Covid-19 roundup: WHO looks to boost pro­duc­tion of an­ti­body tests in low­er-in­come coun­tries; US gov­ern­ment fights to up­hold work­place vac­cine man­date

In an ef­fort to com­bat ris­ing Covid-19 cas­es world­wide, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has struck a deal to li­cense sero­log­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy for an­ti­body test­ing and pro­vide it roy­al­ty-free to low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries in the hopes of boost­ing pro­duc­tion.

The WHO’s Covid-19 Tech­nol­o­gy Ac­cess Pool (C-TAP) and the Med­i­cines Patent Pool (MPP) fi­nal­ized the deal with the Span­ish Na­tion­al Re­search Coun­cil (CSIC), a pub­lic re­search in­sti­tute, on Tues­day. It’s the first test li­cense signed by the MPP, a Unit­ed Na­tions-backed pub­lic health or­ga­ni­za­tion, and in­clud­ed in the WHO pool, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tions. It cov­ers all re­lat­ed patents and bi­o­log­i­cal ma­te­r­i­al nec­es­sary for man­u­fac­tur­ing the tests, and CSIC has agreed to pro­vide know-how and train­ing.

So far, CSIC’s tech­nol­o­gy has re­sult­ed in four an­ti­body tests, in­clud­ing one that can dis­tin­guish the im­mune re­sponse of Covid-in­fect­ed in­di­vid­u­als from vac­ci­nat­ed in­di­vid­u­als.

“This is the kind of open and trans­par­ent li­cense we need to move the nee­dle on ac­cess dur­ing and af­ter the pan­dem­ic,” WHO di­rec­tor-gen­er­al Tedros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus said in a state­ment. “I urge de­vel­op­ers of COVID-19 vac­cines, treat­ments and di­ag­nos­tics to fol­low this ex­am­ple and turn the tide on the pan­dem­ic and on the dev­as­tat­ing glob­al in­equity this pan­dem­ic has spot­light­ed.”

The move marks the lat­est in a string of ef­forts to con­tain the pan­dem­ic in low­er in­come coun­tries, where vac­cines are sore­ly need­ed. Back in Sep­tem­ber, the US gov­ern­ment said it would buy 500 mil­lion more dos­es of Pfiz­er’s vac­cine to do­nate to coun­tries in need. It al­so dumped more $200 mil­lion over the sum­mer in­to a South African man­u­fac­tur­ing plant to boost ac­cess to J&J’s vac­cine. How­ev­er, the New York Times re­port­ed in Au­gust that many of those dos­es had been ex­port­ed back to Eu­rope.

CSIC pres­i­dent Rosa Menén­dez em­pha­sized that tech­nol­o­gy re­lat­ed to Covid-19 should reach all coun­tries, adding: “In this sense, we would like this ac­tion by CSIC, of tak­ing part in the in­ter­na­tion­al ini­tia­tives of MPP and WHO, to be­come an ex­am­ple and a ref­er­ence for oth­er re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world.”

US gov­ern­ment fights to up­hold work­place vac­cine man­date

The US gov­ern­ment is fight­ing to keep an Oc­cu­pa­tion­al Safe­ty and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion (OS­HA) rule in place that re­quires work­ers to be vac­ci­nat­ed for Covid-19 or test­ed week­ly, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The OS­HA rule, which was is­sued Nov. 5 and re­quires busi­ness­es with at least 100 em­ploy­ees to com­ply by ear­ly next year, was ini­tial­ly shot down in the US 5th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in New Or­leans. OS­HA es­ti­mat­ed that the rule would save a min­i­mum of 6,500 lives and pre­vent over 250,000 hos­pi­tal­iza­tions over the next six months. But chal­lengers called the stan­dard “stag­ger­ing­ly over­board,” Reuters re­port­ed.

Now, the US gov­ern­ment is ask­ing a Sixth Cir­cuit fed­er­al ap­peals court to “im­me­di­ate­ly” lift the 5th Cir­cuit’s stay, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments filed Tues­day.

“A court or­der block­ing the Stan­dard is a far greater af­front to sov­er­eign pre­rog­a­tives. Such an or­der would al­so threat­en deaths and hos­pi­tal­iza­tions that em­ploy­ers wish to pre­vent. Those in­ter­ests, and the gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ests in pro­tect­ing em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers while this case pro­ceeds, vast­ly out­weigh pe­ti­tion­ers’ as­sert­ed harm,” the mo­tion states.

The news comes as Covid-19 cas­es rise in the US, de­spite more than 82% of adults hav­ing got­ten at least one dose of a vac­cine. Last Fri­day, the FDA an­nounced that all adults who re­ceived two dos­es of an mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine are now el­i­gi­ble for a boost­er shot.

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

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; 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.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.