The Science Behind the Coronavirus

A discussion series produced by L.A. Times Studios in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times newsroom.

About the Science Behind the Coronavirus

In “The Science Behind the Coronavirus,” Los Angeles Times executive chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong covers the latest research on the coronavirus, offering us a view into the scientific community’s fight to end the global pandemic.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is a surgeon and scientist who has spent his career studying the human immune system to fight cancer and infectious disease. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration allowed Soon-Shiong’s company, ImmunityBio, to begin Phase 1 trials of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The company has also received approval to begin trials in South Africa, where a new variant of the virus has led to a sudden rise in cases.

Science Behind the Coronavirus, Series I

About Our Host

Patrick Soon-Shiong is executive chairman of the Los Angeles Times. Dr. Soon-Shiong is a surgeon and scientist who has spent his career studying the human immune system to fight cancer and infectious diseases. He is the chairman and chief executive of NantWorks, and the owner of or investor in a number of companies, including ImmunityBio and NantKwest, which are currently researching vaccines and immunotherapies for COVID-19.

In mid-October, ImmunityBio received permission from the FDA to begin testing of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Dr. Soon-Shiong spoke with the San Diego Union Tribune about his search for a vaccine during a Zoom interview on October 16th. The San Diego Union Tribune together with the Los Angeles Times comprise the California Times, which is owned by Dr. Soon-Shiong.

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VIDEO | 31:37
ImmunityBio CEO Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong discusses the company’s upcoming COVID-19 vaccine trial

ImmunityBio CEO Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong discusses the company’s upcoming COVID-19 vaccine trial

About Second Opinion

“Second Opinion,” a discussion series produced by L.A. Times Studios in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times newsroom, takes you to the forefront of medical research and conversations about health, science and technology.

“Second Opinion” programming will feature more episodes like the ones below, columns by notable experts, as well as virtual events focused on medicine.

Scroll down to watch all available episodes.

SECOND OPINION VIDEO SERIES

Episode 8: COVID-19 Testing on Campus

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Episode 8: COVID-19 Testing on Campus

Our eighth episode of “Second Opinion” focuses on testing on college campuses, where the approach to regulating COVID-19 has been uneven — with only some schools undertaking regular screenings of their entire student populations. Now, with the Thanksgiving break upon us, students will be returning home, raising concern about new infections.

For this discussion, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is joined by Dr. Michael Kotlikoff, provost at Cornell University and a professor of molecular physiology. Kotlikoff will discuss Cornell’s successful testing regime, which helped bring cases to zero by October after an initial round of infections at the start of the school year. Also joining the discussion will be Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist studying the use of rapid tests on college campuses, and Chris Marsicano and Emily Rounds of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, a research group tracking coronavirus testing protocols on campuses nationwide. Marsicano is a professor at Davidson and founder of the initiative, and Rounds is a researcher and Davidson senior.

Dr. Michael Kotlikoff is the provost at Cornell University and a professor of molecular physiology. Before serving as provost, Kotlikoff was dean of the Austin O. Hooey of Veterinary Medicine at the university. Under his leadership, an animal lab at the school was converted into a state-of-the-art COVID-19 testing facility, capable of processing up to 50,000 tests a week. As a result of Cornell’s testing program, the school reached zero positive cases among its students and staff several times during the course of the fall semester.

Dr. Michael Mina is a physician, immunologist and assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Mina also serves as an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a leading genomics research facility, and earlier this year helped form the COVID testing program there, which has processed more than 400,000 tests on behalf of colleges and universities in New England and elsewhere. Mina is leading research into the widespread distribution of rapid COVID tests on college campuses.

Chris Marsicano is assistant professor of the practice in educational studies at Davidson College in North Carolina. He is also the founding director at the College Crisis Initiative (C2i), a data-driven project tracking how universities and colleges are responding to the pandemic. Various media outlets have collaborated with the C2i to analyze the different kinds of COVID-19 protocols implemented at campuses nationwide.

Emily Rounds is a senior at Davidson College and co-chief of operations of C2i. She is leading a new round of data collection for C2i and is also examining colleges’ exit testing plans for Thanksgiving break.

Episode 7: The Third Wave

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Episode 7: The Third Wave

In our seventh episode, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong speaks with Dr. Adam Brufsky, an oncologist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, about this fall’s resurgence of the coronavirus. The discussion also covers how the various vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials in the United States work, and how daily life might change once a vaccine is introduced to the public.

Though he specializes in breast cancer, Brufsky sees parallels between the behavior of cancer and COVID-19 and has published nine academic papers on the novel coronavirus. Soon-Shiong is a surgeon and scientist specializing in the immune system and infectious disease. In mid-October, Soon-Shiong’s company, ImmunityBio, received permission from the Food and Drug Administration to begin Phase 1 trials of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Dr. Adam Brufsky is a professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and an associate chief of the hematology-oncology division at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Brufsky specializes in metastatic breast cancer and leads research studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the U.S. Army Breast Cancer Research Program. In addition to his medical degree, he has a doctorate in developmental biology and molecular genetics.

Episode 6: Coronavirus at the White House

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Episode 6: Coronavirus at the White House

Our sixth episode of “Second Opinion” covers a story dominating the 2020 presidential race in its final, remaining weeks: President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis and the spread of the coronavirus through the White House. For this discussion, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong speaks with Michael A. Genovese, president of Loyola Marymount University’s Global Policy Institute. A professor of political science and international relations, Genovese will offer insight on how presidential health has intersected with political life through American history. Also joining us will be Dr. William Lang, a former White House physician who ran the White House medical unit under President George W. Bush. Finally, the episode will feature Dr. Soon-Shiong’s analysis of the facts surrounding Trump’s medical treatment, and what they may suggest about his illness.

Michael A. Genovese is a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, and is president of the university’s Global Policy Institute. Genovese has written more than 50 books, many focused on the American presidency. His most recent book is “How Trump Governs.” He holds a PhD in political science.

Dr. William Lang was deputy physician to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and directed the White House Medical Unit under Bush. He later served as a senior medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security, where he coordinated planning for disasters, including pandemics. Today, he is chief medical officer of WorldClinic, a concierge-style telemedicine company.

Episode 5: Wildfires

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Episode 5: Wildfires

Our fifth episode of “Second Opinion” examines the public health impact of wildfires. For this discussion, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is joined by the University of Montana’s Chris Migliaccio, a professor of immunology, and Vanessa Silemovic, a postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric chemistry. Migliaccio’s work examines the effect of wildfire smoke on the human respiratory system, and Silemovic studies the composition of smoke, a field that is growing in importance as fire seasons become longer and more intense in the western United States. Also joining the discussion will be Kaiser Health News Montana correspondent Katheryn Houghton, who covers healthcare. Earlier in the episode we’ll hear from Northern California farm and vineyard owners whose businesses were affected by the recent fires.

Chris Migliaccio is research associate professor at the University of Montana. He specializes in the cellular and molecular mechanics of the body’s immune system and the immune response to contaminants in the environment. He is the lead author of a study tracking lung function among a community in Montana that was exposed to 49 days of wildfire smoke after a series of fires in 2017. The study is among the first to show a long-term effect of wildfire smoke exposure.

Vanessa Silemovic is an atmospheric chemist and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Montana, where she studies the composition of wildfire smoke. As part of a team at the university, she has helped to identify more than 150 gases in wildfire smoke, many of them toxic. Her data are used by the federal government to assess air quality.

Katheryn Houghton is Montana correspondent at Kaiser Health News, where she covers healthcare. She has been a fellow of the Assn. of Health Care Journalists, and a grant winner from the Solutions Journalism Network. Houghton spent the earlier part of her career at Montana news organizations, including the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Episode 4: The Long-Haulers

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Episode 4: The Long-Haulers

Our fourth episode examines the long-term health impact of COVID-19 on survivors of the disease. Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and scientist, is joined by Dr. Carlos Cordon-Cardo, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Cordon-Cardo’s work offers a unique glimpse at the ways COVID-19 interacts with, and harms, the human body. We will also hear from a group of recovering coronavirus patients who continue to suffer from a variety of symptoms months after contracting COVID-19. The discussion is moderated by Eli Stokols of The Times’ Washington bureau.

Dr. Carlos Cordon-Cardo is chair of the Department of Pathology at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York, and a distinguished professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where he teaches pathology, genetics, and the science of cancer. Dr. Cordon-Cardo is known for his work bridging the disciplines of pathology and molecular medicine, translating science into clinical care of patients afflicted with cancer and other diseases.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Dr. Cordon-Cardo has led a team conducting more than 120 autopsies on COVID-19 victims. Their work is credited with showing that COVID-19 is not simply a disease affecting the lungs, as had been commonly thought, but instead a threat to multiple organs, including the heart and brain. Prior to Mount Sinai, Dr. Cordon-Cardo held senior positions at Columbia University’s medical school, and created and led the molecular pathology division at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Cordon-Cardo holds an MD as well as a PhD in cell biology and genetics.

During the course of the pandemic, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has collaborated with Dr. Cordon-Cardo to develop a theory of COVID-19 that compares the disease to cancer. Dr. Soon-Shiong’s family foundation has also been a philanthropic supporter of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, endowing a professorship in cardiovascular research.

Episode 3: Path to a Vaccine

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Episode 3: Path to a Vaccine

In our third episode, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong speaks with biologists Alessandro Sette and Shane Crotty, whose research on cellular memory of the coronavirus offers clues about paths to a vaccine against COVID-19.

Shane Crotty is a professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology. Crotty’s work focuses on the relationship between the immune system and vaccines, and in particular the development of antibodies and cellular memory. Aside from his work on COVID-19, Crotty’s research is devoted to finding clues that might lead to vaccines for diseases for which no cure has yet been found, including HIV. Crotty holds a doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and is author of Ahead of the Curve, a biography of the scientist and Nobel Laureate David Baltimore.

Alessandro Sette is a professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and a member of the institute’s Infectious Disease and Vaccine Center. Sette is a leading expert on immune response, especially as it relates to allergies, autoimmunity, and a variety of infectious diseases. Sette’s work, with Crotty, on T cell memory of the novel coronavirus was referenced by Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during congressional testimony in July. Sette is also responsible for the design of the La Jolla Institute’s Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), the largest bioinformatics resource of its kind. Sette holds a doctorate in Biological Sciences.

Episode 2: Controlling the Outbreak

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Episode 2: Controlling the Outbreak

For this discussion, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and scientist, is joined once more by renowned biologist William Haseltine. Together Soon-Shiong and Haseltine examine how various coronavirus tests work, and explain how members of the public can determine which tests are right for them.

Episode 1: COVID-19’s resurgence

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Episode 1: COVID-19’s resurgence

In our first episode, Los Angeles Times Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and scientist, is joined by renowned biologist William Haseltine for a discussion about COVID-19 and the public health implications of its recent resurgence. The discussion is moderated by Eli Stokols of The Times’ Washington bureau.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, executive chairman of the Los Angeles Times, is a surgeon and scientist who has spent his career studying the human immune system to fight cancer and infectious diseases. He is the chairman and chief executive of NantWorks, and the owner of or investor in a number of companies, including ImmunityBio and NantKwest, which are currently researching immunotherapies for COVID-19.

William Haseltine is a former professor at Harvard’s medical and public health schools, where he performed groundbreaking research on cancer and HIV/AIDS. Haseltine is also the founder and CEO of biotechnology companies responsible for drugs treating HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disease. He is chair and president of the nonprofit think tank and advisory group Access Health International and is the author of seven books on health systems around the world. His most recent book is “A Family Guide to Covid: Questions and Answers for Parents, Grandparents, and Children.”