Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner (AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly’s Covid-19 drug bam­lanivimab is no longer dis­trib­uted in 3 states be­cause of a vari­ant, Wood­cock says

The US gov­ern­ment is no longer dis­trib­ut­ing Eli Lil­ly’s bam­lanivimab in­to Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Neva­da be­cause of the preva­lence of a vi­ral vari­ant that is not sus­cep­ti­ble to the mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body, FDA act­ing com­mis­sion­er Janet Wood­cock told physi­cians tak­ing part in a we­bi­nar with the Amer­i­can Med­ical As­so­ci­a­tion on Wednes­day.

Wood­cock did not elab­o­rate fur­ther on the vari­ant or the de­ci­sion to halt the dis­tri­b­u­tion, but over­all, the FDA re­mains unique­ly po­si­tioned to screen the mon­o­clon­als against the dif­fer­ent vari­ants, Wood­cock added, and that’s been pre­dic­tive of how and where the treat­ments will work.

A Lil­ly spokesper­son told End­points News in a state­ment: “We rec­og­nize the U.S. gov­ern­ment has made the de­ci­sion to no longer al­low di­rect or­der­ing of bam­lanivimab alone in Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Neva­da due to con­cerns about the preva­lence of the ‘Cal­i­for­nia’ vari­ant, with the spe­cif­ic L452R sub­sti­tu­tion found in B.1.429/B.1.427 lin­eages (a.k.a. 20C/CAL.20C). Im­por­tant­ly, pre­clin­i­cal da­ta from our labs demon­strate that the com­bi­na­tion of bam­lanivimab and ete­se­vimab main­tains its neu­tral­iz­ing ef­fect against this vari­ant, specif­i­cal­ly.”

Over­all, Wood­cock ac­knowl­edged that the ini­tial roll­out of the mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies “wasn’t the great­est” be­cause it was cen­tered on a dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el for Gilead’s an­tivi­ral remde­sivir, and “hos­pi­tals were in no po­si­tion to give out mon­o­clon­als.”

“We’re get­ting there but it’s tak­en quite a long time,” Wood­cock said in ref­er­ence to the mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies in the US. “Mass vac­ci­na­tion is hard enough but mass in­fu­sion is a re­al chal­lenge for our health care sys­tem.”

John Far­ley, di­rec­tor of the FDA’s of­fice of in­fec­tious dis­eases, said that the FDA ex­pects to soon broad­en the de­f­i­n­i­tion of who falls in­to the “high risk” cat­e­go­ry that de­ter­mines who can re­ceive the mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies.

“We know from the field that we would ben­e­fit by broad­en­ing this a bit and we’re ex­pect­ing to do that soon,” he said.

He al­so said that the three au­tho­rized mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies re­main ac­tive against the vari­ant orig­i­nat­ing in the UK, but there are “oth­er, more wor­ri­some vari­ants” and physi­cians should ex­pect to soon see more in­for­ma­tion on those.

As far as the wider ther­a­peu­tic land­scape for Covid-19, Wood­cock again not­ed the fact that just 5% of clin­i­cal tri­als for Covid-19 treat­ments were ad­e­quate­ly pow­ered and ran­dom­ized to pro­vide ac­tion­able da­ta.

“Low ac­cru­al rates and in­ad­e­quate pow­er mean that safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta will be un­in­ter­pretable,” she said. She al­so crit­i­cized the slow roll­out of the NIH-run tri­als for Covid-19 ther­a­peu­tics.

Over­all, she ex­plained some of the ma­jor chal­lenges that she saw as head of ther­a­peu­tics at Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed, and mov­ing for­ward, she dis­cussed what a ro­bust ecosys­tem for clin­i­cal tri­als in the US would look like.

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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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.”

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.

Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.