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A Potential Breakthrough in Multiple Sclerosis Treatments – BioNTech Trials MS Vaccine

Over two million people worldwide are affected by multiple sclerosis, or MS for short. This includes over 400,000 individuals in the U.S. The condition is an autoimmune disorder that often affects adults in the prime of their lives. In the past, there were few multiple sclerosis treatments, and thousands suffered significant disability as a result. But today, several varieties of drugs are available, preserving a much higher level of function and independence in many.

While progress has been made concerning multiple sclerosis treatments in the last two decades, cures have remained elusive. In part, these difficulties have been due to the inherent complexities of the human immune system itself. But recently, researchers at BioNTech announced some pretty incredible findings. Using similar mRNA techniques used in their COVID vaccines, they have developed a similar vaccination for MS. And at least in preliminary studies involving mice, the results look incredibly promising.

“Autoimmune diseases like MS represent conditions in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue or cells of the body…This damage disrupts the ability to transmit signals between nerve cells and the target tissue resulting in a range of neurological, sensory and motor symptoms that may differ greatly between individuals.” – BioNTech press release

The Challenges with Multiple Sclerosis Treatments

In order to understand the difficulties inherent to managing MS, it helps to have a basic understanding of the disease. In essence, patients with MS have immune systems that attack a protein substance on their nerves called myelin. In many ways, myelin is like the plastic coating on an electrical wire that provides insulation. Once this myelin is attacked and damaged, nerves are no longer able to send messages to and from different areas. Depending on where this “short circuit” occurs determines the type of symptoms a person will have. These symptoms can vary significantly ranging from vision loss, numbness, clumsiness, to paralysis.

Notably, the immune system is overactive in terms of its response to myelin. As a result, multiple sclerosis treatments tend to suppress or modulate the immune system to make it less active. Unfortunately, this can cause its own set of problems, making MS patients vulnerable to some infections. Others are exploring stem cell treatments for MS. (For more on stem cell treatments, check out this Bold Business article.) But to date, researchers have been unable to protect these patients’ myelin from attack in a more specific manner. But that’s exactly what BioNTech’s vaccination for MS hopes to do. If it is successful, it will represent a major achievement not only in MS research but for all autoimmune diseases.

COVID’s Role in the Vaccination for MS

The coronavirus pandemic has imposed tremendous strains on healthcare systems throughout the globe. But likewise, COVID has served as a catalyst for new developments. This certainly applies in relation to BioNTech’s vaccination for MS. Notably, BioNTech partnered with Pfizer in producing the first FDA approved coronavirus vaccine. Its efficacy rate has been stated to be 95 percent when both doses are administered within a few weeks of one another. Likewise, the COVID vaccine is a mRNA vaccine, which utilizes new genetic technologies not previously explored. It’s this same mRNA strategy that BioNTech used in development its vaccination for MS. While the mechanism of action is different, the same basic methodologies were used in its design.

A patient getting a vaccination in their arm
Multiple sclerosis treatments might soon be bolstered by a vaccine for MS.

In the COVID vaccination, mRNA injected into the body to stimulate the production of the virus’ spike protein. Once produced by the body’s cells, the immune system then attacks the protein, which appears to provide lasting immunity. In the vaccination for MS, however, the injected mRNA promotes the production of a myelin protein. Though an immune response to this myelin protein occurs, it is much less intense. Not only does this protein serve as a type of decoy. But it also teaches the immune system to more tolerant of myeline proteins in general. In essence, such multiple sclerosis treatments could serve to reeducate immune systems not to attack patients’ myelin.

“Overall, these initial results regarding the immune response together with the flexibility of the mRNA approach to target individual patient [target molecules] indicate the potential of mRNA therapeutics to address highly complex and rare autoimmune disease indications.” – Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech

A New Strategy for Multiple Sclerosis Treatments

The current research performed by BioNTech is what’s triggering some excitement about a vaccination for MS. The group essentially explored how its mRNA vaccine performed in various groups of mice. The mice had different models of autoimmune conditions that are used to mimic multiple sclerosis. After several trials, mice that received the vaccination for MS had no further declines or new exacerbation of the disease. In addition, several actually had improvements in their existing features. In contrast, the untreated mice demonstrated continued declines and worsening features of their disease.

Notably, these trials were only in mice and therefore, limited in their interpretations. However, the researchers did see some changes in the treated mice worth noting. In these animals, specific immune cells called regulator T cells increased in response. They believe this suggests that these cells play a role in the development of immune tolerance. If so, multiple sclerosis treatments that boost regulator T cells specific to myelin could be highly effective. Similar treatments might also be beneficial in a wide variety of other autoimmune conditions as well.

Vaccinations as a New Part of Targeted Medicine

With the advancement of genetic technologies, many areas are moving toward a model of targeted medicine. Also known as precision medicine, these therapies are personalizing care while also targeted specific features of disease. Such approaches have been considered in cancer therapies for years. But they are also gaining ground in other areas like Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders. Based on BioNTech’s vaccination for MS and COVID, such therapies may soon include targeted vaccines as well. This would be quite welcomed as new forms of multiple sclerosis treatments when they do.

 

Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.

Bold Opinion: The Case for Buying an Electric Vehicle

Talk of a booming electric car market has been present since the late 1960s. Scientists believed the ability to move away from gasoline-powered cars would eventually be a reality. This vision began to become more readily apparent in the early 2000s when Tesla’s founders pursued their own aggressive vision. And today, buying an electric vehicle has never been easier. But are these ecofriendly forms of personal transportation for all of us. Or are they for those who are passionate about reversing climate change and have extra disposable income? Based on current analyses, the answer increasingly looks like the former.

With the global pandemic, total automotive sales have been in decline this past year. Many car dealerships have been closed or have had limited hours. Likewise, economic impacts have been profound further affecting the industry. However, that’s not been the case for the electric car market. In fact, the number of people buying electric vehicles rose 43 percent in 2020 to more than 3 million cars. These vehicles now represent 4.2 percent of the total automobile market, up from 2.5 percent the year before. Given these figures, it’s worthwhile revisiting whether or not buying an electric vehicle is the way to go.

“We’ve seen a surge in customers purchasing hybrids and EVs. One reason may be increased road trips. A lot of consumers are opting for a driving-based vacation these days rather than hopping on a plane.”- Toby Russell, co-CEO of Shift.com

The Environmental Case for Buying an Electric Vehicle

One of the obvious advantages that the electric car market promises over gasoline-powered cars involves environmental benefits. Both battery-powered electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids offer much better energy efficiency. In fact, these combined are 4 times more efficient that standard cars. Likewise, they produce no carbon emissions unless gasoline fuel is utilized in hybrid models. Given the transportation sector is the highest producer of such emissions, electric cars are the hands-down winner in this area.

Many will note, however, that manufacturing plants of electric vehicles do produce significant amounts of carbon emissions. This includes factories involved in lithium battery production as well. (For more on lithium batteries, check out this Bold Business article.) However, even with this consideration, buying an electric vehicle from an environmental perspective remains a better deal. Experts suggest that any emissions resulting from manufacturing are erased within a year on average. Thus, from all angles, the electric car market gets an ecofriendly thumbs up.

“When you drive a plug-in hybrid vehicle, you instantly understand the benefits of electrification. Quick acceleration, lower fuel costs and a driving range that can exceed traditionally powered vehicles, make hybrid vehicles an exciting option.” – Jim Nichols, Head of Product, Technology and Brand Communications, Volvo Car USA

The Financial Case for Buying an Electric Vehicle

The bigger issue raised by many potential customers buying an electric vehicle involves overall costs. It’s no secret that most electric cars and hybrids sell for a higher sticker price. But these prices are consistently declining each year as technologies improve. Tesla specifically recently announced substantial price reductions in its Model 3, Model S and Model X. The decline in price is one reason sales are up. And as more companies bypass dealership costs, these prices are likely to fall even more.

While lowered pricing is attractive, the more notable cost savings involving the electric car market occurs after a purchase. Electric cars have fewer moving parts, which means less breakdowns and repairs. Likewise, these vehicles use regenerative braking, which also means less wear and tear. (For more on regenerative breaking, check out this article.) These aspects in addition to reduce to absent fuel and oil use adds up to significant cost advantages. Experts suggest the overall cost of electric cars is half that of a gasoline-powered car over its lifetime. By taking a long-range perspective, the electric car market wins the financial argument as well.

“With strategic legislation and investments, we will stop wasting a precious resource, cut a major source of traditional pollution, reduce our carbon footprint, and save money. And electric cars are fun to drive.” – Charles Agosta, Professor of Physics, Clark University

Other Considerations in Buying an Electric Vehicle

While environmental impacts and costs are considered key priorities when buying an electric vehicle, they’re not the only ones. Many consumers demand high-performance from their transportation options. This is a big reason why Tesla excelled in its consumer outreach early. Its vehicles’ rapid acceleration, luxury and long-range travel distance convinced many of the inevitability of the electric car market of the future. Today, dozens of electric car models offer high-quality performance features, and none contribute to noise pollution. If a lack of performance was a prior argument, that’s certainly no longer the case.

Some girls putting electricity into their car
Buying an electric vehicle is no longer just about saving the planet.

One of the notable concerns that some consumers about buying an electric vehicle relate to recharging. For short distances, these cars and hybrid models have no problem at all. But for longer distances, exceeding 300 miles or so, recharging needs are more important. This is mandatory for battery-powered, non-hybrid vehicles. To address this problem, manufacturers are investing in multiple recharging stations across the country. Tesla has invested in these for several years. Likewise, GM and EVgo have committed to 2,700 charging stations over the next 5 years. While recharging does take longer in these instances (30 minutes or more), transportation infrastructures are improving. As this advances, this will further support a growing electric car market.

On the Cusp of Major Change

 With advances in technology, the electric car market looks to bee rounding the corner. Consumers are becoming more receptive to the idea. As more models become available and prices fall, this will accelerate quickly. In fact, there are more than 150 new electric car models anticipated in 2021. Likewise, market analysts predict a 22.8 percent growth in this industry over the next 7 years. This would mean electric car sales would rise from 39 million to 203 million each year worldwide. From there, it’s not a big jump to fully electric autonomous vehicles as well. The argument can already be made the buying an electric vehicle is in consumers’ best interest. The strength of this argument will only grow in time.

 

Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.

The Evolving Faces of Work and Retail – The Future of Urban Centers

When it comes to urban centers, the pandemic hasn’t been very friendly. Downtown restaurants and retail centers have encountered what many call ghost towns today. With so many people working from home and buying online, office and retail spaces are empty. In fact, recent reports suggest that as few as 14 percent have returned to New York City office space. Combined with the fact that many businesses appreciate the cost savings, no one’s clear about the future of urban centers. Despite health advances, vaccinations and declining COVID cases, some wonder if these changes might be permanent anyway.

Without a doubt, many employees have enjoyed working from home despite its initial inconveniences. In fact, four out of 5 believe it has been a successful transition. But at the same time, nearly 90 percent believe offices are important for some business activities. Team meetings, creative collaborations, and relationship building are among those things. So, does this mean the future of urban centers will once again look favorable? That’s a question that tends to generate different answers depending on who you ask.

“The vast majority of employees say a hybrid system of two-to-three days working from home and two-to-three days working in the office is their preferred approach.” – Deniz Caglar, Leading Practitioner in Strategic Cost Transformation, PwC

A Transformative View of Office and Retail Spaces

Most everyone agrees the future of urban centers won’t look exactly the same even after the pandemic. The impact of new technologies and new ways of living will certainly dictate change. Because of this, some see office and retail spaces evolving into a different model. Office cubicles will no longer be needed because such work can be easily accomplished at home. Instead, open conference areas where creative collaboration can take place is more likely. In addition, outdoor areas and green spaces may also be the norm. These features along with better décor could help encourage workers back into the city.

While these changes may help, they’re not going to be enough to necessarily make a long commute worthwhile. For this reason, office and retail spaces may need to embrace other models as well. As previously discussed on Bold Business, shared space concepts could help revive city spaces and improve the outlook for the future of urban centers. Like coworking spaces, commercial areas could be shared at different time by different businesses. Also, spaces could also become more multipurpose in nature. Childcare, fitness classes, laundry services, and hair salons could provide one-stop shopping for workers. This would certainly make the trip into the office more productive.

“I believe the cities that generate this type of “cognitive capitalism,” such as San Francisco, New York and San Jose, will bounce back. Those that have more routine industries that can be done anywhere, like Detroit, Baltimore and Buffalo, may not.” – John Rennie Short, Professor of Geography and Public Policy, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Virtual Platforms Are Great, But…

Over the last year, tremendous advances have been made in both science and technology. Virtual platforms have expanded with new virtual tools emerging, making work-life better. But these advances do not mean the future of urban centers are doomed. In fact, the demise of city office and retail spaces were predicted after the invention of the telephone. It was also expected after the emergence of the personal computer. But these technological disruptors had little effect long-term as we now know. Thus, some anticipate the same thing will take place with virtual systems as well.

Some people working in an office with masks on
Office and retail spaces are being reshaped thanks to COVID and subsequent lockdowns.

Though office and retail spaces cannot appreciate it now, urban environments offer some unique benefits. For one, they provide a concentration of individuals who posses a variety of skills and knowledge. The proximity of such talent in city settings facilitates contact between people. Frequent and regular contact then builds trust and strengthens business relationships. And in time, this leads to greater exchange of information and ideas. Of course, this could occur virtually, but it’s much easier in person. Because of this, the future of urban centers may be brighter than currently suspected.

“The risks and costs of contagion will fade. And then workers and companies will be unable to resist the benefits of sharing, matching and learning that arise in densely populated areas.” – Michael Orlando, Lecturer of Global Energy Management, University of Colorado, Denver Business School

The Concept of Agglomeration Economics

The term agglomeration economics refers to the concentration advantages that urban environments offer. In essence, these benefits provide three different economies of scale that will always make city centers attractive. These include the economy of sharing, the economy of matching, and the economy of learning. Of course, during a pandemic, places where there’s a high concentration of people isn’t desirable. But as the pandemic fades, these advantages will be more apparent. This would be welcomed news for office and retail spaces today.

To appreciate why the future of urban centers looks promising, it’s important to understand the three economies of agglomeration economics. Economies of sharing is beneficial to businesses that have specialized and rarely used services. A greater density of people sharing such services increases the diversification of offerings. Economies of matching describes the increased opportunities for those in need of a service finding what they need. City centers provide better matching because of their density. Finally, economies of learning describe the greater number of chance encounters in populated areas. These chance encounters provide additional opportunities to learn that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. As population densities become more acceptable, these economies are expected to drive greater demand for office and retail spaces.

The Bust Before the Boom

While the future of urban centers may look rather bright down the road, that’s currently not the case. Even after the pandemic is better controlled, there will likely be hesitation among many to return. That means office and retail spaces may see things worsen before they get better. Adopting new models and experimenting with different strategies will be requires in order to survive. But rest assured, eventually urban centers will again be lively sources of business.

 

Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.