Ursula von der Leyen, AP Images

Eu­rope mulls halt­ing Covid-19 vac­cine ex­ports to some coun­tries

With the rise of an­oth­er wave of Covid-19 cas­es across Eu­rope and the in­creas­ing pen­e­tra­tion of vi­ral vari­ants, Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Ur­su­la von der Leyen said Wednes­day morn­ing that the EU may halt its vac­cine ex­ports to cer­tain coun­tries so that it can hun­ker down and fo­cus on vac­ci­nat­ing Eu­ro­peans.

“I want to be clear on reci­procity – if the sit­u­a­tion does not change, we will re­flect on whether to ex­port to coun­tries that are pro­duc­ing vac­cines, or for coun­tries with high­er vac­ci­na­tion rates than us,” von der Leyen said at a press con­fer­ence. “This is about mak­ing sure Eu­rope gets its fair share.”

Since Feb­ru­ary 1, Eu­rope has shipped 41 mil­lion vac­cine dos­es to 33 coun­tries and grant­ed more than 300 re­quests for vac­cine ex­ports, which shows that Eu­rope is try­ing to make in­ter­na­tion­al co­op­er­a­tion work, she not­ed.

One re­porter at the brief­ing asked if this was an at­tempt to trig­ger a vac­cine war with the UK, to which von der Leyen said that will de­pend on the re­sponse of the UK.

“The gen­er­al prin­ci­ple goes al­so for oth­er coun­tries pro­duc­ing vac­cines,” she added. “I want to get in­to a dis­cus­sion that high­lights this reci­procity.”

“We are on a steep and re­li­able path” in terms of vac­ci­na­tions, she said, “But we should aim to mov­ing faster and that’s why we’re look­ing at the broad­er pic­ture and to nudge the com­pa­nies to go to more pro­duc­tion and make sure we have the con­tracts for de­liv­ery be­cause we need those vac­cines now.”

She al­so touched on the sit­u­a­tion across Eu­rope where some coun­tries, like Ger­many and Italy, have halt­ed the use of As­traZeneca’s vac­cine over fears of blood clots. The Eu­ro­pean Med­i­cines Agency said at its own press brief­ing Tues­day that it will pro­vide fur­ther analy­sis of the sit­u­a­tion on Thurs­day but that it stands be­hind the safe­ty and ef­fec­tive­ness of the As­traZeneca shot.

“I do trust As­traZeneca and the process of EMA,” von der Leyen said, not­ing she’s ex­pect­ing “a very clear state­ment on Thurs­day.”

Sep­a­rate­ly on Wednes­day morn­ing, EMA said that it would waive all sci­en­tif­ic ad­vice fees for de­vel­op­ers of Covid-19 drugs and vac­cines over the next six months.

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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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.

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.

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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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.”

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.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via CNP/Alamy)

Glax­o­SmithK­line hus­tles the 7th PD-1 past the fin­ish line with Jem­per­li. But how big will up­take be?

Everything came up sevens for GlaxoSmithKline on Thursday as the pharma notched the seventh PD-1 approval seven years after the first such drugs were OK’ed in Keytruda and Opdivo. But will it bring GSK good fortune?

The FDA granted accelerated approval to dostarlimab, to be branded Jemperli, to treat recurrent or advanced endometrial cancer in a specific subset of patients following platinum-based chemo. It’s a drug that came to GSK through its buyout of Tesaro, which it snapped up for $5.1 billion back in December 2018.

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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