British CRO wins con­tract for Covid-19 chal­lenge virus; Dutch agency aims to slash Zol­gens­ma prices in half

Ef­forts are un­der­way to de­vel­op a new chal­lenge virus for SARS-CoV-2, and a British CRO is mak­ing its case.

Open Or­phan said Mon­day that its sub­sidiary hVI­VO signed a con­tract with Im­pe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don to man­u­fac­ture such a chal­lenge virus. The con­tract is worth £3 mil­lion and hVI­VO will de­vel­op the virus based on new emerg­ing Covid-19 vari­ants of con­cern. The com­pa­ny hopes to then use the virus in fu­ture chal­lenge stud­ies.

Open Or­phan added the project will be­gin im­me­di­ate­ly, and man­u­fac­tur­ing is ex­pect­ed to be com­plete by the end of the year.

The CRO feels hVI­VO is well-suit­ed to the task be­cause of its past ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing on chal­lenge virus­es for the flu, RSV and the com­mon cold, in ad­di­tion to an ear­li­er ver­sion of SARS-CoV-2. That orig­i­nal Covid-19 strain is be­ing used in a chal­lenge study in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the UK gov­ern­ment.

“The avail­abil­i­ty of a vari­ant SARS-CoV-2 virus will great­ly ex­pand the util­i­ty of the SARS-CoV-2 chal­lenge mod­el and al­low us to an­swer a wider range of im­por­tant sci­en­tif­ic ques­tions to aid con­trol of the pan­dem­ic as well as fa­cil­i­tate fur­ther test­ing of vac­cines de­signed against Covid-19,” — hVI­VO CSO An­drew Catch­pole said in a state­ment.

Dutch agency says Zol­gens­ma price should be cut in half

No­var­tis’ Zol­gens­ma drug for spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy is no­to­ri­ous for be­ing the most ex­pen­sive med­i­cine in the world at about $2.1 mil­lion. But the Dutch are try­ing to change that.

The Zor­gin­sti­tu­ut, the na­tion­al health care in­sti­tute of The Nether­lands, is push­ing to slash Zol­gens­ma’s price in half, per a state­ment re­leased Mon­day. The in­sti­tute not­ed that the price point does not re­flect the drug’s ef­fec­tive­ness, say­ing there is too lit­tle ev­i­dence the drug works to cost its cur­rent price.

It has rec­om­mend­ed that the Dutch gov­ern­ment not cov­er the costs of the med­i­cine un­less this price cut is met.

“The Zor­gin­sti­tu­ut en­sures that our care is and re­mains good and af­ford­able, all this to on­ly spend our mon­ey for health­care on valu­able treat­ments that are known to ac­tu­al­ly work,” the agency said in a state­ment. “We ul­ti­mate­ly make these com­pli­cat­ed but nec­es­sary choic­es for and on be­half of 17 mil­lion Dutch peo­ple, so that every­one con­tin­ues to have ac­cess to good and af­ford­able care in the fu­ture.”

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Aim­ing for fourth nod, Sarep­ta files an­oth­er DMD gene ther­a­py to FDA; Ax­some head­ed to­ward mi­graine re­sub­mis­sion

Sarepta Therapeutics has filed the data needed for an FDA accelerated approval, which would be the biotech’s fourth if granted by the agency.

The biotech has yet to complete confirmatory trials for those first three conditional nods. The filing for its fourth Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment, disclosed Thursday, is not a surprise. Sarepta said in late-July it would do so after releasing positive results for the Roche-partnered gene therapy.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

As Amy­lyx de­ci­sion waits in the wings, Bio­haven’s ALS drug sinks (again) in plat­form tri­al

The FDA’s decision on Amylyx’s ALS drug is set to come out sometime Thursday. In a space with few drugs, any approval would be a major landmark.

But elsewhere in the ALS field, things are a bit more tepid.

Thursday morning, Biohaven announced that its drug verdiperstat failed its arm of an ALS platform trial led by Massachusetts General Hospital. According to a press release, the drug did not meet its primary endpoint — improvement on an ALS functional status test — or any key secondary endpoints at 24 weeks. The trial had enrolled 167 patients, giving them either verdiperstat or placebo twice a day.

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Work taking place in the clean rooms at Vor (Credit: Vor)

Vor Bio opts to keep man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions in-house for de­vel­op­ing stem cell, CAR-T ther­a­pies

While it is not uncommon for a biotech to go down the route of having the product manufactured by a contract organization, one small biotech is looking to keep its card close to its chest.

Vor Biopharma has started manufacturing operations at an in-house facility at its HQ in Cambridge, MA after beginning construction last summer.

According to the biotech, the facility aims to develop Vor’s hematopoietic stem cells (eHSCs) and CAR-T therapies for patients with blood cancers. The site will initially manufacture a clinical supply of its candidate VCAR33allo to support its IND, which is slated to be submitted in the first half of next year. It also plans to transfer the production of VOR33 to the facility. Vor is getting to work quickly as engineering runs for VCAR33allo has started this week.

Phillip Gomez, Siga Technologies CEO

Siga nabs $10.7M from the US gov­ern­ment in deal for its mon­key­pox an­tivi­ral

The US government is all set to buy $10.7 million worth of Siga Technologies’ monkeypox oral antiviral, the company announced Thursday.

Of the total doses, $5.1 million worth of oral antivirals called Tpoxx (tecovirimat) will be delivered this year, with the US Department of Defense having the option of buying the rest at a later point.

The new contract follows an earlier one in which the government had purchased $7.4 million worth of Tpoxx from the company.

Tar­sus looks to raise aware­ness of eye­lid mite dis­ease in cam­paign aimed at eye­care spe­cial­ists

Eyelid mite disease may be “gross” but it’s also fairly common, affecting about 25 million people in the US.

Called demodex blepharitis, it’s a well-known condition among eyecare professionals, but they often don’t always realize how common it is. Tarsus Pharmaceuticals wants to change that with a new awareness campaign called “Look at the Lids.”

The campaign and website debut Thursday — just three weeks after Tarsus filed for FDA approval for a drug that treats the disease.

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