Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er hus­tling up mil­lions of dos­es of vac­cine — de­tails $748M BioN­Tech deal; CDC tweaks stance on con­tro­ver­sial malar­ia drugs

Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech are ready to out­line the de­tails of their am­bi­tious al­liance on a Covid-19 mR­NA vac­cine for the world.

Their plan now is to start hu­man tri­als in a mat­ter of days, while ramp­ing up man­u­fac­tur­ing for a glob­al mar­ket well ahead of the first read­out. And the Ger­man mR­NA com­pa­ny — large­ly owned by the bil­lion­aire Stru­eng­mann broth­ers — is get­ting a big up­front to go with the col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The phar­ma gi­ant is pro­vid­ing the biotech $185 mil­lion in cash, in­clud­ing an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment of $113 mil­lion. Then there’s $563 mil­lion in mile­stones. They plan to joint­ly com­mer­cial­ize the vac­cine around the plan­et, with Fo­s­un tak­ing Chi­na per their sep­a­rate pact with BioN­Tech.

The clin­i­cal tri­al sup­plies of the vac­cine will be pro­vid­ed by BioN­Tech’s ex­ist­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty, leav­ing the part­ners to start im­me­di­ate­ly build­ing out enough man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty to pro­vide “mil­lions” of dos­es be­fore the end of this year and “hun­dreds of mil­lions” by next year. All of that in­vest­ment is “at risk” — a bet that their jab can end the out­break.

Pfiz­er, mean­while, is al­so be­gin­ning test­ing soon on a new Covid-19 drug for mild to mod­er­ate cas­es. The com­pa­ny tells the Wall Street Jour­nal that the ther­a­py has the po­ten­tial to stop the virus from repli­cat­ing. And they al­so plan to study their rheuma­toid arthri­tis drug Xel­janz against the virus, part of a mul­ti-prong ef­fort to com­bat Covid-19.

First up, though, is mR­NA.

A group of mR­NA com­pa­nies are tak­ing a shot at pro­duc­ing new vac­cines in record time. That group in­cludes BioN­Tech, Cure­Vac and Mod­er­na in the US. Their tech­nol­o­gy, while yet to pro­duce an ap­proved prod­uct, holds the promise of swift iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the anti­gens need­ed to come up with an ef­fec­tive way to spur im­mune re­sis­tance to the coro­n­avirus.

If it works, it will rev­o­lu­tion­ize pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness ef­forts. The whole world is watch­ing what hap­pens next. — John Car­roll

CDC tweaks guid­ance on con­tro­ver­sial coro­n­avirus meds — re­port

The Eu­ro­pean Med­i­cines Agency has cau­tioned against us­ing the pair of malar­ia drugs — chloro­quine and hy­drox­y­chloro­quine — out­side of clin­i­cal tri­als or na­tion­al emer­gency use pro­grams for coro­n­avirus pa­tients, cit­ing the po­ten­tial for se­ri­ous side-ef­fects at high dos­es or when used in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er drugs.

Mean­while, in the mid­dle of March, Pres­i­dent Trump re­port­ed­ly per­son­al­ly pressed fed­er­al health of­fi­cials to make the malar­ia drugs avail­able to treat the new coro­n­avirus. Soon af­ter, the FDA cit­ed lim­it­ed in-vit­ro and anec­do­tal clin­i­cal da­ta to en­dorse the emer­gency use of the two ther­a­pies to treat malar­ia and lu­pus among oth­er dis­or­ders for Covid-19 when clin­i­cal tri­als are not avail­able, or par­tic­i­pa­tion is not fea­si­ble.

Now, the CDC has walked in­to the con­tro­ver­sy. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Reuters, the agency hasti­ly re­moved from its web­site atyp­i­cal guid­ance in­form­ing doc­tors on how to pre­scribe hy­drox­y­chloro­quine and chloro­quine. Ini­tial­ly, the CDC web­page, ti­tled In­for­ma­tion for Clin­i­cians on Ther­a­peu­tic Op­tions for Pa­tients with COVID-19, said: “Al­though op­ti­mal dos­ing and du­ra­tion of hy­drox­y­chloro­quine for treat­ment of COVID-19 are un­known, some U.S. clin­i­cians have re­port­ed anec­do­tal­ly” sev­er­al ways to pre­scribe the drugs to treat Covid-19.

A few tiny tri­als out of France and Chi­na have so far yield­ed in­con­clu­sive ev­i­dence on the use of the drugs in pa­tients with Covid-19. The stud­ies and the da­ta that em­anat­ed from them is not peer-re­viewed.

“Why would CDC be pub­lish­ing anec­dotes?” asked Lynn Gold­man, dean of the Milken In­sti­tute School of Pub­lic Health at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, in con­ver­sa­tion with the wire agency.

On Wednes­day, the CDC web­site read: “There are no drugs or oth­er ther­a­peu­tics ap­proved by the US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to pre­vent or treat COVID-19.” The trun­cat­ed guid­ance al­so said “hy­drox­y­chloro­quine and chloro­quine are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in clin­i­cal tri­als” for use in coro­n­avirus pa­tients.

Trump has been tout­ing the pair of drugs as Covid-19 treat­ments for weeks now, de­spite cau­tion from his own sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­sors, in­clud­ing in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert and NI­AID chief An­tho­ny Fau­ci who has in­sist­ed that there is no strong sci­en­tif­ic proof back­ing their ef­fi­ca­cy against Covid-19.

Cowen an­a­lyst Yaron Wer­ber, in a note on Wednes­day, sug­gest­ed that giv­en the ex­ist­ing (lim­it­ed) da­ta on hy­drox­y­chloro­quine (HCQ), the po­ten­tial for its use will like­ly be as a pro­phy­lac­tic agent.

“(B)ased on all avail­able da­ta, HCQ is un­like­ly to sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­prove clin­i­cal out­comes for hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients with COVID-19…we would like­ly al­ready be aware if HCQ was hav­ing a ro­bust ef­fect giv­en its wide use through­out Chi­na, Italy and the U.S. thus far,” he wrote. “The role for HCQ in post-ex­po­sure pro­phy­lax­is ap­pears more promis­ing with many clin­i­cal tri­als cur­rent­ly in­ves­ti­gat­ing this con­cept. The drug has shown ef­fec­tive­ness in vi­ral clear­ance in vit­ro and may pro­vide ben­e­fit if vi­ral repli­ca­tion is im­paired in the very ear­ly stages of ill­ness, be­fore the sys­temic in­flam­ma­to­ry cas­cade takes hold.” — Na­tal­ie Grover

Boston hos­pi­tals as­sem­ble a small Covid-19 study in the front lines of the Covid-19 war

A flu an­tivi­ral from Japan that was rushed in­to use in Chi­na to help fight the first out­break of Covid-19 will now be fea­tured in a small US study — right in one of the cen­tral fronts of the out­break.

Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal, Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School have be­gun col­lab­o­rat­ing on a Phase II study of favipi­ravir that will re­cruit 50 pa­tients suf­fer­ing from coro­n­avirus, ac­cord­ing to its man­u­fac­tur­er, Fu­ji­film.

This small tri­al comes a lit­tle more than a week af­ter Fu­ji­film launched a more am­bi­tious Phase III in Japan.

Favipi­ravir — sold as Avi­gan in Japan since its ini­tial ap­proval in 2014 — at­tract­ed a lot of at­ten­tion in Chi­na dur­ing the peak of its fight against the new virus. The Chi­nese adopt­ed it af­ter a pair of small stud­ies. And it’s helped shed some ad­di­tion­al lus­ter on Gilead’s remde­sivir, which many be­lieve will work bet­ter us­ing the same mech­a­nism of ac­tion.

As far as the da­ta we’ve seen so far, though, it’s all still a crap­shoot.

The drug in­hibits RNA poly­merase nec­es­sary for in­fluen­za virus repli­ca­tion, which could be use­ful in the Covid-19 war. The ju­ry, though, is still very much out over how ef­fec­tive it may be or whether it can be more than a mar­gin­al treat­ment against a fast-spread­ing virus. — John Car­roll

Biotechs broad­en the spec­trum of an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drugs thrown against Covid-19

With the FDA sig­nalling a will­ing­ness to wave a broad spec­trum of Covid-19 ther­a­pies in­to the clin­ic, two biotechs are pitch­ing in their pipeline stars to tame the in­flam­ma­tion of­ten re­spon­si­ble for dev­as­tat­ing pa­tients.

Bio­haven has the green light to be­gin test­ing in­tranasal vazegepant — its CGRP re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist de­signed for acute mi­graines — in pul­monary com­pli­ca­tions of the vi­ral in­fec­tion. “This pan­dem­ic is a call to ac­tion for our en­tire in­dus­try,” CEO Vlad Coric said, and Bio­haven with re­searchers at Thomas Jef­fer­son Uni­ver­si­ty to de­vel­op the pro­to­col.

Sim­i­lar­ly, San Diego-based Cal­ciMed­ica has per­mis­sion to study whether its small mol­e­cule drug — which in­hibits cal­ci­um re­lease-ac­ti­vat­ed cal­ci­um (CRAC) chan­nels — can keep pa­tients with se­vere pneu­mo­nia from go­ing on ven­ti­la­tors.

Once they pro­vid­ed da­ta from their Phase II pan­cre­ati­tis tri­al in­volv­ing pa­tients with sys­temic in­flam­ma­tion and hy­pox­ia, as well as an­i­mal da­ta sug­gest­ing CM4620-IE has pro­tec­tive ef­fects on lung in­jury, the FDA ap­proved their IND in less than 10 days, CMO Su­dar­shan Heb­bar told End­points News.

The tri­al will start small with plans to re­cruit 60 pa­tients be­tween Re­gions Hos­pi­tal in St. Paul, Min­neso­ta and Hen­ry Ford Hos­pi­tal in De­troit. Pa­tients will be ran­dom­ized to re­ceive drug or place­bo in a 2:1 ra­tio. — Am­ber Tong

Ra­maswamy’s Data­vant kicks off ef­fort to cre­ate a da­ta repos­i­to­ry for US coro­n­avirus pa­tients

For­get Zoom, health care and soft­ware com­pa­nies are re­port­ed­ly look­ing to col­late da­ta from coro­n­avirus-in­fect­ed pa­tients to study dis­ease trans­mis­sion, iden­ti­fy the most vul­ner­a­ble groups of the pop­u­la­tion and eval­u­ate how ef­fec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al drugs are.

Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Data­vant — which ag­gre­gates and an­a­lyzes re­al-world med­ical da­ta from a suite of sources to as­sist bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies, providers and pay­ers — be­gan to spear­head one such ef­fort in March, ac­cord­ing to the Wall Street Jour­nal, which cit­ed a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

Health care tech com­pa­nies — Allscripts Health­care So­lu­tions and Change Health­care — have com­mit­ted to do­nat­ing da­ta for the ef­fort, while health in­sur­ance com­pa­ny An­them has been ap­proached to con­tribute med­ical claims da­ta, the re­port said.

Data­vant, which calls the big CRO Parex­el a part­ner, aims to in­clude da­ta about every Covid-19 pos­i­tive pa­tient (ex­clud­ing names or iden­ti­fy­ing de­tails) draw­ing on in­for­ma­tion that em­anates from hos­pi­tals, phar­ma­cies and health in­sur­ers. The reg­istry is be­ing po­si­tioned as a free re­source for gov­ern­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic re­searchers, the WSJ re­port­ed.

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

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; 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.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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Sanofi, GSK tout 72% Omi­cron ef­fi­ca­cy in PhI­II tri­al of next-gen, bi­va­lent shot — with an eye to year-end roll­out

Sometimes, being late can give you an advantage.

That’s what Sanofi and GSK are trying to say as the Big Pharma partners report positive results from a late-stage trial of their next-gen bivalent Covid-19 vaccine, which was designed to protect against both the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Beta variant. Specifically, against Omicron, they note, the vaccine delivered 72% efficacy in all adults and 93.2% in those previously infected.

Rwanda president Paul Kagame and BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin (via BioNTech)

BioN­Tech breaks ground on first mR­NA vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Africa

Covid vaccine access to lower- and middle-income nations has been a concern during the length of the pandemic, but BioNTech is now pushing forward with plans to increase vaccine access for Africa.

Construction work has kicked off for an mRNA manufacturing facility in Kigali, Rwanda. According to BioNTech, the facility, dubbed the African modular mRNA manufacturing facility, has a target for the first set of manufacturing tools to be delivered to the site by the end of this year.

GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

Stéphane Bancel (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Mod­er­na to se­cure a UK pres­ence with $1B+ in new man­u­fac­tur­ing and R&D fa­cil­i­ties

As Moderna keeps up the fight against Covid-19, recently winning authorization in the US for children under the age of five, the company is also looking to make a serious investment in the UK.

According to the UK government, Moderna will be looking to establish a vaccine research center and a manufacturing site for a series of vaccines.

Moderna will establish this new mRNA Innovation and Technology Centre to develop mRNA vaccines for a wide range of respiratory diseases, including Covid-19.

De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.