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EU-UK negotiations continue, despite changes

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Negotiations between the EU and UK for a trade deal continue, despite a lack of the progress and a change of negotiator on the UK side. The question was put this morning to Commission Spokesperson Daniel Ferrier: would the imminent departure of UK negotiator David Frost to take up his new rôle as Security Advisor affect the forthcoming talks at the Berlayment, the headquarters of the European Commission?

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Coronavirus: Commission signs contract to procure monoclonal anti-body treatment

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Yesterday (27 July), the Commission signed a joint procurement framework contract with the pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline for the supply of sotrovimab (VIR-7831), an investigational monoclonal antibody therapy, developed in collaboration with VIR biotechnology. It is part of the first portfolio of five promising therapeutics announced by the Commission in June 2021, and is currently under rolling review by the European Medicines Agency. 16 EU member states are participating in the procurement for the purchase of up to 220,000 treatments. Sotrovimab can be used for the treatment of coronavirus patients with mild symptoms who do not require supplemental oxygen, but who are at high risk for severe COVID-19. Ongoing studies suggest that early treatment can reduce the number of patients that progress to more severe forms and require hospitalisation or admission to the intensive care units.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “We committed in our COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy to have at least three new therapeutics authorised by October. We are now delivering a second framework contract that brings monoclonal antibodies treatments to patients. Alongside vaccines, safe and effective therapeutics will play a pivotal role in Europe's return to a new normal.”

Monoclonal antibodies are proteins conceived in the laboratory that mimic the immune system's ability to fight the coronavirus. They attach to the spike protein and thus block the virus' attachment to the human cells. The European Commission concluded nearly 200 contracts for different medical countermeasures worth over €12 billion.

Under the current framework contract with Glaxo Smith Kline, member states can purchase sotrovimab (VIR-7831) if and when needed, once it has received either emergency use authorisation in the member state concerned or a (conditional) marketing authorisation at EU level from the European Medicines Agency. Further information can be found here.

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With vaccines lagging, treatments offer key to stemming India’s COVID death toll

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A report by the Washington-based Center for Global Development has revealed that, while official figures set India’s Covid-19 death toll at just over 420,000, the real figure could be up to ten times greater. According to the Center, that would make India the country with the highest coronavirus death toll in the world, far surpassing the United States and Brazil, and would also make the pandemic “arguably India's worst human tragedy since partition and independence", writes Colin Stevens.

Covid-19 deaths have likely been underestimated in Europe as well, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting deaths worldwide are likely to be “two to three” times higher than official figures. But in India, four in five deaths were not medically investigated even before the pandemic; now, due to a lack of hospital beds and oxygen, an unknown number of coronavirus sufferers are dying untested and unregistered at home. Widespread social stigma surrounding COVID-19 has compounded this phenomenon, with families often declaring a different cause of death.

While India’s coronavirus infections and deaths have sharply decreased from the peak of the second wave in May, the country has still lost over 16,000 people to Covid since the start of July. Public health experts warn India should brace for a third devastating wave by October, adding urgency to the hunt for tools to help patients who contract severe cases of Covid.

India’s vaccine drive misses targets

Vaccines are the main preventative tool to keep severe infections at bay, and India has already distributed some 430 million doses—more than any other nation after China. Even so, only 6.9% of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated so far, out of a population of 1.4 billion citizens. Since the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant in October 2020, India’s immunisation drive has been plagued with vaccine shortages, broken supply chains, and vaccine hesitancy.

This month, the WHO announced India will receive 7.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine via the COVAX facility, but India’s domestic vaccine rollout continues to hit stumbling blocks. Bharat Biotech – who produce the country’s only approved homegrown vaccine, Covaxin – this week projected further delays, making it impossible for India to meet its target of distributing 516 million shots by the end of July.

International disagreement on treatments

With herd immunity still far out of reach, India’s medical services still desperately need effective treatment solutions to help hospitalised patients. Fortunately, life-saving therapeutic options now being tried and tested in Europe could soon offer powerful weapons against the most dangerous infections.

While the number of Covid treatments available are growing as drugs complete clinical trials, global public health bodies are still divided as to which ones are most effective. The only treatment to receive the European Union’s greenlight is Gilead's remdesivir, but the WHO actively advises against that particular antiviral treatment, recommending instead two ‘interleukin-6 receptor blockers’ known as tocilizumab and sarilumab. Tocilizumab has also been proven effective by the wide-ranging RECOVERY trial in the UK, reducing time in hospital and the need for mechanically-assisted breathing.

Despite being a global hub for drug manufacturing, India is not always as quick to approve them. US pharmaceutical company Merck boosted India's manufacturing capacity for the antiviral medicine molnupiravir to help fight the second wave this past April, but local drug trials will not be completed until September at the earliest. In the interim, Indian authorities have awarded emergency approval to a different treatment for Covid-19, 2-DG, despite a lack of published trial data for the molecule.

New treatments like Leukine in the pipeline

This limited set of extant Covid-19 drugs will soon be bolstered by other promising therapies. One such treatment, Partner Therapeutics’ sargramostim – known commercially as Leukine – is currently undergoing testing in both Europe and the United States with a view towards rapid approval. In February, trials led by University Hospital Ghent and bringing together five Belgian hospitals found that Leukine “can significantly improve oxygenation in COVID-19 patients with acute hypoxic respiratory failure,” increasing oxygenation in the majority of patients by at least a third from baseline levels.

After noting Leukine’s potential, the US Department of Defence signed a $35 million contract to fund two Phase 2 clinical trials in order to supplement preliminary data. This past June, the results of the second randomized US trials of inhaled Leukine once again showed positive improvements in the lung functions of patients with the acute hypoxemia caused by severe Covid, confirming the Belgian findings that oxygen levels in patients who had received Leukine were higher than those who did not.

Effective Covid treatments would reduce pressure on Indian healthcare providers not only by improving chances of survival, but also by accelerating recovery times and freeing up hospital beds for other patients, including those dealing with other ailments. Faster treatments would also reduce the dangers posed to patients by contagious conditions such as black fungus, which has already been implicated in the deaths of over 4,300 hospitalised Covid patients in India. Greater clarity and accessibility surrounding treatments would also curb the worrying uptick in Indian families turning to the black market to purchase medical supplies of unknown provenance at hugely inflated prices.

Treatments that improve recovery rates and prevent fatal cases of Covid will remain crucial for as long as most Indians remain unvaccinated. Provided new drugs are approved in a timely manner, improved medical understanding of the virus means new Covid patients should have a better prognosis than ever.

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Uzbekistan

Worthy of the timeless monuments of the glorious past: In 2022 Uzbekistan will see the grand opening of Silk Road Samarkand, a unique tourist complex

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In 2022, Silk Road Samarkand, a multifunctional tourist complex designed to become a modern attraction not only of the city of Samarkand, but also of the entire Central Asia, will be opened for visitors. The complex will combine cultural, gastro, medical and business tourism facilities.

The new complex will house world-class hotels, specialized boutique hotels, contemporary public spaces, parks, recreation and sports areas, authentic restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as an international congress hall and sites of cultural interest. The state-of-the-art project developed by an international team of architects and engineers will allow for combining various thematic zones into a balanced architectural ensemble without parallel in the entire region of Central Asia.

The scale and significance of Silk Road Samarkand are to make it a well-deserved follow-up to the sublime monuments of the past and a driver of tourism development in the region. The name of the center was selected deliberately: the routes of the Great Silk Road passed through the territory of current-day Uzbekistan from the II century BC until the XV century, and ancient Samarkand was one of the most important stops for trade caravans.

The location

The new complex is located in the eastern part of the city and covers an area of about 260 hectares. It centers around the affluent waterway of the Samarkand rowing canal, which in Soviet times served as a training base for the USSR national team and a venue for All-Union competitions.

The complex includes multiple various zones. To the north of the rowing canal is a Business Cluster, including a congress hall and four upscale hotels with beautified territories. The Southern Cluster includes four boutique hotels, each operating in their own medical and sanatorium area of activity, as well as an eco-village, the Eternal City historical and ethnographic complex, and some shopping areas.

The business cluster

Silk Road Samarkand has eight hotels, four each on the northern and southern banks of the rowing canal. They will provide for a total of about 1,200 rooms. To the left of the congress hall, a 22-storey five-star Samarkand Regency Hotel with 234 rooms, including executive suites and two presidential suites, will be put up. This is the first and only hotel in Central Asia being part of LHW, the world's leading hotels association.

Savitsky Plaza, a hotel named after Igor Savitsky, an honored artist of the Uzbek SSR and a collector of avant-garde art objects, is distinguished by its one-of-a-kind interior design and has 179 rooms available for the guests.

Other hotels of the highest category include Silk Road by Minyoun with 242 rooms and Stars of Ulugbek by Lia! Minyoun, named after the great astronomer and mathematician of the Timurid era, counting 174 rooms. Both buildings are managed by the leading Asian hotelier Minyoun Hospitality.

All hotels have conference rooms, meeting rooms, restaurants, bars, gyms, SPAs and swimming pools.

The Congress Hall

At the international congress hall, a multifunctional hall, presidential and VIP halls, rooms for delegations and meeting rooms, as well as banqueting room and exhibition hall will be available.

The medical cluster

The medical cluster of Marakanda Park Hotels will be situated to the south of the rowing canal. Each of the four boutique hotels specializes in a certain type of medical services: preventive medicine, detox, joint and spine treatment, and pulmonary medicine. The second floors of the hotels are allocated for health centers. In addition to medical and treatment rooms, the hotel guests will be offered the services of a cosmetician, massage, mud therapy, therapeutic showers, infrared sauna, pressure chamber. The offered programs are developed for 3, 7, 10 and 14 days of stay. The hotels of the cluster will have a total of 366 rooms.

The Eternal City

Over more than 10 hectares, the image of an ancient city has been recreated, inviting guests of the resort to experience the history and traditions of the lands and peoples of Uzbekistan. Artists, artisans and craftsmen will "settle" on the narrow streets. Visitors to the city will be offered to try national cuisine from different eras and regions of the country and watch authentic street performances. The Eternal City will provide guests with an exceptional opportunity to find themselves at the borderline of Parthian, Hellenistic and Islamic cultures, and observe the diversity of the bygone centuries' heritage with their own eyes. The author and curator of the project is the famous modern Uzbek artist Bobur Ismoilov.

The place of attraction

Resort guests will enjoy green pedestrian zones, open spaces and a well-designed environment. The entrance will be decorated in traditional motifs reminiscent of the majestic arches of Registan. Sports grounds and bike paths, the Volcano aqua zone with swimming pools and a variety of cafes and bars are sure to become a place of attraction. Bicycle rental will be available.

“Samarkand was a major stop on the Great Silk Road, a place where entire civilizations crossed. We believe that Silk Road Samarkand will become a center of international tourism, where residents of the city, tourists, travelers and businessmen from all over the world will be able to spend time with pleasure and benefit. I am sure that the opening of the complex will launch a new era in the history of tourism in Samarkand,” said Artiom V. Egikian, CEO of the managing company of Silk Road Samarkand.

Accessibility

The complex is easily accessible by transport: it takes 20 minutes by car to get there from the historical center of the city, 15 minutes from the international airport and 25 minutes from the train station. The project includes the construction of a road junction and a bypass bridge. You can get to the resort both by car (parking lots are available) and by special shuttles that will be launched when the center opens.

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