How to man­u­fac­ture Covid-19 vac­cines with­out the help of J&J, Pfiz­er or Mod­er­na? Bi­ol­yse sees the dif­fi­cul­ties up close

When Bi­ol­yse, an On­tario-based man­u­fac­tur­er of ster­ile in­jecta­bles, forged a deal with Bo­livia last week to man­u­fac­ture up to 50 mil­lion J&J Covid-19 vac­cine dos­es, the agree­ment kicked off what will prove to be a test case for how dif­fi­cult the sys­tem of com­pul­so­ry li­cens­es is to nav­i­gate.

The first prob­lem: When Bi­ol­yse asked J&J, via a March let­ter, to li­cense its Covid-19 vac­cine, man­u­fac­ture it in Cana­da and pay 5% roy­al­ties on ship­ments to needy, low-in­come coun­tries, J&J re­ject­ed the of­fer, re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate. J&J al­so did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

With an un­will­ing J&J, Bi­ol­yse then turned to the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment to li­cense the patents un­der a pro­gram called the Cana­di­an Ac­cess to Med­i­cines Regime, which al­lows the ex­port of drugs and vac­cines to low-in­come coun­tries like Bo­livia, with the hopes of bet­ter­ing their re­spons­es to pub­lic health crises like HIV/AIDS, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and oth­ers.

But for those drugs or vac­cines to be ex­port­ed from Cana­da, they need to be in­clud­ed in a list cre­at­ed by the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment, known as Sched­ule 1, which is part of the coun­try’s Patent Act.

James Love

So far, Cana­da has not added Covid-19 drugs or vac­cines to that list.

“Block­ing the list­ing on Sched­ule 1 is re­al­ly bull­shit,” James Love, di­rec­tor of the NGO Knowl­edge Ecol­o­gy In­ter­na­tion­al, who’s been push­ing to in­crease ac­cess to Covid-re­lat­ed vac­cines and ther­a­peu­tics, told End­points News. “It’s bizarre that Covid-19 is not con­sid­ered a glob­al health is­sue in Cana­da.”

A spokesper­son for the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment’s In­no­va­tion, Sci­ence and Eco­nom­ic De­vel­op­ment pro­gram ex­plained to End­points that it’s al­so not just about adding Covid-19 vac­cines to Sched­ule 1.

“It’s im­por­tant to note that adding a COVID vac­cine to Sched­ule 1 would not al­low a com­pul­so­ry li­cense for the pro­duc­tion and ex­port of these vac­cines. A com­pa­ny seek­ing au­tho­riza­tion un­der Cana­da’s Ac­cess to Med­i­cines Regime must be able to man­u­fac­ture the drug and con­duct nec­es­sary tri­als to es­tab­lish that the drug meets Cana­di­an safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy re­quire­ments be­fore au­tho­riza­tion would be grant­ed,” she said.

John Ful­ton

Bi­ol­yse’s EVP John Ful­ton told End­points that his com­pa­ny could re­verse en­gi­neer the J&J vac­cine from a cou­ple drops from a vial, but the com­pa­ny would need J&J’s co­op­er­a­tion to run a tri­al and it will need ad­di­tion­al gov­ern­ment funds to scale up.

And while the gov­ern­ment spokesper­son said she’s “close­ly fol­low­ing the sit­u­a­tion” be­tween Bi­ol­yse and Bo­livia, Ful­ton said the gov­ern­ment has not been straight­for­ward in ex­plain­ing how to add Covid-19 vac­cines to Sched­ule 1.

“I start­ed in­quir­ing in late Feb­ru­ary 2021 and still they won’t give me an an­swer on how to start the process,” Ful­ton said via text mes­sage. “I’ve had meet­ings with close to 30 dif­fer­ent high-lev­el of­fi­cials and no straight an­swer on how to trig­ger the ad­di­tion.”

Bi­ol­yse said in its agree­ment with Bo­livia that it should be able to pro­duce 200,000 dos­es per week, if it ob­tains the com­pul­so­ry li­cense.

But the odds of that oc­cur­ring are low, be­cause, as Ful­ton ex­plained, it will re­quire Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to go out on a limb, and “spend the po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal and have the courage to wade in­to the geopo­lit­i­cal storm that will en­sue when they sig­nal they sup­port the loos­en­ing of IP to vac­ci­nate LMIC [low-to-mid­dle in­come coun­tries].”

Adding Covid-19 vac­cines to Sched­ule 1 al­so would open the door for Bi­ol­yse and oth­ers to make not just J&J’s vac­cine, but Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na’s mR­NA vac­cines too, which fur­ther com­pli­cates the sit­u­a­tion.

“150 dif­fer­ent things need to hap­pen for a CL [com­pul­so­ry li­cense] to be is­sued in Cana­da just on the ex­port side,” Ful­ton added. “The TRIPS waiv­er stream­lines this process on the im­porter side.”

Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na have both made clear in re­cent weeks that they are not go­ing to help any com­pa­nies try­ing to make copy­cat ver­sions of their prod­ucts, es­pe­cial­ly as they would be vy­ing for the same raw ma­te­ri­als and nec­es­sary equip­ment.

And the Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment does not seem ready to budge, at least for now.

In­stead, the spokesper­son said the coun­try will in­vest about $2.2 bil­lion over sev­en years to­wards grow­ing a vi­brant do­mes­tic bio­man­u­fac­tur­ing and life sci­ences sec­tor, while al­so pro­vid­ing $940 mil­lion in sup­port for low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries to ac­cess COVID-19 vac­cines, tests, and treat­ments through the WHO’s ACT-Ac­cel­er­a­tor.

So will Bi­ol­yse raise funds and move their op­er­a­tions to an­oth­er coun­try where ob­tain­ing a com­pul­so­ry li­cense and reg­u­la­to­ry clear­ance might be eas­i­er?

No, ac­cord­ing to Ful­ton, ex­plain­ing that Bi­ol­yse has the req­ui­site fa­cil­i­ty now, and adding a fill line to a new site would add be­tween 18 months and two years to the en­tire process. But he al­so thinks that ob­tain­ing a com­pul­so­ry li­cense is about more than deal­ing with Covid-19 in the short term

“I think Covid will be with us for a long time, and I hate to say it, but we have the time. What’s hap­pen­ing in In­dia could hap­pen to us in Cana­da,” Ful­ton added. “If a com­pul­so­ry li­cense sys­tem can’t work now, dur­ing a world­wide pan­dem­ic, what’s it for? What’s the use?”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

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Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

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Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

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Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

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Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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