Zhong Nanshan, CGTN via YouTube

Har­vard joins coro­n­avirus fight with $115M and a high-pro­file Chi­nese part­ner

For two months, as the nov­el coro­n­avirus swelled from a few ear­ly cas­es tied to a Wuhan mar­ket to a glob­al epi­dem­ic, most of the world’s fo­cus and dol­lars have flowed to­ward emer­gency ini­tia­tives: build­ing vac­cines at a record pace, pluck­ing ex­per­i­men­tal an­tivi­rals out of freez­ers to see what sticks and im­mu­niz­ing mice for new an­ti­bod­ies.

Now a new and well-fund­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Har­vard and a top Chi­nese re­search in­sti­tute will play the long game. In a 5-year, $115 mil­lion ini­tia­tive backed by Chi­na Ever­grande Group, re­searchers from the Har­vard Med­ical School, Har­vard T.H. Chan School of Pub­lic Health and Guangzhou In­sti­tute for Res­pi­ra­to­ry Health will study the virus in an ef­fort to de­vel­op ther­a­pies against in­fec­tions by the nov­el coro­n­avirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, and to pre­vent new ones.

The Chi­nese side of the ini­tia­tive is led by Zhong Nan­shan, head of the Chi­nese 2019-nCoV Ex­pert Task­force and the sci­en­tist who iso­lat­ed the SARS virus in 2003. He is al­so di­rec­tor-gen­er­al of the Chi­na State Key Lab­o­ra­to­ry of Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­eases.

“Har­vard Med­ical School is unique­ly po­si­tioned to con­vene ex­perts in vi­rol­o­gy, in­fec­tious dis­ease, struc­tur­al bi­ol­o­gy, pathol­o­gy, vac­cine de­vel­op­ment, epi­demi­ol­o­gy, and pub­lic health to con­front this rapid­ly evolv­ing cri­sis,” George Da­ley, dean of the Har­vard Med­ical School, said in a state­ment.

The ini­tia­tive will fo­cus on five ar­eas. That in­cludes de­vel­op­ing tests for rapid di­ag­no­sis, vac­cines, an­tivi­ral treat­ments to short­en the du­ra­tion of the dis­ease and mit­i­gate symp­toms, and oth­er treat­ments for pa­tients with se­vere dis­ease. Re­searchers will al­so try to un­der­stand how the body in­ter­acts with the virus. The hope is that they can find bio­mark­ers that will tell doc­tors if the in­fec­tion is wors­en­ing or will lead to life-threat­en­ing com­pli­ca­tions.

These ar­eas rep­re­sent the con­stel­la­tion of needs and un­knowns for a virus pub­lic health of­fi­cials in­creas­ing­ly fear will reach pan­dem­ic lev­els, and could be­come an an­nu­al in­fec­tion like the flu. Al­though the virus may yet dis­si­pate, ex­perts have em­pha­sized the need for long-term fund­ing that can im­prove readi­ness for fu­ture out­breaks, a need Har­vard un­der­scored in its an­nounce­ment.

The “re­sponse needs to be glob­al, rapid, and dri­ven by the best sci­ence,” Har­vard provost Alan Gar­ber said. “The lessons we learn from this out­break should en­able us to re­spond to in­fec­tious dis­ease emer­gen­cies more quick­ly and ef­fec­tive­ly in the fu­ture.”

Di­ag­no­sis has proven to be a con­tin­u­al chal­lenge through­out the virus’ spread. In Wuhan and the sur­round­ing Hubei province, the num­ber of pa­tients re­port­ing symp­toms rapid­ly out­stripped the sup­ply of nu­cle­ic acid test­ing kits used to con­firm the pres­ence of a virus. De­lays in di­ag­no­sis meant de­lays in quar­an­tine and treat­ment.

At the be­hest of Chi­nese doc­tors, of­fi­cials moved to CT scans to de­tect pneu­mo­nia, a symp­tom of the in­fec­tion, and then lat­er us­ing the test­ing kits as con­fir­ma­tion. But some in­fect­ed pa­tients show up neg­a­tive in CT scans, and as the virus has spilled out be­yond Chi­na’s bor­ders, how to test pa­tients in the fastest and most ac­cu­rate man­ner has be­come an is­sue of glob­al con­cern and a ma­jor point of dis­cus­sion at the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the US Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol.

Har­vard has not said what forms of treat­ments they will in­ves­ti­gate. Thus far, most of the treat­ments used are an­tivi­rals orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped for oth­er pur­pos­es – in­clud­ing remde­sivir, the Gilead drug orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped for Ebo­la and Mar­burg virus, and lopinavir, an HIV drug – but doc­tors have flung a wide range of spec­u­la­tive ther­a­pies hop­ing to see what sticks. That in­cludes plas­ma treat­ments, an­ti­bod­ies oth­er coro­n­avirus pa­tients de­vel­oped in re­sponse to the virus and a tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese rem­e­dy drawn from ex­tracts of For­syth­iae fruc­tus. The ear­li­est drugs de­vel­oped specif­i­cal­ly for the virus are at least 5 months away from clin­i­cal tri­als.

Vac­cines ap­pear clos­er, with Mod­er­na and the NIH gun­ning for a clin­i­cal tri­al to start in the spring. How­ev­er, that us­es a tech­nol­o­gy that has yet to pro­duce an ap­proved vac­cine. Oth­er ef­forts, such as Glax­o­SmithK­line’s and Clover’s new part­ner­ship, are us­ing more tra­di­tion­al ap­proach­es but have longer time­lines.

Scoop: Boehringer qui­et­ly shut­ters a PhII for one of its top drugs — now un­der re­view

Boehringer Ingelheim has quietly shut down a small Phase II study for one of its lead drugs.

The private pharma player confirmed to Endpoints News that it had shuttered a study testing spesolimab as a therapy for Crohn’s patients suffering from bowel obstructions.

A spokesperson for the company tells Endpoints:

Taking into consideration the current therapeutic landscape and ongoing clinical development programs, Boehringer Ingelheim decided to discontinue our program in Crohn’s disease. It is important to note that this decision is not based on any safety findings in the clinical trials.

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A Mer­ck part­ner is sucked in­to the fi­nan­cial quag­mire as key lender calls in a note

Another biotech standing on shaky financial legs has fallen victim to the bears.

Merck partner 4D Pharma has reported that a key lender, Oxford Finance, shoved the UK company into administration after calling in a $14 million loan they couldn’t immediately make good on. Trading in their stock was halted with a market cap that had fallen to a mere £30 million.

“Despite the very difficult prevailing market conditions,” 4D reported on Friday, the biotech had been making progress on finding some new financing and turned to Oxford with an alternative late on Thursday and then again Friday morning.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP Images)

Up­dat­ing the Covid-19 vac­cine: FDA of­fers a qual­i­fied thumbs-up ahead of ad­comm

The FDA’s adcomm of outside vaccine experts will meet tomorrow to discuss how to protect the US from a likely coming wave of Omicron cases in the fall and winter, and whether to deploy vaccines that specifically target the Omicron variant.

While the data so far are limited, the FDA sounded an upbeat tone in the briefing documents on Pfizer/BioNTech’s candidates, released this weekend ahead of the VRBPAC meeting.

David Loew (Ipsen)

Ipsen snags an ap­proved can­cer drug in $247M M&A deal as an­oth­er bat­tered biotech sells cheap

You can add Paris-based Ipsen to the list of discount buyers patrolling the penny stock pack for a cheap M&A deal.

The French biotech, which has had plenty of its own problems to grapple with, has swooped in to buy Epizyme $EPZM for $247 million in cash and a CVR with milestones attached to it. Epizyme shareholders, who had to suffer through a painfully soft launch of their EZH2a inhibitor cancer drug Tazverik, will get $1.45 per share along with a $1 CVR tied to achieving $250 million in sales from the drug over four consecutive quarters as well as an OK for second-line follicular lymphoma by Jan. 1, 2028.

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Alex­ion puts €65M for­ward to strength­en its po­si­tion on the Emer­ald Isle

Ireland has been on a roll in 2022, with several large pharma companies announcing multimillion-euro projects. Now AstraZeneca’s rare disease outfit Alexion is looking to get in on the action.

Alexion on Friday announced a €65 million ($68.8 million) investment in new and enhanced capabilities across two sites in the country, including at College Park in the Dublin suburb of Blanchardstown and the Monksland Industrial Park in the central Irish town of Athlone, according to the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland.

Am­gen takes next step with its Chi­na am­bi­tions, out-li­cens­ing drugs to Fo­s­un Phar­ma

In a bid to increase its market share in China, Amgen has agreed to a partnership with a Shanghai biotech — a collaboration and out-licensing agreement for two of its drugs.

Amgen and Fosun Pharma announced a deal Monday in a bid to increase Amgen’s presence in the country. The stated goal so far is to commercialize Amgen’s blockbuster psoriasis drug Otezla alongside Parsabiv, a drug for secondary hyperparathyroidism in adults with chronic kidney disease and on a specific type of dialysis.

State bat­tles over mifepri­s­tone ac­cess could tie the FDA to any post-Roe cross­roads

As more than a dozen states are now readying so-called “trigger” laws to kick into effect immediate abortion bans following the overturning of Roe v. Wade on Friday, these laws, in the works for more than a decade in some states, will likely kick off even more legal battles as states seek to restrict the use of prescription drug-based abortions.

Since Friday’s SCOTUS opinion to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, reproductive rights lawyers at Planned Parenthood and other organizations have already challenged these trigger laws in Utah and Louisiana. According to the Guttmacher Institute, other states with trigger laws that could take effect include Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

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Deborah Dunsire, Lundbeck CEO

Af­ter a 5-year re­peat PhI­II so­journ, Lund­beck and Ot­su­ka say they're fi­nal­ly ready to pur­sue OK to use Rex­ul­ti against Alzheimer's ag­i­ta­tion

Five years after Lundbeck and their longtime collaborators at Otsuka turned up a mixed set of Phase III data for Rexulti as a treatment for Alzheimer’s dementia-related agitation, they’ve come through with a new pivotal trial success they believe will finally put them on the road to an approval at the FDA. And if they’re right, some analysts believe they’re a short step away from adding more than $500 million in annual sales for the drug, already approved in depression and schizophrenia.

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Members of the G7 from left to right: Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Biden and G7 na­tions of­fer funds for vac­cine and med­ical prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing project in Sene­gal

Amidst recently broader vaccine manufacturing initiatives from the EU and European companies, the G7 summit in the mountains of Bavaria has brought about some positive news for closing vaccine and medical product manufacturing gaps around the globe.

According to a statement from the White House, the G7 leaders have formally launched the partnership for global infrastructure, PGII. The effort will aim to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars to deliver infrastructure projects in several sectors including the medical and pharmaceutical manufacturing space.