Covid-19 roundup: Emer­gen­t's er­ror costs J&J a vac­cine batch; Pfiz­er head says EU re­stric­tions slow vac­cine dis­tri­b­u­tion process

J&J has run in­to a snag in pro­duc­tion of its Covid-19 vac­cine af­ter its qual­i­ty pa­trol spot­ted prob­lems with one batch of drug sub­stance.

The is­sue — which the New York Times re­port­ed was due to a mix-up be­tween the vec­tors used in J&J and As­traZeneca’s vac­cines — sent J&J in­to trou­ble-shoot­ing mode. The com­pa­ny said it’s send­ing ad­di­tion­al ex­perts in man­u­fac­tur­ing, tech­ni­cal op­er­a­tions and qual­i­ty to su­per­vise on­site at Emer­gent’s Bayview fa­cil­i­ty, which was once tout­ed for its ca­pac­i­ty to rapid­ly scale man­u­fac­tur­ing.

In a state­ment, J&J didn’t con­firm whether the batch would in­deed trans­late to 15 mil­lion dos­es, as the Times re­port­ed. It in­stead em­pha­sized that the Emer­gent site has not yet been au­tho­rized by the FDA to make the ac­tive in­gre­di­ents of its one-shot, ade­n­ovirus vec­tor-based vac­cine, and that it’s on track to de­liv­er a to­tal of 1 bil­lion dos­es by 2021.

But while a board mem­ber has pre­vi­ous­ly pre­dict­ed they would de­liv­er a to­tal of 100 mil­lion dos­es to the US by April, J&J is now push­ing that goal to the end of May. Through April, they ex­pect to have 24 mil­lion dos­es, on top of the 20 mil­lion al­ready in arms.

“This batch was nev­er ad­vanced to the fill­ing and fin­ish­ing stages of our man­u­fac­tur­ing process,” the com­pa­ny added. “This is an ex­am­ple of the rig­or­ous qual­i­ty con­trol ap­plied to each batch of drug sub­stance.”

Emer­gent, which had inked a $480 mil­lion deal to sup­ply J&J’s Covid vac­cine for the next two years, had been known as the mak­er of an an­thrax vac­cine pri­or to the pan­dem­ic.

Billed as a cen­ter for in­no­va­tion in ad­vanced de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing (CIADM), the Bayview site was built as part of a part­ner­ship with BAR­DA to speed de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of vac­cines or treat­ments for pan­dem­ic re­sponse.

Pfiz­er head says EU re­stric­tions slow vac­cine dis­tri­b­u­tion process

The Eu­ro­pean Union has seen a short­age in Covid-19 vac­cine avail­abil­i­ty, and Pfiz­er head Dan­ny Hen­drikse wants it to be known that new EU re­stric­tions won’t make end­ing that short­age any eas­i­er.

The VP of glob­al sup­ply spoke out against new EU rules about the free move­ment of goods across bor­ders, say­ing that it made it more dif­fi­cult for the com­pa­ny to ex­port the vac­cine.

“Ul­ti­mate­ly what we would like our col­leagues to do is to fo­cus on mak­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing the vac­cine,” he told the UK’s Tele­graph. “The com­po­nents don’t just come from Eu­rope, but from all over the world.”

Pfiz­er told EU lead­ers that the amount of time it takes to make the vac­cine has been cut in half from 110 days to 60, thanks to an in­crease of pro­duc­tion at its Bel­gium plant. But that batch is start­ed in the US, with DNA plas­mids.

The news comes on the back of Ger­many’s sus­pen­sion of the As­traZeneca vac­cine for pa­tients un­der the age of 40 due to a rare, but fa­tal, blood clot called ve­nous throm­bo­sis. The clot was par­tic­u­lar­ly present in young women, a re­port said. EU’s med­ical reg­u­la­tor said that there was no ev­i­dence to sup­port the de­ci­sion to stop us­ing the vac­cine, how­ev­er.

Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech con­firm high ef­fi­ca­cy, no se­ri­ous safe­ty con­cerns af­ter sec­ond Covid-19 vac­cine dose

Six months af­ter Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech’s Phase III clin­i­cal tri­al par­tic­i­pants re­ceived the sec­ond dose of their Covid-19 vac­cine, the com­pa­nies have an­nounced that there are no se­ri­ous safe­ty con­cerns.

Of the 927 con­firmed symp­to­matic cas­es, 850 of the cas­es were in the place­bo group and 77 were in the group giv­en BNT162b2, good for a vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy of 91.3%, ac­cord­ing to a re­lease. Six-month re­sults al­so showed 100% ef­fi­ca­cy in pre­vent­ing se­vere dis­ease.

Vac­cine safe­ty has now been eval­u­at­ed in 44,000 par­tic­i­pants ages 16 and up. Sci­en­tists have deemed the vac­cine 100% ef­fec­tive in South Africa, where the B.1.351 vari­a­tion is preva­lent.

“The high vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy ob­served through up to six months fol­low­ing a sec­ond dose and against the vari­ant preva­lent in South Africa pro­vides fur­ther con­fi­dence in our vac­cine’s over­all ef­fec­tive­ness,” Pfiz­er CEO Al­bert Bourla said in a state­ment.

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

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images))

Sen­ate pass­es bill to re­work an­i­mal test­ing re­quire­ments for drug de­vel­op­ers

The US Senate passed via unanimous consent on Thursday afternoon a bipartisan bill that would eliminate a federal mandate for animal testing for new drugs.

Touted as a much-needed modernization of FDA’s rules, co-sponsor Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have said the bill will stop lots of needless suffering of animals.

Pa­tient re­port finds con­sti­pa­tion con­di­tion not well man­aged, open­ing door for bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion from phar­ma

Advertising for constipation treatments often uses light-hearted humor in an effort to spur open discussions about the sometimes stigmatized topic. However, that may not be enough to get people to take the condition seriously, a new patient report from Phreesia finds.

Fewer than one-fifth (17%) of patients with constipation surveyed understand the longer-term health risks of constipation such as hemorrhoids and bowel incontinence. Many are trying to manage their condition with over-the-counter medicines, but often for much longer than recommended. An equal 68% say they use home remedies or OTC meds to manage constipation. But while 90% understand that OTCs are not intended for long-term use, 50% have used an OTC constipation medicine for more than a year.

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Cell and gene ther­a­pies from acad­e­mia: EMA to help 5 projects go­ing af­ter un­met clin­i­cal needs

The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that it’s launching a new pilot program to help academic and other nonprofit researchers developing advanced therapy medicinal products, which includes cell and gene therapies.

Academics have proven to be enormously useful in feeding new products, like chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies first developed by Memorial Sloan Kettering, and ushered to the market by biopharma companies. Jean Bennett, formerly with the University of Pennsylvania, also saw her research lead to the approval of gene therapy Luxturna, which Roche now owns.

Work taking place in the clean rooms at Vor (Credit: Vor)

Vor Bio opts to keep man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions in-house for de­vel­op­ing stem cell, CAR-T ther­a­pies

While it is not uncommon for a biotech to go down the route of having the product manufactured by a contract organization, one small biotech is looking to keep its card close to its chest.

Vor Biopharma has started manufacturing operations at an in-house facility at its HQ in Cambridge, MA after beginning construction last summer.

According to the biotech, the facility aims to develop Vor’s hematopoietic stem cells (eHSCs) and CAR-T therapies for patients with blood cancers. The site will initially manufacture a clinical supply of its candidate VCAR33allo to support its IND, which is slated to be submitted in the first half of next year. It also plans to transfer the production of VOR33 to the facility. Vor is getting to work quickly as engineering runs for VCAR33allo has started this week.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

As Amy­lyx de­ci­sion waits in the wings, Bio­haven’s ALS drug sinks (again) in plat­form tri­al

The FDA’s decision on Amylyx’s ALS drug is set to come out sometime Thursday. In a space with few drugs, any approval would be a major landmark.

But elsewhere in the ALS field, things are a bit more tepid.

Thursday morning, Biohaven announced that its drug verdiperstat failed its arm of an ALS platform trial led by Massachusetts General Hospital. According to a press release, the drug did not meet its primary endpoint — improvement on an ALS functional status test — or any key secondary endpoints at 24 weeks. The trial had enrolled 167 patients, giving them either verdiperstat or placebo twice a day.

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