Chi­na ap­proves flu drug be­ing tout­ed as a po­ten­tial coro­n­avirus treat­ment amid a rush of clin­i­cal stud­ies

One of the three drugs that Chi­na’s Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy has tapped as po­ten­tial COVID-19 treat­ments to watch has notched its first Chi­nese OK — for the flu.

While there’s no proof yet that fapilavir, or favipi­ravir, is the cure that pa­tients and physi­cians are yearn­ing for, it stands out for a unique con­stel­la­tion of qual­i­ties. It’s been com­mer­cial­ly avail­able in Japan for sev­er­al years (un­like Gilead’s ex­per­i­men­tal remde­sivir) yet it’s new to Chi­na (un­like the malar­ia drug chloro­quine phos­phate). Per­haps more im­por­tant­ly, a do­mes­tic biotech — Zhe­jiang Hisun Phar­ma — owns the rights to man­u­fac­ture and mar­ket the drug, pre­empt­ing any con­cerns about patents.

At the same time, the Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy sug­gest­ed that chloro­quine phos­phate, a 70-year-old drug, should be in­clud­ed in the stan­dard reg­i­men af­ter show­ing promis­ing re­sults in tri­als across 10 hos­pi­tals.

Clin­i­cal guide­lines for the treat­ment of res­pi­ra­to­ry ill­ness­es re­sult­ing from the new coro­n­avirus orig­i­nat­ing from Wuhan, now named SARS-CoV-2, are evolv­ing quick­ly while de­vel­op­ment of a vac­cine to pre­vent peo­ple from get­ting in­fect­ed in the first place speeds ahead. On Tues­day Sanofi an­nounced that its Pas­teur unit will in­ves­ti­gate a pre­clin­i­cal vac­cine they made for SARS years ago, to see if it can pro­tect against COVID-19.

BAR­DA is a col­lab­o­ra­tor for the ef­fort, which will al­so see Sanofi de­ploy­ing its re­com­bi­nant DNA plat­form to pro­duce the vac­cine.

Like remde­sivir, fapilavir at­tacks RNA virus­es by in­hibit­ing RdRp (RNA-de­pen­dent RNA poly­merase). Fu­ji­film sub­sidiary Toya­ma Chem­i­cal first notched an ap­proval in Japan in 2014 and chris­tened it Avi­gan; in 2016 it li­censed Chi­na API rights to Hisun — short­ly af­ter­ward, Toya­ma al­so sup­plied the drug for an Ebo­la study that didn’t lead any­where.

Com­bat­ing the flu re­mained fapilavir’s raisons d’être, and of­fi­cial­ly it’s sanc­tioned for adults with nov­el or re­cur­ring strains of in­fluen­za when oth­er treat­ments have failed. But Hisun’s Yue Li told Pharm­Cube that the OK means physi­cians can pre­scribe the drug on a com­pas­sion­ate use ba­sis.

Along with the flu ap­proval, the Na­tion­al Med­ical Prod­ucts Ad­min­is­tra­tion al­so gave the green light on an IND to test fapilavir against SARS-CoV-2.

Two hos­pi­tals in Shen­zhen and Hangzhou have be­gun their own tri­als com­par­ing fapilavir against oth­er po­ten­tial treat­ments, ac­cord­ing to a Chi­nese reg­istry of clin­i­cal tri­als. Oth­er com­pounds un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in­clude Kale­tra (lopinavir/ri­ton­avir), an HIV drug owned by Ab­b­Vie; Roche’s new flu drug Xofluza; and neb­u­lized al­pha-in­ter­fer­on.

Last Fri­day Shen­zhen Third Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal sug­gest­ed that fapilavir had bet­ter an­tivi­ral ac­tiv­i­ty and less side ef­fects than Kale­tra, based on an 80-pa­tient study.

That puts fapilavir on the same path as remde­sivir, for which clin­i­cal tri­als were re­cent­ly kicked off. But strin­gent screen­ing re­quire­ments may be slow­ing down the high­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed study, the Wall Street Jour­nal re­port­ed. The tri­als have on­ly re­cruit­ed few­er than 200 peo­ple out of the tar­get 700 plus since Feb­ru­ary 5, who couldn’t have tak­en oth­er med­ica­tions in the pri­or 30 days and must have lab con­firmed di­ag­noses.

The Gilead drug was viewed as a top con­tender in the rush to find ef­fec­tive ther­a­pies for COVID-19, as it’s been test­ed in hu­mans as part of an Ebo­la tri­al. In fact, it ap­pears so promis­ing that the Wuhan In­sti­tute of Vi­rol­o­gy has tried to patent its use against the new coro­n­avirus while Suzhou-based Bright­Gene said it’s mass-pro­duc­ing the ac­tive phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­gre­di­ent and ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion of the ac­tu­al drug — with plans to li­cense it from Gilead.

For its part, the US drug­mak­er said it’s fo­cused on help­ing de­ter­mine the ef­fi­ca­cy of remde­sivir en­sur­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty in case of ap­proval.

Re­searchers, clin­i­cians and drug­mak­ers are pulling out all the stops to help treat and con­tain a vi­ral dis­ease that’s sick­ened more than 73,000 world­wide and tak­en 1,875 lives. De­spite the lack of proven treat­ments, 13,116 pa­tients have re­port­ed­ly re­cov­ered.

Japan, which had seen its case­load rise dra­mat­i­cal­ly due to a stream of con­firmed cas­es on the Di­a­mond Princess cruise ship now docked at the port of Yoko­hama, said it is work­ing to launch its own tri­als with HIV drugs.

The Fac­tors Dri­ving a Rapid Evo­lu­tion of Gene & Cell Ther­a­py and CAR-T Clin­i­cal Re­search in APAC

APAC is the fastest growing region globally for cell & gene therapy trials representing more than a third of all cell & gene studies globally, with China leading in the region. 

APAC is the leading location globally for CAR-T trials with China attracting ~60% of all CAR-T trials globally between 2015-2022. The number of CAR-T trials initiated by Western companies has rapidly increased in recent years (current CAGR of about 60%), with multiple targets being explored including CD19, CD20, CD22, BCMA, CD30, CD123, CD33, CD38, and CD138.

The End­points 11; blue­bird's $3M gene ther­a­py; Bio­gen tout new neu­ro da­ta; Harsh re­views for can­cer 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.

Reading about John Carroll’s pick of biotech’s most promising startups has become a treasured tradition. If you ever get curious about previous classes of the Endpoints 11, you can find all of them (plus a number of our other regular specials) here.

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EMA warns of short­ages of two Boehringer heart drugs due to a spike in de­mand

The EMA is putting EU member states on alert over the shortage of two drugs that counter heart attacks due to an uptick in demand.

On Friday, the EMA sent out a warning that two Boehringer Ingelheim drugs are experiencing a shortage: Actilyse and Metalyse. The drugs are used as emergency treatments for adults experiencing acute myocardial infarction, or a heart attack, by dissolving blood clots that have formed in the blood vessels.

The End­points 11: The top pri­vate biotechs in pur­suit of new drugs. Push­ing the en­ve­lope with pow­er­ful new tech­nolo­gies

Right around the beginning of the year, we got a close-up look at what happens after a boom ripples through biotech. The crash of life sciences stocks in Q1 was heard around the world.

In the months since, we’ve seen the natural Darwinian down cycle take effect. Reverse mergers made a comeback, with more burned out shells to go public at a time IPOs and road shows are out of favor. And no doubt some of the more recent arrivals on the investing side of the business are finding greener pastures.

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Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar

Should SCO­TUS hear Am­gen's Repatha case? So­lic­i­tor gen­er­al says no

Back in April, Amgen said it was encouraged by the solicitor general’s anticipated review of its Supreme Court petition to rehear a Repatha patent case. They’re likely much less optimistic about the outcome now.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a recent 27-page brief that Amgen’s arguments “lack merit and further review is not warranted.”

The case traces back to a suit filed in 2014 against Sanofi and Regeneron’s Praluent, which ended up beating Amgen’s PCSK9 blockbuster Repatha to market by a month just a year later.

Phil Sharp, Nobel Prize laureate (L), and John Carroll, Endpoints News co-CEO (via Michael Last)

The End­points 11: Fire­side chat with No­bel Prize lau­re­ate Phil Sharp

On Thursday evening in Boston I had the great good fortune to talk about the creation of the biotech industry with Nobel Prize-winning scientist Phil Sharp. I learned quite a bit about the early days of Genentech, Biogen and Alnylam, which all helped birth this unusual drug development ecosystem. And that’s why we can do things like the Endpoints 11. Here’s my talk with Phil Sharp, which you can either watch or read below.

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Petro Terblanche, Afrigen Biologics managing director (Kristin Palitza/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

WHO-backed Afrigen plans a charge to­ward the clin­ic with Africa's first Covid-19 vac­cine

NEW YORK — When vaccines from high-income countries did not arrive in Africa, a local WHO-backed company decided to take the matter into its own hands.

The South Africa-based company Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines has developed the continent’s first mRNA Covid-19 vaccine that will enter clinical trials in early 2023. Afrigen developed the shot by copying publicly available sequencing information about Moderna’s shot after the biotech and Pfizer refused assistance.

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Klick Health gath­ers biotech and phar­ma lu­mi­nar­ies to dis­cuss in­dus­try in­no­va­tions, in­vest­ments and fu­ture

At Klick Health’s first Ideas Exchange conference with biotech and pharma industry insiders since before the pandemic began, it was no surprise many conversations included Covid topics. Yet while vaccines and treatments were discussed, so too were the effects on drug development, federal responses, health inequities — and what to do now and next.

George Yancopoulos, chief scientist and cofounder of Regeneron, opened the conference responding to a question from Acorda CEO Ron Cohen about the spotlight on the industry during Covid and some of the “flak” biopharma has taken in the past.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na sends in EUA for bi­va­lent teen boost­er; US trim­ming Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech do­na­tions

Though Moderna’s bivalent vaccine to counter the Omicron variant has cleared the initial hurdles in getting FDA authorization, the vaccine maker is moving on to the next step.

On Twitter, the company announced on Friday that it has filed a EUA for its bivalent vaccine for use in adolescents aged 12 through 17 and for smaller children aged six through 11.