevent, improve or cure a condition become drug candidates. A pre-clinical phase investigates their therapeutic potential and safety for human testing. Early product development advances in parallel. Regulatory approval, through the Investigational New…


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Capri23auto, Pixabay

What is federated learning?

Federated learning (FL) is a machine learning paradigm that allows to train algorithms collaboratively without the need for source data exchange between the parties. This means that different institutions or companies can join forces in the development of data-driven solutions without sharing their secrets. Participants in such a venture come together in an FL consortium. How this may work is outlined below. There is also a quick peek at a speculative topical use case at the end.

Federated learning healthcare consortia

The pre-print paper by Passerat-Palmbach J et al. (2019) [basically the folk from ConsenSys Health] suggests an FL architecture intended to be suitable…


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I feel that there is considerable confusion about drug prices amongst industry outsiders. Until I started looking into the topic, I had no idea how complex it was.

Drug prices incorporate several components along the supply chain from manufacturer to sales outlet. There is also a distinction to be made between the retail price set by industry and the reimbursement price set by healthcare payers.

In 2017 European pharmaceutical retail prices were composed as follows:

Chris Wirrig

Former biomedical research scientist. Love sharing knowledge. European citizen.

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