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.

FDA chief Stephen Hahn on Capitol Hill earlier this week (Getty Images)

As FDA’s work­load buck­les un­der the strain, Trump again ac­cus­es the agency of a po­lit­i­cal hit job

Peter Marks appeared before a virtual SVB Leerink audience yesterday and said that his staff at FDA’s CBER is on the verge of working around the clock. Manufacturing inspections, policy work and sponsor communications have all been pushed down the to-do list so that they can be responsive to Covid-related interactions. And the agency’s objective right now? “To save as many lives as we can,” Marks said, likening the mortality on the current outbreak as equivalent to “a nuclear bomb on a small city.”

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

J&J of­fers PhI/IIa da­ta show­ing its sin­gle-dose vac­cine can stir up suf­fi­cient im­mune re­sponse

Days after J&J dosed the first participants of its Phase III ENSEMBLE trial, the pharma giant has detailed the early-stage data that gave them confidence in a single-dose regimen.

Testing two dose levels either as a single dose or in a two-dose schedule spaced by 56 days in, the scientists from Janssen, the J&J subsidiary developing its vaccine, reported that the low dose induced a similar immune response as the high dose. The interim Phase I/IIa results were posted in a preprint on medRxiv.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (AP Images)

An­drew Cuo­mo says New York will un­der­take its own vac­cine re­view process, and wouldn’t rec­om­mend trust­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment

The concerns keep mounting over President Donald Trump’s politicization of the FDA and other federal agencies guiding the development of a safe and effective vaccine. And today, the telegenic New York governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to introduce even more politics into the matter — latest in an ongoing series of incidents that have cast the proudly independent FDA in starkly political terms.

During his daily press conference Cuomo said that the state will review any coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, citing a lack of trust in the Trump administration. The announcement comes one day after Trump accused the FDA of making an “extremely political” move in proposing stricter vaccine guidance.

President Trump walks past HHS secretary Alex Azar (Getty Images)

Azar falls in line un­der Trump again. Ex­perts say he's re­in­forc­ing a dark sig­nal sent to the FDA

In the latest incident where Alex Azar has steadfastly taken the side of President Donald Trump over that of the FDA, the HHS secretary was noncommittal this morning when asked if he supports the attempt by his subordinates at the FDA to strengthen guidelines for a vaccine EUA.

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show, the HHS secretary muddied the waters, stating that the guidance that matters is the one that is “actually already out there.”

Covid-19 roundup: Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed's 7th vac­cine is live at­ten­u­at­ed; Small biotech touts big suc­cess where gi­ants have failed

Operation Warp Speed is stacking its vaccine portfolio with a “TBD” new candidate: a live attenuated vaccine that can be administered in a single dose, potentially as an oral formulation rather than an injection.

Sound familiar?

That could be because the unannounced candidate appears to match the profile of an inoculation being developed by Merck, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the development based on a presentation by Moncef Slaoui.

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CDC’s Robert Redfield, NIAID’s Anthony Fauci, Admiral Brett Giroir at HHS, and FDA’s Stephen Hahn prepare to testify at a House hearing on June 23 (Getty)

'Ex­treme­ly po­lit­i­cal' — Trump neuters FDA's at­tempt to strength­en vac­cine EUA

Stephen Hahn went before a Senate committee Wednesday and declared he’s fighting. “Every one of the decisions we have reached has been made by career FDA scientists based on science and data, not politics,” he exclaimed, adding that “FDA will not permit any pressure from anyone to change that. I will fight for science.”

A few hours later, he was undermined by President Donald Trump when a reporter asked if he was okay with stricter vaccine guidelines that the FDA was said to be cooking up. “That has to be approved by the White House. We may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move,” he decided.

Covid-19 roundup: J&J be­gins piv­otal Phase III tri­al for vac­cine; Con­tro­ver­sial hu­man chal­lenge tri­als to be­gin in Lon­don — re­port

Johnson & Johnson announced it’s beginning a pivotal Phase III trial for its Covid-19 candidate, JNJ-78436735 — the first single-dose vaccine in this stage.

The Phase III trial, dubbed ENSEMBLE, will enroll 60,000 patients worldwide, making it the largest Phase III study of a Covid-19 vaccine to date. J&J said the candidate achieved positive interim results in a Phase I/IIa study, which will be published “imminently.” There’s a possibility that the first batches will be ready for potential emergency use in early 2021, according to the company.

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The win­dow is wide open as four more biotechs join the go-go IPO class of 2020

It’s another day of hauling cash in the biopharma world as four more IPOs priced Friday and a fifth filed its initial paperwork.

The biggest offering comes from PMV Pharma, an oncology biotech focusing on p53 mutations, which raised $211.8 million after pricing shares at $18 apiece. Prelude Therapeutics, developing PRMT5 inhibitors for rare cancers, was next with a $158 million raise, pricing shares at $19 each. Graybug Vision raised $90 million after pricing at $16 per share for its wet AMD candidates, and breast cancer biotech Greenwich Lifesciences brought up the rear with a small, $7 million raise after pricing shares at $5.75.