Covid-19 roundup — Re­gen­eron zooms in on cock­tail; BioN­Tech shares sky­rock­et on quick Pfiz­er al­liance

On the morn­ing af­ter the Bay Area or­dered res­i­dents of six coun­ties to “shel­ter in place” amid vary­ing lev­els of lock­down around the world, here are the lat­est in­dus­try up­dates:

— Lead­ing the hunt for an­ti­bod­ies that can neu­tral­ize the coro­n­avirus that caus­es Covid-19, Re­gen­eron said it’s as­sem­bled a large pool of can­di­dates — hun­dreds of an­ti­bod­ies — from which it will se­lect two to make a “cock­tail treat­ment.” While the an­ti­bod­ies are be­ing se­lect­ed, the com­pa­ny will get its Ve­lociMab plat­form in place to pre­pare cell lines for clin­i­cal-scale pro­duc­tion. Re­gen­eron en­vi­sions en­ter­ing hu­man stud­ies in a cou­ple months, with a goal to pro­duce “hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­phy­lac­tic dos­es per month” by the end of sum­mer. All of this comes a lit­tle over a month af­ter Re­gen­eron first threw its name in­to the coro­n­avirus R&D hat. Fol­low­ing this same ap­proach has led the biotech to an Ebo­la reg­i­men that best­ed three oth­er treat­ments. In ad­di­tion to de­vel­op­ing an­ti­bod­ies that can serve both as treat­ment and as a pro­phy­lax­is be­fore peo­ple are ex­posed to SARS-CoV-2 (an ap­proach Vir is al­so tak­ing), Re­gen­eron has al­so rushed its IL-6 drug Kez­vara — ap­proved for arthri­tis — in­to a late-stage tri­al test­ing its abil­i­ty to tack­le the lung in­flam­ma­tion that re­sults from the vi­ral in­fec­tion.

Ash­leigh Palmer

— Al­most a year ago Proven­tion Bio be­gan what Jef­frey Blue­stone called the “re­al hard work” on the res­ur­rect­ed di­a­betes drug teplizum­ab, dos­ing the first pa­tient with new­ly di­ag­nosed type 1 di­a­betes with the an­ti-CD3 an­ti­body. The work has just got­ten hard­er as the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic is forc­ing the biotech to tem­porar­i­ly pause ran­dom­iz­ing and treat­ing new pa­tients — while those cur­rent­ly tak­ing the ther­a­py com­plete their course. This de­lay, though, does not hin­der Proven­tion’s plan to wrap up its rolling BLA sub­mis­sion for the at-risk pop­u­la­tion by the end of the year. That was part­ly sup­port­ed by Phase II da­ta sug­gest­ing teplizum­ab de­layed di­a­betes di­ag­noses for pa­tients who ap­pear poised to de­vel­op the dis­ease. The Phase III PRO­TECT study was de­signed to see if the drug could help pa­tients who al­ready have di­a­betes — such as to low­er their de­pen­dence on in­sulin. “Our de­ci­sion was not based on any study-re­lat­ed COVID-19 in­fec­tions or oth­er safe­ty events, but rather a pre­pon­der­ance of cau­tion re­lat­ing to the on­go­ing pan­dem­ic, and our con­cern for the well-be­ing of re­cent­ly di­ag­nosed T1D pe­di­atric pa­tients and their care­givers,” CEO Ash­leigh Palmer said in a state­ment. “The de­mands on med­ical in­sti­tu­tions and their clin­i­cians dur­ing this un­prece­dent­ed glob­al cri­sis were al­so a main con­sid­er­a­tion in this de­ci­sion.”

— Shut­downs are be­com­ing more com­mon, and they’ve been fill­ing the BioTwit­ter chan­nel:

— In the year of coro­n­avirus, there’s no time to dot every i and cross every t in a bio­phar­ma deal. Ear­ly Tues­day Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech $BN­TX were ready to hitch up on one of the big mes­sen­ger RNA vac­cine pro­grams aimed at the dev­as­tat­ing spread of Covid-19. And they made it clear they were rolling ahead of any for­mal sig­na­tures on a fi­nal con­tract. Qui­et­ly re­vealed just days ago, BioN­Tech says that BNT162 should be ready to go in the clin­ic by the end of next month. It fol­lows a lead­ing mR­NA ef­fort from Mod­er­na as well as a hur­ry-up project from Cure­Vac, where the re­volv­ing door at the CEO suite is spin­ning. The col­lab­o­ra­tion work starts now, with a plan to uti­lize mul­ti­ple R&D sites across both com­pa­nies in the US and Ger­many, where BioN­Tech is based. They ex­pect to fi­nal­ize the de­tails of their part­ner­ship in the next few weeks. If there are any ba­sics in the let­ter of agree­ment, they’re not talk­ing about it yet. In the mean­time, BioN­Tech’s shares rock­et­ed up 55%.

— In the spir­it of do­na­tions, Bio­gen said its phil­an­thropic arm has com­mit­ted $10 mil­lion to sup­port Covid-19 re­lief ef­forts in the US and around the world. “We are deeply af­fect­ed by the im­pact of COVID-19 glob­al­ly and we un­der­stand the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of ac­cess to test­ing and oth­er ma­te­ri­als to sup­port health­care providers,” said CEO Michel Vounatsos, who’s now pre­sid­ing over the hard­est-hit drug­mak­er in the in­dus­try. A strat­e­gy meet­ing held at Boston Mar­riott Long Wharf has led to the in­fec­tion of 100 Bio­gen staffers and their house­hold con­tacts in Mass­a­chu­setts, where a to­tal of 197 cas­es have been re­port­ed as of Mon­day af­ter­noon — and that’s not count­ing oth­er lo­cal trans­mis­sion. In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing med­ical equip­ment and sup­plies to Part­ners Health­Care and sup­port­ing two lo­cal hos­pi­tals in their front line work, Bio­gen’s funds will al­so go to­ward ex­pend­ing test­ing op­tions, eas­ing the strains on med­ical sys­tems, of­fer­ing train­ing and se­cur­ing ac­cess to ne­ces­si­ties like food in places such as North Car­oli­na, where at least five Bio­gen staffers have been test­ed pos­i­tive af­ter at­tend­ing the lead­er­ship gath­er­ing.

— Amid warn­ings that peo­ple who get mild symp­toms of Covid-19 and re­cov­er are dri­ving the spread of the dis­ease, sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta are turn­ing their fo­cus to this par­tic­u­lar pop­u­la­tion. They are launch­ing a new clin­i­cal tri­al to see if an old malar­ia drug — chloro­quine or hy­drox­y­chloro­quine — is a bet­ter post-ex­po­sure pro­phy­lax­is than the cur­rent stan­dard of care: ob­ser­va­tion. The tri­al will en­roll 1,500 in­di­vid­u­als who have had ex­po­sure to a Covid-19 case with­in 3 days, name­ly ei­ther health­care work­ers of house­hold con­tacts. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford is plan­ning a sim­i­lar study with 10,000 par­tic­i­pants in May. Clin­i­cians in Chi­na and Aus­tralia have re­port­ed en­cour­ag­ing re­sults treat­ing Covid-19 pa­tients with chloro­quine.

— Chi­nese sci­en­tists may now be­gin test­ing a sub­unit vac­cine de­vel­oped by the Acad­e­my of Mil­i­tary Med­ical Sci­ences in col­lab­o­ra­tion with CanSi­no Bi­o­log­ics. The Hong Kong-list­ed com­pa­ny said its can­di­date us­es a repli­ca­tion-de­fec­tive ade­n­ovirus type 5 as a vec­tor to ex­press the spike pro­tein on SARS-CoV-2. It’s al­so be­gun pre-screen­ing of healthy vol­un­teers in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the tri­al, which was green­light­ed Mon­day night. CanSi­no has pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Wei Chen, the se­nior bio­engi­neer cred­it­ed with lead­ing the re­search work, on Chi­na’s first Ebo­la vac­cine.

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

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists. HHS con­tin­ues to claim Azar “will de­fer com­plete­ly to the FDA"

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a Covid-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

Embattled CDC director Robert Redfield (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee de­lays pri­or­i­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion vote; EU re­port­ed­ly in­dem­ni­fy­ing vac­cine mak­ers

A federal committee that advises the CDC was expected to hold a vote Tuesday on a plan regarding the distribution for initial doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines. But that vote has been scrapped.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, won’t be voting until the committee members learn more about which vaccines become available first, the Wall Street Journal reported. The vote could potentially wait until a specific vaccine is authorized before recommending how to dole out the first doses.

Samit Hirawat (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Af­ter bruis­ing re­jec­tion, blue­bird and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb land ide-cel pri­or­i­ty re­view. But will it mat­ter for the CVR?

With the clock all but up, the FDA accepted and handed priority review to Bristol Myers Squibb and bluebird bio’s BCMA CAR-T, keeping a narrow window open for Celgene investors to still cash in on the $9 CVR from the $63 billion Celgene merger.

The acceptance comes five months after the two companies weres slammed with a surprise refuse-to-file that threatened to foreclose the CVR entirely. Today’s acceptance sets the FDA decision date for March 27, 2021 – or precisely 4 days before the CVR deadline of March 31. Given the breakthrough designation and strong pivotal data — 81.5% response rate, 35.2% complete response rate — priority review was largely expected.

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Can a mag­net­ic cell ther­a­py re­place corneal trans­plan­ta­tion? As eight-year jour­ney leads to the clin­ic, two broth­ers un­veil bold vi­sion

Jeff Goldberg was getting acquainted with a brand new way to do corneal transplants when an even newer, even bolder idea hit him.

It was almost 10 years ago, and Goldberg was in his first faculty position at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Scientists had developed a new way to do cornea transplants where instead of sewing a whole donor cornea — a decades-old practice — they were just engrafting the inner layer of cells.

News brief­ing: Tiny Vac­cinex's drug flops in PhII Hunt­ing­ton's tri­al, stock craters; Siol­ta nabs $30M Se­ries B to de­vel­op mi­cro­bio­me drug

Siolta Therapeutics, a microbiome company targeting allergic diseases, raked in a $30 million Series B to develop its lead candidate, STMC-103H. The drug, which has been FDA fast-tracked, is headed for proof-of-concept trials, according to the company. Its various indications include allergic asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, and allergy prevention.

The news comes just after the California-based biotech added a prominent biopharma veteran as an advisor: 20-year Gilead CEO John Martin. The biotech also gained Richard Shames as CMO, who came by way of Protagonist Therapeutics.

Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer de­parts An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID af­ter his un­mask­ing as a hard-right Covid mis­in­for­ma­tion troll

William Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the last 13 years.

That ended Monday morning when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with incendiary rhetoric and spread misinformation in the midst of a pandemic.

Anthony Coyle (Pfizer via Youtube)

Flag­ship's merged biotech Reper­toire nets ex-Pfiz­er CSO An­tho­ny Coyle as R&D chief

Flagship is building a big-name C-Suite at its new, $220 million merged biotech.

Repertoire Immune Medicines, which already boasts former Bioverativ chief John Cox as its CEO, announced yesterday that Anthony Coyle, the former Pfizer CSO and the founding CEO of Pandion, will join as their head of R&D.

“As we progress clinical trials for our multi-clonal T cell candidates in immuno-oncology, Tony’s deep expertise in cellular immunology and novel therapeutic development will help us achieve our vision of creating a new class of transformative medicines for patients,” Cox said in a statement.

Zai Lab hauls in $761M from Hong Kong IPO to push Ze­ju­la, more bud­ding can­di­dates in Chi­na — re­port

Zai Lab is set to net more than $761 million from its secondary listing in Hong Kong after pricing the IPO at $72.51 (HKD$562) — just a hair below its Nasdaq closing price on Monday, Bloomberg and Nikkei Asian Review reported.

A pioneer in bringing Western drugs to China, co-founder and CEO Samantha Du has more than tripled Zai Lab’s market cap in the three years it’s been public in the US. The HKEX listing is designed to fund R&D and commercialization for the current portfolio while fueling new in-licensing pacts, the biotech wrote in a filing.