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.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.