TUE AM News: FluGen reporting positive results from vaccine study; Wisconsin Medical Society calling on health care employers to require COVID-19 vaccinations

— FluGen is reporting positive results from a “human challenge” study, in which participants were purposefully exposed to a flu virus to test vaccine efficacy. 

FluGen, based in Madison, is undertaking the study with the support of a $15.4 million Department of Defense grant. Published recently in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the study results show that participants who received the vaccine candidate were less likely to be infected by the target influenza strain. 

“Current vaccines are strain-specific and in recent years they have had low efficacy against H3N2 influenza, especially when the vaccine is mismatched to circulating virus,” said Dr. Robert Belshe, a professor of infectious diseases and immunology at Saint Louis University and chair of the company’s advisory board. 

In a release, he noted the vaccine candidate used in the study was effective against an influenza strain that had accumulated genetic variations through mutation. This process, known as antigenic drift, results in viruses such as the flu changing over time. 

Belshe noted that “subjects with vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies were protected against infection and illness following challenge with an antigenically drifted virus.” 

The study included adults between the ages of 18 and 55 who received an intranasal spray of either the vaccine or a placebo. They were then exposed to the specific influenza strain four weeks later. Researchers found that 54 percent of subjects who received the vaccine candidate were infected, compared to 71 percent of those who got the placebo. 

See more on the study results: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/flugen-announces-publication-of-positive-results-from-phase-2-human-challenge-study-of-its-m2sr-vaccine-candidate-against-highly-drifted-strain-of-h3n2-influenza-virus-301344726.html 

— The Wisconsin Medical Society is urging all health care employers in the state to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“At some point, all employers have to step up and start mandating vaccinations to protect their employees and customers,” said WMS COVID-19 Task Force Chair David Letzer. “Because the Delta variant is two to three times more infectious than the original strain, the time has come to take this next step.” 

National health care organizations including the American Medical Association made a similar request last week. 

In Wisconsin, health systems including SSM Health, the Mayo Clinic Health System, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin have all announced they’ll be requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, a WMS release shows. 

WMS is the largest association of medical doctors in the state with more than 10,000 members. 

See the release: https://www.wisbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Release-Vaccinations-Requirement-08.02.21.pdf 

— The state Department of Health Services has submitted a plan to federal officials for the use of nearly $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to expand mental health and substance abuse services in Wisconsin. 

Under the plan, $24.6 million would go toward mental health services and $22 million would support substance abuse services in the state, a DHS release shows. The agency has submitted plans for the funding to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Local entities including county and tribal human services departments will have some say over which programs and services are funded, according to the release. The plan proposes expanding substance abuse prevention efforts, increasing access to opioid overdose reversal drugs, and expanding support networks such as recovery coaches. 

“We know that mental health and substance use issues affect people of every race, every age, every walk of life, all across our state,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

See the release: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/news/releases/080221.htm 

— The seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in the state reached 797 on Sunday, which is nearly as high as the previous peak from early April. 

State health officials continue to urge residents to get vaccinated, as the fast-spreading delta variant poses a greater threat for unvaccinated people. 

The majority of new cases being sequenced in Wisconsin over the past four weeks have been identified as the delta variant, the State Laboratory of Hygiene reports. 

Wisconsin’s vaccination rate continues to increase slowly, with 52.1 percent of the state’s total population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. And 49.4 percent of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health Services. 

By comparison, 57.8 percent of the U.S. population have gotten at least one dose, and 49.7 percent are fully vaccinated against the virus. 

See the latest state vaccine data: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/vaccine-data.htm 

— Wisconsin would see $1 million per year over the next five years for environmental work as part of the U.S. Senate’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

The money is part of an Environmental Protection Agency allocation that would send $60 million to 12 states in the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. Each state would see $1 million per year from next year through 2026.

Three percent of the funds are slated for salaries, expenses and administration of the environmental work.

See the 2,702-page bill text (EPA allocation on page 2579):


— Four Wisconsin cities were ranked among the top 10 manufacturing hubs in the nation in the 17th annual Business Facilities report. 

Sheboygan was ranked third, while Wausau/Weston was ranked fifth. Fond du Lac was ranked sixth and Racine was ranked ninth. 

Wisconsin overall was ranked first in the nation for manufacturing employment, and third for manufacturing output. 

The National Association of Manufacturers estimates Wisconsin had around 474,000 employees in the manufacturing sector in 2019, and the state’s total output from manufacturing was around $63 billion in 2018. 

See the report: https://cdn.businessfacilities.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/BF2021-Rankings_State_Metro-Global-rev2.pdf 

— The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has announced the five finalist startups that will compete in this year’s Pressure Chamber pitch competition later this month. 

The pitch contest will be held Aug. 18 as part of Forward Festival, the state’s largest technology and entrepreneurship festival. The winner will get the “golden suitcase” award, earning the chance to pitch to Silicon Valley venture capital firms through a chamber event this fall. 

Three of the five finalists this year have startup companies in the health care space, and all are based in the Madison area. The three health-focused finalists include: Advocate MD, which is developing a membership-based primary care model; Pivotal Health, which has a scalable health care platform; and Nano RED, which has created a precision medicine platform. 

The other two finalists are: eCIO, a financial technology firm providing a virtual platform for investment and other services; and Mobile22, a startup with a shared mobility platform aimed at connecting businesses, ride-share providers and consumers. 

“From innovations in how we treat and care for people, to how we better collaborate, provide services and build the transportation system of tomorrow, this year’s Pressure Chamber finalists are a perfect illustration of the many global challenges being solved right here in Greater Madison,” said Chamber President Zach Brandon in a release. 

See event details here: https://madisonbiz.com/pressure-chamber/ 


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– Wisconsin Center District extends ‘Beyond Van Gogh’ show through Oct. 31



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– Spirit says weather, ‘operational challenges’ to blame for flight cancelations, delays



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