Kochi, Kerala state, India, April 10, 2022 (AP Photo/R S Iyer, File)

Covid-19 roundup: New Omi­cron sub­vari­ant first found in In­dia sparks de­bate on sever­i­ty; Ap­proval for Sh­ionogi's oral treat­ment de­layed

With the rise of Omi­cron last year, there have been a few sub­vari­ants in­tro­duced — es­pe­cial­ly BA.2 and BA.5 in the US. Now, there’s an­oth­er one but it’s most­ly con­fined to In­dia.

BA.2.75, first dis­cov­ered in late May/ear­ly June in In­dia, is yet an­oth­er sub­vari­ant of Omi­cron. Pri­mar­i­ly dom­i­nant in In­dia, sam­ples have been found in Nepal, Japan, Aus­tralia, and oth­er coun­tries such as New Zealand and the US in low amounts.

William Hasel­tine

Nick­named “Cen­tau­rus,” the vari­ant has con­cerned a few sci­en­tists. Tom Pea­cock, a vi­rol­o­gist at Im­pe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don, told Sci­ence that the new vari­ant does not look like a new Omi­cron vari­ant — rather an en­tire­ly new vari­ant in part to some ma­jor ge­nom­ic changes.

“This looks ex­act­ly like Al­pha did, or Gam­ma or Be­ta,” Pea­cock added.

For­mer Har­vard Med­ical School pro­fes­sor William Hasel­tine wrote in an ar­ti­cle at Forbes that an ini­tial study look­ing at BA.2.75 in­di­cat­ed that on­ly three treat­ments could be ef­fec­tive against the new sub­vari­ant if it be­comes dom­i­nant: Cell­tri­on’s reg­dan­vimab, GSK and Vir’s sotro­vimab, and tix­agevimab, half of As­traZeneca’s Evusheld.

A study from the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine pub­lished yes­ter­day not­ed that the dom­i­nant Omi­cron sub­vari­ant right now is less sus­cep­ti­ble to Evusheld.

How­ev­er, some peo­ple think that the sub­vari­ant will not catch on as the dom­i­nant vari­ant of ex­pres­sion on the glob­al/West­ern stage. As Scripps Re­search Trans­la­tion­al In­sti­tute founder and di­rec­tor Er­ic Topol tweet­ed out:

South Africa’s CERI (Cen­ter for Epi­dem­ic Re­sponse and In­no­va­tion) di­rec­tor Tulio de Oliveira con­curred.

BA.5 is cur­rent­ly the dom­i­nant vari­ant in the US, mak­ing up more than 50% of all Covid-19 cas­es. BA.2 used to be more dom­i­nant in ear­ly 2022, as one of the treat­ments for it, GSK and Vir’s sotro­vimab, was pulled from the mar­ket in April due to the lost ef­fi­ca­cy. While the pair hasn’t giv­en up on sotro­vimab — look­ing to file for full FDA ap­proval this year — sev­er­al ther­a­pies in the US ar­ma­men­tar­i­um in the fight against Covid-19 have been ren­dered less ef­fec­tive against BA.2.

Sh­iono­gi share price falls af­ter health min­istry de­lays ap­proval Covid-19 oral treat­ment — re­port

Sh­iono­gi’s Covid-19 oral treat­ment did not win ap­proval for emer­gency use.

A re­port from Reuters in­di­cat­ed that Sh­iono­gi’s treat­ment failed to get the nod from a health min­istry pan­el — lead­ing the biotech’s share price to ini­tial­ly fall 15% be­fore slow­ing com­ing back up.

The pan­el vot­ed to wait for more da­ta from on­go­ing clin­i­cal tri­als and con­tin­ue dis­cus­sions on the drug, ac­cord­ing to Reuters. The re­port al­so not­ed that the Japan­ese biotech was look­ing to have the third oral pill ap­proved in the coun­try to treat Covid-19 — be­hind Pfiz­er’s Paxlovid and Mer­ck’s Lagevrio.

The biotech an­nounced a year ago that it was start­ing clin­i­cal tri­als, putting it­self months be­hind the two Big Phar­ma com­peti­tors.

The re­port al­so not­ed that Sh­iono­gi had signed an agree­ment to sell close to a mil­lion dos­es to the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment, pend­ing the drug’s ap­proval. This de­lay was al­so not the first de­lay for the biotech — as Reuters not­ed, “Last month a health min­istry pan­el post­poned a rul­ing on the drug be­cause of un­cer­tain­ty over its ef­fec­tive­ness, as well as an­i­mal stud­ies show­ing it could pose a risk to preg­nan­cies.”

UP­DAT­ED: In a fresh dis­ap­point­ment, Am­gen spot­lights a ma­jor safe­ty is­sue with KRAS com­bo

Amgen had hoped that its latest study matching its landmark KRAS G12C drug Lumakras with checkpoint inhibitors would open up its treatment horizons and expand its commercial potential. Instead, the combo spurred safety issues that blunted efficacy and forced the pharma giant to alter course on its treatment strategy, once again disappointing analysts who have been tracking the drug’s faltering sales and limited therapeutic reach.

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Ad­dress­ing the ‘Ca­pac­i­ty Crunch’ with a Scal­able Plat­form Process Ap­proach

The field of gene therapy has been diligently moving forward over the past several decades to bring potentially life-saving treatments to patients with genetic diseases. In addition to two approved adeno-associated viral (AAV) gene therapies, there are more than 250 AAV gene therapies in various clinical trial stages.1 AAV vectors remain the most frequently used vector for delivering therapeutic transgenes to target tissues due to their demonstrated and lasting clinical efficacy and extensive safety track record. As AAV therapies advance through clinical trials and into commercialization, many biotech companies are turning to contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) to prepare their programs for late-stage clinical and commercial scale manufacturing. Given the scope and scale of the manufacturing needs that will accompany regulatory approvals for these assets, CDMOs continue to expand their capacity to meet the needs of increasing prevalent patient populations. However, despite rapid growth, projected gene therapy manufacturing demands still outpace the collective capacity of the CDMO industry.

A $5B Pfiz­er buy­out? Am­gen, Gilead head­line M&A Thurs­day; Al­ny­lam's AT­TR sweep; An­drew Lo's rare dis­ease quest; 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.

One of the cool things about adding EndpointsPharma to the daily roster is that my colleagues can now dedicate time to tracking quarterly updates and tuning into calls with Big Pharma companies. Check out their dispatch from the Q2 earnings below.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Break­ing: Pfiz­er in hot pur­suit of a $5B buy­out of Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics — re­port

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the search for new biotech deals, and the BD team is not letting him down.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Pfizer is in the final stages of acquiring Global Blood Therapeutics for $5 billion. According to the Journal report, though, Pfizer is not the only buyer at the deal table and while the pharma giant may be close to clinching it, there are no guarantees it will continue.

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Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Justin Kase Conder/AP Images for Amgen)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen chief Brad­way nabs a rare dis­ease play­er in $4B buy­out as the M&A tem­po ac­cel­er­ates

Amgen CEO Bob Bradway is bellying up to the M&A table today, scooping up the newly anointed commercial biotech ChemoCentryx $CCXI and its recently approved rare disease drug for $3.7 billion out of the cash stockpile. The deal comes in at $52 a share — a hefty increase over the $24.11 close yesterday.

Bradway and the Amgen team get a drug called Tavneos (avacopan) in the deal, a complement factor C5a inhibitor OK’d to treat anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody (ANCA)-vasculitis, an autoimmune disease which can be lethal.

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George Yancopoulos, Regeneron president and CSO (Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Alamy)

George Yan­copou­los says he's on the trail of the holy grail: ‘This could rep­re­sent the next break­through for im­munother­a­py’

Two of the most outspoken — and successful — drug developers in biotech say they’ve collected early-stage clinical data that are pointing them down the trail to the holy grail in cancer immunotherapy R&D.

While analysts largely busied themselves today with chronicling the ongoing success of Regeneron’s two big cash cows — Dupixent and Eylea — chief scientist George Yancopoulos and CEO Len Schleifer used the Q2 call to spotlight their early success with a combination of the “homegrown” PSMAxCD28 costimulatory bispecific antibody REGN5678 in combination with their PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo. The presentation comes just weeks after Regeneron completed a deal to gather all rights to the PD-1 that had been in Sanofi’s hands. And the two top execs are unstinting in their praise of the potential of a whole set of costimulatory pipeline projects which they say may finally deliver the long-awaited next-level approach to broadening the immunotherapy field of drugs.

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(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

US de­clares mon­key­pox a na­tion­al health emer­gency, as new drug­mak­ers con­sid­er en­ter­ing vac­cine race

Rising monkeypox cases have put the US on high alert as it announces a national health emergency, which grants the government more power in its response.

The news comes as Bavarian Nordic continues to fill orders for its Jynneos vaccine and other companies – including Moderna – consider jumping into the vaccine race. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the US has allowed around 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine in its stockpile to expire.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Bio­haven touts surge in Nurtec sales ahead of Pfiz­er takeover

Forget buyer’s remorse, Pfizer is likely feeling pretty good about its $11.6 billion Biohaven takeover deal following reports of a 57% sales boost for migraine med Nurtec.

Biohaven reported in Q2 results on Friday that it’s cleared the necessary antitrust hurdles to move forward with the sale of its calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) assets to Pfizer. However, because the company is “focused on workstreams related to the closing” of the deal, it did not host a call with analysts and investors.

Pharma ads are showing up on cooler screens at retail pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, under a new OptimizeRx deal (OptimizeRx)

Phar­ma brands chill in the phar­ma­cy re­tail aisle with new style ads on re­frig­er­a­tion screens

Want a prescription drug with that soda? While not directly possible, ads for pharma brands now running on beverage and snack cooler screens at pharmacy retailers may at least inspire customers to think about it.

OptimizeRx is hooking up with Cooler Screens media company to bring prescription drug advertising to refrigerator front doors at pharmacies including Walgreens, CVS and Kroger.

The “point of dispense” ads show a full-door image on the cooler doors when a shopper is 12 feet away, but shrinks down to a smaller banner-sized ad so that the refrigerator contents can be seen when a person gets closer. The doors — which have to be specially installed by Cooler Screens — can detect when a person is nearby, how long a person “dwells” in front of the ad and if they do or don’t open the door.

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