EMA finds link be­tween ‘very rare’ but some­times fa­tal blood clots and As­traZeneca vac­cine

The EMA said Wednes­day that very rare but some­times fa­tal blood clots should be list­ed as a side ef­fect for As­traZeneca’s Covid-19 vac­cine.

The EMA’s safe­ty com­mit­tee said the change to the vac­cine la­bel is part of an in-depth re­view of 62 cas­es of cere­bral ve­nous si­nus throm­bo­sis (CVST) and 24 cas­es of splanch­nic vein throm­bo­sis re­port­ed in the EU drug safe­ty data­base as of March 22. Eigh­teen of the cas­es were fa­tal.

De­spite the rare side ef­fects for the vac­cine, known as Vaxzevria, EMA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Emer Cooke said in a press con­fer­ence on Wednes­day that the ben­e­fits of the vac­cine still out­weigh the risks.

“The risk of mor­tal­i­ty from Covid is much greater than the risk of mor­tal­i­ty from these side ef­fects,” Cooke said.

The safe­ty com­mit­tee said it can­not make any rec­om­men­da­tions to re­duce the risk of the rare side ef­fects. Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s Phar­ma­covig­i­lance Risk As­sess­ment Com­mit­tee, said the re­port­ed rate of CVST is be­tween 1 and 2 per 100,000 peo­ple.

“One plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for the com­bi­na­tion of blood clots and low blood platelets is an im­mune re­sponse, lead­ing to a con­di­tion sim­i­lar to one seen some­times in pa­tients treat­ed with he­parin,” EMA said.

As of April 4, EMA said a to­tal of 169 cas­es of CVST and 53 cas­es of splanch­nic vein throm­bo­sis were re­port­ed to the data­base, among 34 mil­lion peo­ple who have been vac­ci­nat­ed with in the EEA and UK. By com­par­i­son, Straus not­ed that for the J&J vac­cine, 3 CVST cas­es were found among 4.5 mil­lion vac­ci­nat­ed in the EU/EEA, for Pfiz­er, 35 CVST cas­es world­wide were found and 54 mil­lion re­ceived the vac­cine in the EEA, and for Mod­er­na, 5 CVST cas­es world­wide were among 4 mil­lion vac­ci­nat­ed in the EEA.

“EMA is re­mind­ing health­care pro­fes­sion­als and peo­ple re­ceiv­ing the vac­cine to re­main aware of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of very rare cas­es of blood clots com­bined with low lev­els of blood platelets oc­cur­ring with­in 2 weeks of vac­ci­na­tion. So far, most of the cas­es re­port­ed have oc­curred in women un­der 60 years of age with­in 2 weeks of vac­ci­na­tion. Based on the cur­rent­ly avail­able ev­i­dence, spe­cif­ic risk fac­tors have not been con­firmed,” the agency said.

Sep­a­rate­ly on Wednes­day, the UK’s med­i­cines reg­u­la­tor MHRA an­nounced that those un­der the age of 30 should not re­ceive the As­traZeneca vac­cine. As of March 31, 20.2 mil­lion dos­es of the As­traZeneca vac­cine had been ad­min­is­tered in the UK, mean­ing the over­all risk of these blood clots is ap­prox­i­mate­ly 4 peo­ple in a mil­lion who re­ceive the vac­cine, the MHRA said.

As­traZeneca said in a state­ment that it “has been ac­tive­ly col­lab­o­rat­ing with the reg­u­la­tors to im­ple­ment these changes to the prod­uct in­for­ma­tion and is al­ready work­ing to un­der­stand the in­di­vid­ual cas­es, epi­demi­ol­o­gy and pos­si­ble mech­a­nisms that could ex­plain these ex­treme­ly rare events.”

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion added in a state­ment, “Based on cur­rent in­for­ma­tion, a causal re­la­tion­ship be­tween the vac­cine and the oc­cur­rence of blood clots with low platelets is con­sid­ered plau­si­ble but is not con­firmed. Spe­cialised stud­ies are need­ed to ful­ly un­der­stand the po­ten­tial re­la­tion­ship be­tween vac­ci­na­tion and pos­si­ble risk fac­tors.”

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; 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.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Spring reg­u­la­to­ry agen­da: What’s com­ing soon-ish from the FDA

The FDA’s lack of a permanent commissioner does not seem to be halting its progress to propose and finalize dozens of new regulations, with the latest batch covering everything from adverse event reporting to supplemental application submissions to annual reports for INDs.

Overall, FDA expects to release more than 40 new proposed regulations and finalize another 24 in the coming months and years.

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on a call with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, June 9 (Al Drago/Pool via AP Images)

Sen. Manchin to Biden: Don't nom­i­nate Wood­cock for FDA com­mis­sion­er

While Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to Janet Woodcock as Biden’s choice for FDA commissioner has been known for months, the West Virginia Democrat spelled out more detailed concerns in a new letter to President Biden on Thursday.

“Dr. Woodcock is not the right person to lead the FDA,” Manchin, an influential centrist, writes, while noting the agency has been without permanent leadership for about five months.

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President Biden (AP Images)

Biden in­vests $3B in­to an­tivi­ral de­vel­op­ment for Covid-19

The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled a new plan to invest more than $3 billion into speeding new antivirals to treat Covid-19.

The plan will allow NIH to evaluate, prioritize and advance antiviral candidates to Phase II clinical trials, using contractors and the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences laboratories to de-risk early stage development.

“New antivirals that prevent serious COVID-19 illness and death, especially oral drugs that could be taken at home early in the course of disease, would be powerful tools for battling the pandemic and saving lives,” said NIAID director Anthony Fauci.

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