As killer virus out­breaks hit un­prece­dent­ed lev­els, non­prof­it hands $37.5M to Themis to tack­le Las­sa/MERS vac­cines

A non­prof­it formed in the af­ter­math of the re­cent Ebo­la out­break is hand­ing an Aus­tri­an biotech $37.5 mil­lion to put two killer dis­eases on its vac­cine to-do list: Las­sa fever and MERS.

It’s the first deal signed since the 2017 launch of the non­prof­it, which calls it­self CEPI (pro­nounced “sep­py”) – short for the Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness In­no­va­tions. The group’s goal is to build a glob­al vac­cine de­vel­op­ment fund, de­vot­ed to ready­ing pan­dem­ic de­fens­es dur­ing peace­time. It was formed by the gov­ern­ments of Nor­way, Ger­many, In­dia, and Japan, along with the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, Well­come, and the World Eco­nom­ic Fo­rum.

The group hopes to raise $1 bil­lion for the fund, which it would dole out to wor­thy re­search ef­forts. They’ve al­ready raised $630 mil­lion.

This first in­fu­sion of cash is go­ing in tranch­es over a five-year pe­ri­od to Themis Bio­science, which has a plat­form tech based on the measles vac­cine that might be use­ful against mul­ti­ple virus­es.

These two in­fec­tious dis­eases are a high pri­or­i­ty for CEPI right now, and right­ly so. MERS, which hides out in camels and has been cir­cu­lat­ing the Mid­dle East since 2012, has killed a third of the peo­ple it’s in­fect­ed. And Las­sa fever, en­dem­ic to the same parts of Africa re­cent­ly hit by Ebo­la, is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a pe­ri­od of un­prece­dent­ed out­break. Las­sa fever nor­mal­ly has a fa­tal­i­ty rate of 1%, but in the cur­rent Niger­ian out­break it is thought to be clos­er to 20%, ac­cord­ing to the CDC.

Richard Hatch­ett

“Es­tab­lish­ing our part­ner­ship with Themis rep­re­sents not on­ly an im­por­tant step in our jour­ney to­wards tack­ling these dis­eases, but al­so a break­through in how we can part­ner and work with vac­cine de­vel­op­ers when tra­di­tion­al mar­ket in­cen­tives for de­vel­op­ment have failed,” said CEPI’s CEO Richard Hatch­ett.

Themis’ CEO and founder Erich Tauber tells me there’s not enough fi­nan­cial up­side to tack­ling these dis­eases, which is why vac­cines aren’t be­ing de­vel­oped.

“The out­breaks oc­cur once every five or six years, and that’s not enough mar­ket push to get the vac­cines de­vel­oped,” Tauber said. “If a com­pa­ny like Themis went to ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and asked for in­vest­ment to de­vel­op vac­cines for Las­sa or MERS, chances are no­body would pay us mon­ey to de­vel­op those vac­cines be­cause they are com­mer­cial risks.”

Erich Tauber

The mon­ey from CEPI will help bridge that gap. The com­pa­ny hopes the funds will take the com­pa­ny through Phase II, where de­vel­op­ment might end.

The hope, Tauber said, is to prove the vac­cines ef­fi­ca­cious in an­i­mal stud­ies and safe in large co­horts.

“But from there, the vac­cine will most like­ly have to be used on emer­gency rules,” Tauber said.

These two lat­est vac­cine projects will be added to Themis’ port­fo­lio, which in­cludes an ad­vanced pro­gram for a vac­cine against chikun­gun­ya virus, a mos­qui­to-trans­mit­ted dis­ease that can have de­bil­i­tat­ing long-term side ef­fects. That pro­gram is in Phase II tri­als in 600 pa­tients.

With its measles virus plat­form, Themis is al­so de­vel­op­ing vac­cines against Zi­ka, RSV, and norovirus, among oth­er ar­eas.


Im­age: Vi­ral dis­ease out­break. Shut­ter­stock

Michel Younatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen scores a pri­or­i­ty re­view for its Alzheimer's drug ad­u­canum­ab, mov­ing one gi­ant leap for­ward in its con­tro­ver­sial quest

Biogen scored a big win at the FDA today as regulators accepted their application for the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab and gave it a priority review.

The PDUFA date is March 7, 2021.

Significantly, Biogen says it did not use its priority review voucher to win special treatment at the FDA. The agency handed that out gratis.

That’s the ideal scenario Biogen was looking for as disappointed analysts wondered aloud about the delayed application earlier in the year.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Covid-19 roundup: No­vavax inks vac­cine deals with Japan and In­dia; As­traZeneca near­ing agree­ments with Japan and Brazil

Following the release this week of promising early data for their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, Novavax has announced collaborations to supply it to two countries — Japan and India.

The Maryland-based biotech announced a deal Friday morning with Takeda to develop and manufacture up to 250 million doses per year of its adjuvanted vaccine. And late Thursday afternoon, Novavax entered into an agreement with the Serum Institute of India to provide up to 1 billion doses to India and low- and middle-income countries.

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In sur­pris­ing set­back, com­bo of Roche’s Tecen­triq and chemo fails to help pa­tients with triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cer

Roche broke ground last year when they secured the first FDA approval for a checkpoint therapy in triple-negative breast cancer, a notoriously difficult-to-treat indication that has been passed over by the wave of targeted therapies.

Now, though, doctors are puzzling over why a combination of drugs meant to make that therapy more potent instead appeared to make it less effective.

Roche said Thursday that in a Phase III trial, combining their PD-1/L1 checkpoint therapy Tecentriq with the chemotherapy paclitaxel, did not significantly improve progression-free survival for patients with locally advanced or metastatic triple-negative breast cancer over giving those patients chemotherapy alone. In fact, patients on the Tecentriq-chemo arm had lower overall survival than patients on chemo, although the drugmaker cautioned that the trial was not powered for that endpoint and the data were immature.

President Trump (AP Images)

FDA takes the lead on defin­ing es­sen­tial un­der Trump's 'Buy Amer­i­can' ex­ec­u­tive or­der — as in­dus­try warns of sup­ply chain dis­rup­tion

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order detailing how the federal government should help on-shore drug manufacturing — and the FDA will play a central role.

The agency now has three months to draw up the list of “essential medicines, medical countermeasures, and their critical inputs” that the US must have available at all times. Various departments and agencies are then directed to buy these drugs and their ingredients from American manufacturers.

Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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Lund­beck sounds taps on an­oth­er CNS drug, re­treat­ing from a mine field still oc­cu­pied by a Mer­ck team

Lundbeck has snipped another clinical-stage branch of its CNS research, dumping a schizophrenia program after determining that their therapy would have no positive influence on the disease.

Designed originally as a 240-patient study, researchers set out in early 2019 to see if a homegrown drug dubbed Lu AF11167 could make it through a proof-of-concept study. The drug is a PDE10Ai inhibitor, targeting an enzyme which it said at the time offered a new pathway to retuning the body’s neurotransmitter dopamine. The big idea was that by hitting their target, the drug would modulate “dopamine D1 and D2 receptor-mediated intraneuronal signaling without binding to these receptors,” influencing negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

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