Covid-19 roundup: Biden invests $1.7B to address Covid variants; EU puts faith in Pfizer with new vaccine deals
The Biden administration said Friday that it’ll pump $1.7 billion into various programs to address Covid-19 variants as the original strain of Covid-19 makes up only about half of all US cases today.
Most of those new funds, $1 billion in total, will go to expand genomic sequencing so the CDC, states and other jurisdictions can improve their capacity to identify Covid mutations and monitor the circulation of variants. Back in February, US labs were only sequencing about 8,000 Covid-19 strains per week, although the rate of sequencing has increased substantially since then, the administration said.
In addition, the administration will spend $400 million to launch six new Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology, which will work in partnership with state health departments and academic institutions. “For example, the partnerships could focus on developing new genomic surveillance tools to better track pathogens of public health interest with the objective of developing surveillance methods to be used more widely in the public health system. Areas of focus will likely include bioinformatic workflows and the critical integration of genomic and epidemiologic data,” the administration said.
Another $300 million will go toward building and supporting a national bioinformatics infrastructure to better connect the dots between how pathogens spread and mutate. This funding also will support training to increase sequencing in clinical settings and expand CDC’s Bioinformatics Fellowship program. — Zachary Brennan
EU adds 50m new Pfizer doses
As months of tension between AstraZeneca and the EU finally boil over, EC president Ursula von der Leyen has announced the bloc is now putting its faith in Pfizer/BioNTech.
The EC has reached an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech to speed up the delivery of their vaccine to the bloc, von der Leyen said in a statement Wednesday. An additional 50 million doses are set to be delivered in Q2, which were initially scheduled for delivery in Q4. That’ll bring the bloc’s total Q2 supply to 250 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
The EC is also striking a third contract with the companies for 1.8 billion more doses between 2021 and 2023.
“I want to thank BioNTech-Pfizer,” von der Leyen said. “It has proven to be a reliable partner. It has delivered on its commitments, and it is responsive to our needs.”
Tensions flared between the EU and AstraZeneca back in February, when an EU official said the company would miss its supply target by about half. CEO Pascal Soriot said the contracts are not legally binding due to a “best effort” clause in the text. But in March, Italy blocked the delivery of about 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to Australia — the first such intervention in vaccine exports after the EU introduced new rules governing such shipments in late January.
Since then, a list of countries have paused the rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine due to reports of blood clots. Last week, the EMA acknowledged a link between the jab and rare but sometimes fatal blood clots, suggesting they should be listed as a side effect.
Von der Leyen said on Wednesday:
At a certain point in time, we might need booster jabs to reinforce and prolong immunity; and if escape-variants occur, we will need to develop vaccines that are adapted to new variants; and we will need them early and in sufficient quantities. Having this in mind we need to focus on technologies that have proven their worth. mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says a booster shot could be needed in near future — report
As countries struggle to get vaccines in arms, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says it’s likely a third dose will be needed in the next six to 12 months.
Bourla told CNBC’s Bertha Coombs on April 1 that in addition to a booster dose in the near future, it’s possible people will need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, much like the seasonal flu. The interview wasn’t made public until Thursday.
This is on par with what Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told Endpoints News earlier this week: Because the virus is likely to mutate very quickly in the next couple years, there may be a need for “several boosts,” especially for people at high risk.
“We think over time, maybe a boost per year might be enough, especially if combined with your flu boosts,” Bancel said.
Moderna released preclinical data this week suggesting its variant-specific boosters produced a sufficient immune response against concerning variants.
Earlier this month, Pfizer said its BioNTech-partnered jab demonstrated “strong protection” six months after the second dose, with an overall efficacy rate of 91.3% and an over 95% efficacy rate against severe disease. Moderna said its own updated review confirms the jab is more than 90% effective against all cases, and over 95% effective against severe cases.
Takeda’s Firazyr flops I-SPY trial with critically ill Covid-19 patients
Another day, another repurposed Covid-19 treatment failure.
Quantum Leap Healthcare Collaborative is dropping Takeda’s Firazyr (icatibant) from its I-SPY trial after a data monitoring committee concluded that it had a low probability of reducing patients’ time to recovery or mortality when added to razuprotafib and apremilast.
Researchers noted no safety concerns, Quantum Leap said in a statement.
The I-SPY Trials were designed to rapidly screen promising experimental Covid-19 treatments and identify the most effective. Firazyr, approved for acute attacks of hereditary angioedema (HAE), was given to patients every 8 hours for 6 days, in combination with the “backbone” therapy. After all patients reached a 28-day follow-up, data suggested there was a low probability that the drug made a difference compared to the control arm.
“While this drug did not meet our high bar for improving time to recovery in this population, the I-SPY COVID Trial was successful in quickly achieving its objective of ruling out a beneficial effect of icatibant on the primary endpoint of time to recovery,” Derek Russell, co-chaperone of the icatibant arm in the I-SPY trial, said in a statement.
“The study will continue to evaluate other agents with the potential to improve the grave outcomes of this population,” he added.
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