Covid-19 roundup: An mR­NA play­er gets a boost out of the lat­est round of an­i­mal da­ta; Phase­Bio pulls the plug on treat­ment tri­al

The big tell for Cure­Vac $CVAC is com­ing up with a loom­ing ear­ly-stage read­out on their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine in the clin­ic. But for now they’ll make do with an up­beat as­sess­ment on the pre­clin­i­cal an­i­mal da­ta they used to get in­to the clin­ic.

Re­searchers for the Ger­man biotech say they got the high an­ti­body titers and T cell ac­ti­va­tion they were look­ing for, lin­ing up a ham­ster chal­lenge to demon­strate — in a sim­ple mod­el — that the vac­cine could pro­tect the fur­ry crea­tures. Like the oth­er mR­NA vac­cines, the drug sends in­struc­tions to spur cells to dec­o­rate them­selves with the dis­tinc­tive spike on the virus to elic­it an im­mune re­sponse.

Their sum­ma­ry:

Neu­tral­iz­ing an­ti­bod­ies start­ed to de­vel­op 3 weeks af­ter the first vac­ci­na­tion and strong­ly in­creased af­ter the sec­ond vac­ci­na­tion. The im­pact of dif­fer­ent dos­ing sched­ules for the two-in­jec­tion (prime and boost) reg­i­men was in­ves­ti­gat­ed at 2µg with 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks be­tween the first and sec­ond vac­ci­na­tion. The da­ta showed in­duc­tion of IgG1 and IgG2a bind­ing an­ti­bod­ies 7 days af­ter the first vac­ci­na­tion. Titers in­creased af­ter the sec­ond vac­ci­na­tion, show­ing high­er re­sponse lev­els with longer in­jec­tion in­ter­vals.

The biotech post­ed the study in pre-print on bioRx­iv, with a planned pub­li­ca­tion in a peer-re­viewed jour­nal, so there’s no ob­jec­tive re­view of what they found. In it, re­searchers note:

By ter­mi­na­tion on day 49, all sera 96 de­rived from an­i­mals vac­ci­nat­ed on d0/28 were able to neu­tralise 50% of in­fect­ing virus (100 TCID50) in 97 cell cul­ture at a di­lu­tion of 1:5120.

Even at this stage of the game, though, with the Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech and Mod­er­na vac­cines be­ing test­ed in large piv­otal stud­ies, an­i­mal da­ta can still get a rise out of the in­vestor class. Cure­Vac took ad­van­tage of its new list­ing on Nas­daq to add an 8% bump to its share price, en­hanc­ing their rough­ly $9 bil­lion mar­ket cap.

Cure­Vac made the leap to Nas­daq over the sum­mer as the ex­ec­u­tive crew mapped out a short path that they be­lieve puts them in con­tention for rolling out a vac­cine in the near term to fight the pan­dem­ic. Their fundrais­ing ef­forts quick­ly pieced to­geth­er a $1 bil­lion raise, with an ini­tial $16 price on the stock. It’s now more than $50 a share.

For­tunes will be made — and lost — in the months to come. But for to­day, Cure­Vac is count­ing it­self among the win­ners. — John Car­roll

Phase­Bio shuts down Covid-19 tri­al due to ‘evolv­ing’ land­scape, poor in­ter­im read­out

A biotech con­duct­ing a clin­i­cal-stage tri­al look­ing to study its ex­per­i­men­tal drug in Covid-19-re­lat­ed ARDS was shut down Fri­day morn­ing.

Phase­Bio had been re­search­ing whether or not its pemzivip­tadil pro­gram, pri­mar­i­ly be­ing stud­ied in pul­monary ar­te­r­i­al hy­per­ten­sion, could have an ef­fect on hos­pi­tal­ized Covid-19 pa­tients. But the com­pa­ny said that due to the “evolv­ing Covid-19 treat­ment land­scape,” as well as FDA guid­ance and a less-than-stel­lar in­ter­im read­out, it will be end­ing the tri­al.

The com­pa­ny said it had re­cent­ly sub­mit­ted a new tri­al pro­to­col for Covid-19 in re­sponse to that chang­ing land­scape, but reg­u­la­tors re­turned with ques­tions about the like­ly need for ad­di­tion­al tri­als with enough pa­tients to ad­e­quate­ly as­sess the mor­tal­i­ty risk.

In­vestors did not ap­pear pleased with the news as the mar­ket opened Fri­day, with Phase­Bio shares $PHAS down about 6% at the open­ing bell.

Phase­Bio had planned for an en­roll­ment of 70 in each of its treat­ment arms. The to­tal was de­ter­mined to be un­like­ly to be big enough, and the need for an en­tire­ly new tri­al mea­sur­ing mor­tal­i­ty rates al­so proved too dif­fi­cult to en­roll.

Fur­ther­more, the in­ter­im read­out was ac­cel­er­at­ed to in­clude on­ly the first 25 pa­tients treat­ed with pemzivip­tadil. In both the 40 mg and 100 mg dos­es, Phase­Bio did not see any­thing in­di­cat­ing that the pro­gram would meet its pri­ma­ry end­point, though it not­ed that a larg­er sam­ple size would be need­ed to draw a de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sion. Nev­er­the­less, the tri­al was halt­ed.

Phase­Bio’s Phase IIb study in pul­monary ar­te­r­i­al hy­per­ten­sion will re­sume en­roll­ment, the com­pa­ny added. It had been paused due to Covid-19 com­pli­ca­tions as well as Phase­Bio steer­ing re­sources to­ward its ARDS study.

In re­sponse to the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, vast amounts of time and en­er­gy have been spent try­ing to find ef­fec­tive treat­ments and vac­cines for the dis­ease. There are near­ly 4,000 tri­als list­ed on the US gov­ern­ment’s web­site, and thus far on­ly 24 have been ter­mi­nat­ed — less than 1%.

Just Thurs­day, Gilead’s Vek­lury be­came the first ful­ly ap­proved Covid-19 treat­ment and on­ly three ther­a­pies have even re­ceived emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion: Vek­lury, con­va­les­cent plas­ma and hy­drox­y­chloro­quine. The lat­ter’s EUA has since been re­voked. — Max Gel­man

Biotech ex­ecs ral­ly around An­tho­ny Fau­ci as Trump bites back 

Days af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump waged a ver­bal at­tack on An­tho­ny Fau­ci, call­ing him a “dis­as­ter” and an “id­iot,” 9 in­dus­try lead­ers pub­lished a let­ter in sup­port of the NI­AID di­rec­tor and agen­cies such as the CDC and FDA.

The au­thors of the let­ter, pub­lished in Na­ture, in­clude: Ron Co­hen, pres­i­dent and CEO of Acor­da Ther­a­peu­tics; Cedric Fran­cois, pres­i­dent and CEO of Apel­lis Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals; John Crow­ley, chair­man and CEO of Am­i­cus Ther­a­peu­tics; Paul Hast­ings, pres­i­dent and CEO of Nkar­ta Ther­a­peu­tics; Rachel King, CEO of Gly­coMimet­ics; Ted Love, pres­i­dent and CEO of Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics; John Maraganore, CEO of Al­ny­lam Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals; Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Biotech­nol­o­gy In­no­va­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion; and Je­re­my Levin, chair­man and CEO of Ovid Ther­a­peu­tics and chair­man of the Biotech­nol­o­gy In­no­va­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

They called mem­bers of the CDC, FDA and NIH the coun­try’s “‘Unit­ed Armed Forces’ against COVID-19,” and Fau­ci an “Amer­i­can hero.”

“How­ev­er, we are con­cerned that var­i­ous par­ties in this crit­i­cal coali­tion have come un­der po­lit­i­cal­ly mo­ti­vat­ed at­tacks,” they wrote.

On Sun­day, Fau­ci said in an in­ter­view with 60 Min­utes that the White House has lim­it­ed his me­dia ap­pear­ances, and called the Trump cam­paign’s fram­ing of his com­ments in an ad “out­ra­geous.”

In re­sponse, Trump said: “Peo­ple are tired of hear­ing Fau­ci and all these id­iots, all these peo­ple that have got­ten it wrong.” He claimed, with­out ev­i­dence, that more peo­ple would’ve died if he had fol­lowed Fau­ci’s ad­vice.

The pres­i­dent has pre­vi­ous­ly ac­cused a “deep state” at the FDA of in­ten­tion­al­ly de­lay­ing a vac­cine and ther­a­peu­tics, and fought the agency on stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs.

“Not on­ly are these at­tacks com­plete­ly un­jus­ti­fied, but they al­so risk in­tim­i­dat­ing and de­mor­al­iz­ing the very peo­ple we all are re­ly­ing on to help end the COVID-19 night­mare. As such, they are ir­re­spon­si­ble and pose dan­ger to us all,” in­dus­try lead­ers wrote in their let­ter pub­lished Thurs­day.

Ear­li­er this week, the in­de­pen­dent Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­i­ty Of­fice launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the White House’s in­flu­ence on the CDC and FDA. The news came a week af­ter De­mo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray, Gary Pe­ters and Eliz­a­beth War­ren wrote to the GAO, cit­ing in­ci­dents in which they ac­cused the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of pres­sur­ing the agen­cies.

“Many of our col­leagues and friends are work­ing as part of Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed; we stand unit­ed with them, with the many good peo­ple at FDA, CDC and NIH, and with Dr. Fau­ci, in up­hold­ing the high sci­en­tif­ic, med­ical and eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples that will al­low us to de­feat COVID-19,” the Na­ture let­ter con­cludes. — Nicole De­Feud­is 

Pe­ru PM says coun­try will not sign vac­cine deal with As­traZeneca

Phar­ma com­pa­nies have been mak­ing deals with gov­ern­ments all over the world to sup­ply their po­ten­tial Covid-19 vac­cines, but one coun­try has de­cid­ed to re­ject an agree­ment with one big vac­cine de­vel­op­er.

Pe­ru’s prime min­is­ter Wal­ter Mar­tos an­nounced in a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day that his gov­ern­ment would not sign a vac­cine pur­chase con­tract with As­traZeneca, per a Reuters re­port. Mar­tos said the British drug­mak­er did not pro­vide enough da­ta from its stud­ies and of­fered few­er dos­es than oth­er com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing vac­cines.

“The oth­er labs have caught up with us ac­cord­ing­ly, how­ev­er As­traZeneca has not,” Mar­tos said, per Reuters. “They were of­fer­ing us a very low quan­ti­ty of vac­cines com­pared with oth­er lab­o­ra­to­ries that are of­fer­ing us large quan­ti­ties at low­er costs,” he said.

As­traZeneca has been one of the fron­trun­ners of the Covid-19 vac­cine race, cur­rent­ly plac­ing 3rd in End­points News’ track­er. How­ev­er, their Phase III tri­al came to a glob­al halt in ear­ly Sep­tem­ber af­ter a British vol­un­teer de­vel­oped what was thought to be a rare spinal in­flam­ma­tion dis­or­der.

Stud­ies have since re­sumed in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, In­dia and Japan, but re­main on hold in the US. On Tues­day, Reuters re­port­ed that the US por­tion of the tri­al could re­sume soon, per­haps by the end of the week.

Al­so ear­li­er this week, a healthy vol­un­teer died in As­traZeneca’s Brazil study, the coun­try’s health agency said. The in­di­vid­ual was re­port­ed­ly in the place­bo group of the tri­al and test­ing will con­tin­ue un­en­cum­bered. Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, work­ing with the firm to cre­ate the vac­cine, said in a state­ment “there have been no con­cerns about safe­ty of the clin­i­cal tri­al.” — Max Gel­man

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

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Who’s spend­ing and who’s cut­ting from Big Phar­ma’s $127B R&D bud­get? Here are the top 15 play­ers

A couple of the Big 15 biopharma companies in R&D hit the gas on research spending last year. Merck and Sanofi still have lots to prove in the pipeline, and they’re willing to gamble large sums to make a better future for themselves.

Doing nothing would be infinitely worse.

But collectively, the top players rang up a modest 2.4% increase in spending in 2022, which didn’t cover inflationary pressures. And that set the tone for an extraordinarily cautious year for the industry — even as it laid out about $127 billion to advance new drugs or up the ante on approved therapies.

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Jeff Bluestone (R), Sonoma Biotherapeutics CEO

Jef­frey Blue­stone brings his start­up haul to $400M+, join­ing forces with Re­gen­eron on cell ther­a­pies

These days, when Jeffrey Bluestone gets together with his contemporaries in science, the conversation often turns to retirement plans.

But a little more than three years ago, Bluestone reached a momentous turning point in his career, exiting a prestigious post at UCSF, where he had spent decades in the scientific pursuit of new therapies. And it had nothing to do with retirement anytime in the near future.

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Mihael Polymeropoulos, Vanda Pharmaceuticals CEO

Van­da wins court case against FDA over dis­clo­sure of CRL de­tails for sleep drug

DC District Court Judge Christopher Cooper today granted Vanda Pharma’s request to require the FDA to disclose more info on the complete response letter for its sleep disorder drug Hetlioz.

The melatonin receptor agonist is approved by the FDA to treat non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder, a circadian rhythm disorder. But in 2018 Vanda filed a supplemental application to market Hetlioz as a treatment for jet lag, which the FDA rejected in August 2019, with few details on what Vanda needed to correct course, according to the company.

Sally Susman, Pfizer EVP and chief corporate affairs officer

Q&A: Pfiz­er cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief Sal­ly Sus­man dis­cuss­es book craft­ed in pan­dem­ic and per­son­al lessons

From the political arena to the finance and beauty industries to pharmaceuticals, Pfizer’s Sally Susman has broken barriers, stereotypes and conventions. And now the chief communicator is “Breaking Through,” the title of her first book about effective and innovative communications launching today. The full official title is “Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World.”

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Kevin Lee, Bicycle Therapeutics CEO

No­var­tis rides with Bi­cy­cle for new pact on tar­get­ed ra­dio­ther­a­pies

Novartis has inked a three-year deal with Bicycle Therapeutics to develop new targeted radiotherapies for cancer.

Novartis will pay Bicycle $50 million upfront, with downstream milestones adding up to a potential $1.7 billion. In exchange, Bicycle will use its virus-based platform to discover new bicyclic peptides, which it calls bicycles, that would be used for radiotherapies. Those bicycles would act as a homing beacon for radioactive isotopes, delivering them to cancer cells to kill the cells while limiting radiation to healthy tissue.

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Covant acting CEO Matt Maisak (L) and CSO Iván Cornella

With Boehringer In­gel­heim’s help, Roivant churns out an­oth­er Vant to go up against En­deav­or, Im­pact founders

Roivant Sciences has added another branch to its family tree, unveiling Covant Therapeutics with a $10 million upfront commitment from Boehringer Ingelheim to turn up the heat in cancer.

The Boston-based drug discovery startup will jointly create a new small molecule immunotherapy with the private German pharma giant. The deal, made public Tuesday morning, includes up to $471 million in future payments and tiered royalties, should the product make it to market.

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Gun­ning for 2023 ap­proval, GSK de­tails PhI­II da­ta for Jem­per­li in front­line en­dome­tri­al can­cer

GSK has a new slate of data to offer on its PD-1 inhibitor, Jemperli — data that the pharma giant hopes will cement one of the four drug approvals it’s expecting this year.

While Jemperli (dostarlimab) is already approved for a subset of patients with second-line endometrial cancer, GSK set out in the Phase III RUBY trial to test it as an earlier line of treatment while also enrolling a broader group of patients. In an interim analysis, Jemperli was shown to extend progression-free survival for both the subset and the overall trial population when added to chemotherapy.

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Es­pe­ri­on sues Dai­ichi Sankyo, de­mand­ing pay­ment of $300M mile­stone for car­dio drug

Esperion is suing its business partner Daiichi Sankyo, saying the Japanese drugmaker is improperly refusing to pay a $300 million milestone that the biotech company will be owed after reporting positive data from a large trial of its cardiovascular drug Nexletol.

The 2019 deal between the companies had Daiichi Sankyo pay $150 million upfront plus another $150 million after the first sales of the drug. But another major payout was tied to an outcomes study reported this month, known as CLEAR. Esperion, in its suit against Daiichi, argues that the drug’s more than 20% reduction of heart attack risk is enough to trigger a $300 million payout from Daiichi once it’s added to the drug’s label.

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