Covid-19 roundup: Watchdog criticizes EU Commission over president's texts; Novavax signs vaccine deal with Israel
The European Ombudsman, an independent investigatory body in the EU, called out the EU Commission for failing to search for text messages between Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer chief Albert Bourla.
According to Politico, text messages between von der Leyen and Bourla were requested by a journalist with netzpolitik.org, a German-language news website that focuses on surveillance and privacy. Those messages were referenced in an article by the New York Times last year on the EU’s purchase of 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The NYT article noted that “personal diplomacy played a big role” in the deal between Pfizer and the EU, saying that von der Leyen had been exchanging calls and text messages with Bourla for a month at a low point in the pandemic, after AstraZeneca announced production problems for its vaccine.
And despite the journalist specifically requesting those messages, the ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, found that the Commission didn’t ask von der Leyen’s office to search for text messages. Rather, the Commission asked for items that met the Commission’s criteria for recording “documents.” Those do not include texts.
As for how O’Reilly responded? It’s maladministration.
“The narrow way in which this public access request was treated meant that no attempt was made to identify if any text messages existed,” O’Reilly said in a statement. “This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the Commission.”
Novavax signs deal with Israel for up to 10 million vaccine doses
Novavax announced a deal this morning with Israel’s Ministry of Health to sell the country several million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine.
Here’s the catch: It’s still not approved in the country.
According to the biotech, the two signed an agreement for Israel to buy five million doses of the vaccine, and then leave open the option for Israel to buy another five million if the country so chooses. Novavax said it will work with the health ministry to obtain necessary authorizations and then finalize plans for distribution in Israel, pending regulatory approval.
Any financial details remain unspecified.
And while the vaccine is awaiting the A-OK from Israel’s health regulator, the biotech’s shot has earned conditional marketing authorization in the EU and an emergency use listing from the WHO. This is while Novavax continues to run two Phase III trials — one in the US and Mexico, and the other in the UK.
Molnupiravir shows activity against Omicron in preclinical in vitro studies
Merck and Ridgeback announced Friday morning that their collaborative antiviral molnupiravir potentially neutralizes the Omicron variant.
The two companies said data are in from six preclinical studies in Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the United States. Ridgeback CEO Wendy Holman said in a statement that “based on its mechanism of action, along with these new findings demonstrating in vitro activity across multiple variants, including Omicron, we anticipate that molnupiravir will continue to be active against variants of concern.”
These researchers didn’t just study how molnupiravir can affect Omicron — they also looked at other variants and tested other drugs.
In one study, researchers in Japan wrote a letter to the editor at NEJM after looking at Gilead’s remdesivir, alongside molnupiravir and Pfizer’s new antiviral against Omicron. They came to the conclusion that all three may show efficacy against Omicron.
However, they expressed that what they found might be limited because of a lack of clinical data, emphasizing that additional data are needed to validate their preliminary findings.