Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • FDA just gave a thumbs down to Trump’s favorite COVID-19 drugs

    hydroxychloroquine pills

    Warning of “serious side effects” of two antimalarial drugs, a U.S. agency has taken back their authorization to be used on COVID-19 patients.

    AP Photo/John Locher

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today revoked its emergency use authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQ) and chloroquine phosphate (CQ) to treat COVID-19. The two antimalaria drugs, touted by President Donald Trump and others as potential game-changers in tackling the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, have failed in recent randomized controlled clinical trials to prevent disease in newly infected people or treat those with symptoms. In April, former FDA leaders decried the agency’s decision to authorize emergency use of the drugs, asserting it was based on political pressure, not scientific evidence.

    “I’m glad to see FDA remediate an action that was a significant departure from its science-based approach. I hope this is a step forward to FDA regaining its independence and for making decisions that are based on science and the public interest,” says Luciana Borio, a former FDA acting chief scientist who directed medical and biodefense preparedness for Trump’s National Security Council.

  • Could a global ‘observatory’ of blood help stop the next pandemic?

    gloved hands holding a bag of blood

    The antibodies in blood samples from around the world could reveal where previously identified pathogens are popping up and where new ones are emerging.


    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Michael Mina is out for blood—millions of samples, which a nascent effort dubbed the Global Immunological Observatory (GIO), would monitor for signs of pathogens spreading through the population. Instead of a telescope, it will rely on technology that can measure hundreds of thousands of distinct antibodies in a microliter of blood. If the GIO can overcome technical and logistical hurdles and find sustained funding, he says, it could provide a powerful tool for monitoring and responding to disease outbreaks.

    For now, the idea is just a pilot project to track the spread of COVID-19. The stealthy spread of that disease through the population underscored the need for such a monitoring system, says Mina, an immunologist and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health, who with colleagues outlines the GIO concept this week in eLife. (The co-authors include Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust, as well as vaccine and immunology specialists Adrian McDermott and Daniel Douek of the National Institutes of Health.)

  • Fifty-four scientists have lost their jobs as a result of NIH probe into foreign ties

    NIH building one

    The National Institutes of Health has been investigating grantees suspected of not disclosing their links to foreign institutions, notably in China.

    National Institutes of Health

    Some 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of an ongoing investigation by the National Institutes of Health into the failure of NIH grantees to disclose financial ties to foreign governments. For 93% of the 189 scientists whom NIH has investigated to date, China was the source of their undisclosed support.

    The new numbers come from Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research. Lauer had previously provided some information on the scope of NIH’s investigation, which had targeted 189 scientists at 87 institutions. But his presentation today to a senior advisory panel offered by far the most detailed breakout of an effort NIH launched in August 2018 that has roiled the U.S. biomedical community, and resulted in criminal charges against some prominent researchers, including Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology.

    “It’s not what we had hoped, and it’s not a fun task,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in characterizing the ongoing investigation. He called the data “sobering.”

  • Coronavirus forces United States, United Kingdom to cancel Antarctic field research

    A flat snow-covered surface

    Few scientists will reach the “deep field” of Antarctica this upcoming season.

    Kelly Brunt/National Science Foundation

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The coronavirus pandemic had already canceled one summer field research season. Now it has come for another: the Antarctic summer. The National Science Foundation and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) announced this week that the United States and United Kingdom would put most of their planned Antarctic research into deep freeze, including their ambitious joint campaign to study Thwaites Glacier, the Antarctic ice sheet most at risk of near-term melting.

    So far, efforts to prevent the novel coronavirus from infecting staff at the three U.S. stations and three U.K. stations on the continent have been successful. The highest priority for the agencies for the coming field season, during Antarctica’s summer from October to March, will be to keep these stations operating and their staff safe, the agencies say. Science measurements at the stations will continue, but “deep field” work at distant sites will be postponed in nearly all circumstances, as will planned work to modernize McMurdo Station, the primary U.S. base.

  • ‘It’s really complicated.’ United States and others wrestle with putting COVID-19 vaccines to the test

    A medical team administers vaccines to patients

    One plan for an efficacy trial that compares several COVID-19 vaccines calls for using mobile teams, rather than fixed sites, as was done in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with an experimental Ebola vaccine.

    Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/The New York Times/Redux

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    A Chinese company will turn to Brazil for help. The World Health Organization (WHO) is adopting a strategy forged in a war zone during an Ebola outbreak. And the Trump administration plans to lean on existing U.S. infrastructure for tackling HIV and flu. These are some of the disparate strategies about to be employed in the next and most important stage of the COVID-19 vaccine race: the large-scale, placebo-controlled human trials needed to prove which of the more than 135 candidates are safe and effective.

    Two such efficacy trials plan to start next month, even as the United States and global initiatives struggle to answer major questions, from what it means for a COVID-19 vaccine to work to how to find enough people exposed to the virus so a candidate can be put to a real-world test. Populations that have high levels of viral transmission are a moving target—Wuhan, China; Seattle; or Milan might once have been a good place to test the mettle of a vaccine, but no longer. And quickly enrolling tens of thousands of properly informed people who meet a trial’s entry criteria is a “big lift,” says Susan Buchbinder, an epidemiologist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health who runs vaccine trials.

  • NIH strengthens policies to alert agency to sexual harassment by grantees

    NIH Building one

    The National Institutes of Health revised its policies in order to be more aware of any sexual harassment findings against researchers it funds.

    National Institutes of Health

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is tightening grant rules that until now have sometimes left the agency in the dark about sexual harassment cases involving researchers it supports. Starting tomorrow with new awards, NIH will require institutions it funds to report to the agency when an investigator is removed from a grant because of harassment findings or allegations.

    NIH also wants to know when an investigator is moving their grant to another institution because of sexual harassment findings or concerns, Director Francis Collins and other officials announced in an editorial in Science today. Along with other new policies, the changes will “further foster a culture whereby sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors are not tolerated in the research and training environment,” the NIH officials write.

    Together, the new reporting requirements will “close two important gaps” in the agency’s policies, says NIH Associate Director for Science Policy Carrie Wolinetz, and should prevent cases in which institutions “pass the harasser” without the agency’s knowledge.

  • Pandemic upends Colombia’s controversial drug war plan to resume aerial spraying

    An armed policeman stands in a field while an airplane spraying herbicide flies above

    For decades, Colombia used aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate to kill coca crops used to make cocaine. But it stopped the practice in 2015 because of concerns about human health risks posed by the chemical.


    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has at least temporarily derailed a controversial plan by Colombia’s government to resume aerial spraying of a potent chemical used to kill coca crops that feed the global trade in cocaine.

    Late last month, a Colombian court ruled that the spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which some studies have linked to human health and environmental problems, cannot resume until the government informs and consults with affected communities—a process that has been severely disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. The government had planned to hold virtual meetings with the communities, but environmental and human rights groups went to court to challenge that plan, arguing that Colombia’s rural communities often lack reliable internet, cellphone, or radio service. In a 27 May ruling, the court sided with the groups, ordering the government to rethink its consultation plan.

  • Researchers around the world prepare to #ShutDownSTEM and ‘Strike For Black Lives’

    illustration of a diverse group protesting outside an academic building

    Thousands of researchers around the world have pledged to pause their work on Wednesday to support the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and efforts against racism in the scientific community and society at large.

    Responding to calls from an array of organizers operating under banners including the Strike For Black Lives, #ShutDownSTEM, and #ShutDownAcademia, numerous university laboratories, scientific societies, technical journals, and others have pledged to spend 10 June focused on issues of racial equality and inclusiveness.

    “In the wake of the most recent murders of Black people in the U.S., it is clear that white and other non-Black people have to step up and do the work to eradicate anti-Black racism. As members of the global academic and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] communities, we have an enormous ethical obligation to stop doing ‘business as usual,’” the organizers of #ShutDownSTEM state on its website.

  • Three big studies dim hopes that hydroxychloroquine can treat or prevent COVID-19

    researchers in a lab, one holding a syringe

    The Germans Trias i Pujol University Hospital near Barcelona, Spain, where a prevention trial with hydroxychloroquine took place


    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Through the fog of alleged misconduct, hope, hype, and politicization that surrounds hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted as a COVID-19 treatment, a scientific picture is now emerging.

    Praised by presidents as a potential miracle cure and dismissed by others as a deadly distraction, hydroxychloroquine was spared a seeming death blow last week. On 4 June, after critics challenged the data, The Lancet suddenly retracted a paper that had suggested the drug increased the death rate in COVID-19 patients, a finding that had stopped many clinical trials in their tracks. But now three large studies, two in people exposed to the virus and at risk of infection and the other in severely ill patients, show no benefit from the drug. Coming on top of earlier smaller trials with disappointing findings, the new results mean it’s time to move on, some scientists say, and end most of the trials still in progress.

  • Coronavirus rips through Dutch mink farms, triggering culls to prevent human infections

    baby mink

    Mink populations burgeon in the spring, when pups are born, raising concerns about new SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks.

    Ruslan Shamukov/TASS via Getty Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    LELYSTAD, THE NETHERLANDS—In a sad sideshow to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities in the Netherlands began to gas tens of thousands of mink on 6 June, most of them pups born only weeks ago. SARS-CoV-2 has attacked farms that raise the animals for fur, and the Dutch government worries infected mink could become a viral reservoir that could cause new outbreaks in humans.

    The mink outbreaks are “spillover” from the human pandemic—a zoonosis in reverse that has offered scientists in the Netherlands a unique chance to study how the virus jumps between species and burns through large animal populations.

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