Coronavirus-vaccine efforts have shown us how clinical trials can be bolder. Plus: the mathematics of impossibility and red flags in Russian vaccine-trial results.

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A vial with Russia's new coronavirus vaccine

A vial with Russia's new coronavirus vaccine

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is the first to be approved for widespread use.Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty

A group of researchers has raised concerns about early-phase clinical-trial data for Russia’s coronavirus vaccine. The jab, called Sputnik V, is the first to be approved for widespread use. In an open letter to The Lancet, which published the trial results this month, the researchers highlight values that seem to be duplicated, and warn that the paper presents its results only as box plots without providing a detailed breakdown of the data on which the graphs are based. “We are not alleging scientific misconduct, but asking for clarification about how these apparently similar data points came about,” says science-integrity advocate Enrico Bucci. The Russian paper’s lead author, Denis Logunov, told Russian media that there were no errors in the publication and he did not intend to respond to the open letter.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: The Lancet paper & Open letter

There has been a significant rise in the proportion of pregnancies ending in stillbirths since the start of the pandemic, according to a slew of studies from around the world. For example, at one large hospital in London, the rate quadrupled from 2 per 1,000 to 9 per 1,000. The spike was not caused by COVID-19 infections. Instead, researchers suggest that some high-risk pregnancies might have gone undetected because of lockdown restrictions and disruptions to health care.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: The Lancet Global Health paper 1, The Lancet Global Health paper 2 & JAMA paper


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Features & opinion

“COVID-19 has demonstrated that sponsors and investigators can achieve in weeks what was previously thought to require months or years,” write six biopharmaceutical business consultants. They suggest five actions that researchers can take to address the ongoing challenges for disrupted clinical trials and ongoing patient care. Rod MacKenzie and four colleagues from US pharmaceutical company Pfizer agree that lessons learnt from coronavirus-vaccine development should be brought to bear on other diseases. “We should seize this moment, before our conventions re-solidify to the old ways of doing things, to embed the improvements made during the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate others, on behalf of all patients,” they argue.

Nature Reviews Drug Discovery | 6 min read & Nature Reviews Drug Discovery | 7 min read

Read more: Coronavirus shuts down trials of drugs for multiple other diseases (Nature | 6 min read, from March)

A mysterious and deadly chemical unleashed in the Second World War contributed to the development of the cancer-research juggernaut that is chemotherapy, argues writer Jennet Conant in her latest history of war-era science.

Nature | 5 min read

Image of the week

Closeup of several green weevils perched on twigs with red protrusions

Closeup of several green weevils perched on twigs with red protrusions

Credit: Damien Esquerré

Here, the fruiting bodies of the parasitic fungus Cordyceps sprout from the bodies of two unfortunate weevils. Nicknamed the ‘zombie fungus’, Cordyceps hijacks the nervous systems of the insects it infects and alters their behaviour, before ultimately killing them. This photo, taken by biologist Damien Esquerré, was the winner in the behavioural and physiological ecology category at the journal BMC Ecology’s annual image contest.

See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

Quote of the day

Scientific American has endorsed US presidential candidate Joe Biden. Its editors argue that President Donald Trump “rejects evidence and science”. (7 min read)

Today, I’m feeling inspired by the Black scientists sharing fascinating hyena tracking, rhino tagging and mammal colouring for #BlackMammalogists week on Twitter.

Let me know what’s keeping your chin up — and any comments on this newsletter — at

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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