As­traZeneca pub­lish­es Covid-19 vac­cine PhI­II pro­to­cols in lock­step with Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er. How are they dif­fer­ent?

Fol­low­ing in the steps of Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er, the oth­er two Amer­i­can drug­mak­ers cur­rent­ly in Phase III tri­als for their Covid-19 vac­cines, As­traZeneca post­ed its own study pro­to­cols over the week­end. The move is the lat­est in a se­ries of rare peeks be­hind the cur­tain, as such blue­prints are typ­i­cal­ly shared once such tri­als are com­plet­ed.

“Giv­en the un­prece­dent­ed glob­al im­pact of the Coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and the need for pub­lic in­for­ma­tion, As­traZeneca has pub­lished the de­tailed pro­to­col and de­sign of our AZD1222 clin­i­cal tri­al. As with most clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, pro­to­cols are not typ­i­cal­ly shared pub­licly due to the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing con­fi­den­tial­i­ty and in­tegri­ty of tri­als. As­traZeneca con­tin­ues to work with in­dus­try peers to en­sure a con­sis­tent ap­proach to shar­ing time­ly clin­i­cal tri­al in­for­ma­tion,” the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment.

As­traZeneca’s tri­al, un­like the ones from coun­ter­parts, on­ly plans for one in­ter­im analy­sis that could al­low the com­pa­ny to stop the tri­al ear­ly and pe­ti­tion for an emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion. That analy­sis is ex­pect­ed to oc­cur at 75 in­fec­tions. Mod­er­na ex­pects two analy­ses, at 53 and 106 events, while Pfiz­er pen­ciled in four — at 32, 62, 92 and 120 cas­es.

The British phar­ma al­so in­di­cat­ed that it is aim­ing for a 50% ef­fi­ca­cy rate for its can­di­date, the thresh­old that the FDA has set for in its coro­n­avirus vac­cine guide­lines, where­as Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er are both aim­ing for 60% ef­fec­tive­ness.

All three com­pa­nies al­so have dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria for symp­toms in the pri­ma­ry end­points of their tri­als, with each in­clud­ing those as­so­ci­at­ed with mild in­fec­tions. Er­ic Topol, one of the in­dus­try’s strongest ad­vo­cates for vac­cine trans­paren­cy, sum­ma­rized those dif­fer­ences in a tweet.

Vac­cine mak­ers have been un­der in­tense po­lit­i­cal pres­sure through­out the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, but that has on­ly ramped up as No­vem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion draws near­er. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has re­peat­ed­ly of­fered promis­es that a vac­cine could be ready be­fore the elec­tion, and HHS sec­re­tary Alex Azar ef­fec­tive­ly set the FDA staff on no­tice say­ing that his sig­na­ture is re­quired on all rule mak­ing.

Thus far, Pfiz­er CEO Al­bert Bourla has been the on­ly ex­ec­u­tive to say his com­pa­ny could know whether or not its vac­cine works in Oc­to­ber. Mod­er­na pres­i­dent Stephen Hoge, ap­pear­ing on CBS Evening News last week, said the drug­mak­er could know if its own vac­cine works by No­vem­ber.

De­spite a green light to re­sume in the UK, As­traZeneca’s Phase III tri­al re­mains on hold in the US af­ter a vol­un­teer in the UK de­vel­oped a con­di­tion thought to be trans­verse myelitis, a rare spinal in­flam­ma­tion dis­or­der, af­ter tak­ing their sec­ond dose of the vac­cine. The com­pa­ny has not con­firmed the di­ag­no­sis, and a doc­u­ment post­ed by Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty last week sug­gest­ed that the vac­cine was not linked to the con­di­tion.

That in­stance was the sec­ond time As­traZeneca’s tri­al was placed on hold fol­low­ing a case of un­di­ag­nosed mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis oc­cur­ring in a sep­a­rate tri­al par­tic­i­pant.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

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His­toric drug pric­ing re­forms pass; Pfiz­er ac­quires GBT; The long search for non-opi­oid pain drugs; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

The Endpoints Weekly has officially crossed the 60,000 mark on subscribers — thanks to all of your support. As the editorial team grows, we’ve been able to do a lot more, with many of those on display this week. Be sure to check out Lei Lei Wu’s deep dive on pain R&D. If you missed it, you may also rewatch her companion panel here.

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Gold for adults, sil­ver for in­fants: Pfiz­er's Pre­vnar 2.0 head­ed to FDA months af­ter Mer­ck­'s green light

Pfizer was first to the finish line for the next-gen pneumococcal vaccine in adults, but Merck beat its rival with a jab for children in June.

Now, two months after Merck’s 15-valent Vaxneuvance won the FDA stamp of approval for kids, Pfizer is out with some late-stage data on its 20-valent shot for infants.

Known as Prevnar 20 for adults, Pfizer’s 20vPnC will head to the FDA by the end of this year for an approval request in infants, the Big Pharma said Friday morning. Discussions with the FDA will occur first and more late-stage pediatric trials are expected to read out soon, informing the regulatory pathway in other countries and regions.

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Seagen interim CEO Roger Dansey and Daiichi Sankyo CEO Sunao Manabe

Paving the way for Mer­ck­'s buy­out, Seagen los­es ar­bi­tra­tion dis­pute with Dai­ichi over ADC tech

As Seagen awaits a final buyout offer from Merck that could be in the territory of $40 billion, Seagen revealed Friday afternoon that it lost an arbitration dispute with Daiichi Sankyo relating to the companies’ 2008 collaboration around the use of antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology.

But that loss likely won’t matter much when it comes to Merck’s deal.

After breaking off its pact with Daiichi in mid-2015, the two companies battled over “linker” tech — a chemical bridge between an ADC’s antibody component and the cytotoxic payload — that Seagen claims Daiichi would improve upon and implement in its current generation of ADCs.

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House pass­es his­toric drug pric­ing re­forms, lin­ing up decades-in-the-mak­ing win for Biden and De­moc­rats

The US House of Representatives today voted along party lines (all Dems voted for it), 220-207 to pass new, wide-ranging legislation that will allow Medicare drug price negotiations for the first time ever, and cap seniors’ drug expenses to $2,000 per year and seniors’ insulin costs at $35 per month.

Setting up a major victory for President Joe Biden, representatives returned from their summer recess to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, even as many noted the bill would only modestly reduce inflation.

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Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

Sen­ate Fi­nance chair con­tin­ues his in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to phar­ma tax­es with re­quests for Am­gen

Amgen is the latest pharma company to appear on the radar of Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is investigating the way pharma companies are using subsidiaries in low- or zero-tax countries to lower their tax bills.

Like its peers Merck, AbbVie and Bristol Myers Squibb, Wyden notes how Amgen uses its Puerto Rico operations to consistently pay tax rates that are substantially lower than the U.S. corporate tax rate of 21%, with an effective tax rate of 10.7% in 2020 and 12.1% in 2021.

FDA ap­proves sec­ond in­di­ca­tion for As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi's En­her­tu in less than a week

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s antibody-drug conjugate Enhertu scored its second approval in less than a week, this time for a subset of lung cancer patients.

Enhertu received accelerated approval on Thursday to treat adults with unresectable or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors have activating HER2 (ERBB2) mutations, and who have already received a prior systemic therapy.

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J&J to re­move talc prod­ucts from shelves world­wide, re­plac­ing with corn­starch-based port­fo­lio

After controversially spinning out its talc liabilities and filing for bankruptcy in an attempt to settle 38,000 lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson is now changing up the formula for its baby powder products.

J&J is beginning the transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio, the pharma giant announced on Thursday — just months after a federal judge ruled in favor of its “Texas two-step” bankruptcy to settle allegations that its talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer. An appeals court has since agreed to revisit that case.

CSL is gathering its four business units under a unified brand identity strategy (Credit: CSL company site)

CSL brings Se­qirus, Vi­for un­der par­ent um­brel­la brand in iden­ti­ty re­vamp

CSL is gathering its brands under the family name umbrella, renaming its vaccine and newly acquired nephrology specialty businesses with the parent initials.

CSL Seqirus and CSL Vifor join CSL Plasma and CSL Behring as the four now uniformly branded business units of the global biopharma. The Seqirus vaccine division was formed in 2015 with the combination of bioCSL and its purchase of Novartis’ flu vaccine business. CSL picked up Vifor Pharma late last year in an $11.7 billion deal for the nephrology, iron deficiency and cardio-renal drug developer.

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