Covid vac­cine roundup: US vac­cine sup­plies grow, but ex­perts warn of po­ten­tial hic­cups in sup­ply chain; Emer­gent touts grow­ing Covid vac­cine ca­pac­i­ty

The Biden ad­min­is­tra­tion has been rais­ing hopes in the US that there will be am­ple vac­cine sup­plies to in­oc­u­late more than 250 mil­lion Amer­i­can adults by May. There have been new deals with Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er to ramp up 400 mil­lion dos­es, to cov­er 200 mil­lion, with 100 mil­lion sin­gle-shot vac­cines from J&J top fin­ish the job.

But some ex­perts are sound­ing a warn­ing that there could be a lot more to this than sim­ply sign­ing con­tracts. Vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ing is not an easy busi­ness.

“You can be go­ing along and get­ting a cer­tain yield and then all of the sud­den your yield drops and you don’t know why,” vac­cine pro­duc­tion con­sul­tant Robert Van Ex­an tells USA To­day. “Test de­lays or fail­ures, raw ma­te­r­i­al sup­ply chain, lot fail­ures and yield prob­lems are just some of the ex­am­ples of things that can re­sult in sup­ply dis­rup­tions.”

Emer­gent touts abil­i­ty to man­u­fac­ture more than 1B dos­es of Covid vac­cine each year

Af­ter ink­ing a $480 mil­lion deal to sup­ply J&J’s Covid vac­cine for the next 2 years, Emer­gent BioSo­lu­tions says that it has now de­vel­oped enough ca­pac­i­ty to make more than a bil­lion dos­es of vac­cine a year.

“We are op­er­at­ing at a lev­el where our ca­pac­i­ty is well in ac­cess of 1 bil­lion dos­es an­nu­al­ly for those prod­ucts,” CEO Bob Kramer said in a “Mad Mon­ey” in­ter­view.

Emer­gent al­so has an arrange­ment to make As­traZeneca’s vac­cine, which is be­ing dis­trib­uted around the world.

Once the ini­tial roll­out is fin­ished it’s like­ly that we’ll see bil­lions of more boost­er shots on of­fer every year, mark­ing a ma­jor new add-on to the world’s vac­cine busi­ness.

EU au­dit in In­dia could be tied to fresh sup­plies — re­port

EU reg­u­la­tors are au­dit­ing the Serum In­sti­tute of In­dia’s man­u­fac­tur­ing site.

There’s no word in the re­port just why they’re do­ing the au­dit, but Reuters notes that it could be a pre­lim­i­nary step to al­low­ing in sup­plies of As­traZeneca’s vac­cine shot, de­vel­oped with Ox­ford. The SII is mak­ing sup­plies for de­vel­op­ing na­tions, though there have been re­ports that its first du­ty is to sup­ply the sub­con­ti­nent.

As­traZeneca has seen some sig­nif­i­cant back­lash against the vac­cine, as doubts were raised about its ef­fi­ca­cy among old­er peo­ple as well as the new vari­ants that are mak­ing the rounds. Ger­many, though, just cleared it for those over 65, sig­nal­ing a more open at­ti­tude that could spark wider us­age on the con­ti­nent.

WTO wants vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers to triple glob­al pro­duc­tion in cri­sis

While vac­cine sup­plies are flow­ing in grow­ing quan­ti­ties to the most af­flu­ent coun­tries, poor na­tions are find­ing them­selves at the back of the line. Now the head of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion is urg­ing its mem­ber na­tions to ne­go­ti­ate new li­cens­ing deals while push­ing vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers to triple pro­duc­tion from the usu­al 3.5 bil­lion vac­cine dos­es a year to 10 bil­lion.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Why re­mote drug man­u­fac­tur­ing eval­u­a­tions won't re­al­ly re­duce FDA's back­log of in­spec­tions

For the first several months of the pandemic last spring, the FDA continued to plow through its user fee-enabled work on new drug and biologic applications, meeting nearly all of its goal dates.

But by last fall and into the winter, complete response letters and other delays began arriving in companies’ mailboxes as the agency struggled to catch up to a growing backlog of both domestic and foreign drug manufacturing inspections.

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House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (Getty Images)

House De­moc­rats call on Emer­gent ex­ecs to tes­ti­fy on qual­i­ty is­sues next month

The House Oversight Committee is investigating Covid-19 vaccine producer Emergent BioSolutions, which secured a $628 million US government contract to make AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines despite “a long, documented history” of quality control issues, Democrats said in a letter to the contract manufacturer’s executives.

Emergent’s Baltimore plant, which was shuttered on Monday by FDA, has been embroiled in controversy after being forced to destroy millions of AstraZeneca and J&J doses due to an ingredient mix-up and possible contamination.

JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”