No­var­tis wants to be a leader in a new gen­er­a­tion of pre­scrip­tion dig­i­tal med pro­grams, pairs with Pear

The new­ly emerg­ing field of pre­scrip­tion dig­i­tal med­i­cine is tak­ing a big step for­ward to­day.

Phar­ma gi­ant No­var­tis $NVS is pair­ing up with Pear Ther­a­peu­tics, one of the lead­ing pi­o­neers in the are­na, to de­vel­op new mo­bile apps for pa­tients with schiz­o­phre­nia and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Joris van Dam

You may re­call that Pear broke new ground a few months ago by gain­ing an FDA ap­proval for an app de­signed to help pa­tients with sub­stance abuse dis­or­der. Now the Boston/Bay Area-based biotech will work with Joris van Dam, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics at the No­var­tis In­sti­tutes for Bio­Med­ical Re­search, on in­ter­ac­tive dig­i­tal pro­grams for schiz­o­phre­nia and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Get­ting a heavy­weight play­er in the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try to col­lab­o­rate with 5-year-old Pear is a big plus for dig­i­tal med­i­cine, where cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral pro­grams are be­ing de­vel­oped to help pa­tients with chron­ic dis­or­ders. And the FDA is play­ing a key as­sist in the field, with new guide­lines in the works on how these pro­grams can prove them­selves to of­fer proof of ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty.

These aren’t the av­er­age kind of apps you may be fa­mil­iar with on your phone.

“These are ther­a­peu­tic treat­ments pre­scribed by doc­tors and used by pa­tients,” says van Dam. “You should treat it like a drug ther­a­py, ex­cept it’s be­ing pre­scribed and ful­filled by the cloud and not by the phar­ma­cy.”

No­var­tis and Pear are plan­ning on set­ting up clin­i­cal tri­als that can, for ex­am­ple, test how these in­ter­ac­tive pro­grams work on con­trol­ling the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive symp­toms as­so­ci­at­ed with schiz­o­phre­nia — in­clud­ing how you re­spond to hear­ing voic­es.

And No­var­tis sees some ready ben­e­fits in keep­ing a cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral pro­gram in your pock­et. Un­like a ther­a­pist, says v

an Dam, you can run through a 15-minute pro­gram at your con­ve­nience, with­out jour­ney­ing to a ses­sion. And they’ll have clin­i­cians gath­er the da­ta need­ed to meet the re­quired end­points, stan­dards which are cur­rent­ly un­der re­view in a pi­lot pro­gram that in­cludes Pear.

So how long will this process take?

Van Dam says that’s un­cer­tain, but he feels that there’s a lot of po­ten­tial for a full slate of these dig­i­tal meds.

There’s no word on the ex­act terms, but No­var­tis is of­fer­ing a fa­mil­iar slate of up­front, re­search sup­port, mile­stones and roy­al­ties.

Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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Bax­ter con­tin­ues on-shoring push with $50M In­di­ana ex­pan­sion

It’s been a banner year for the once humdrum business of manufacturing drugs, particularly vaccines. Billions have been spent ramping up facilities for Covid-19 jabs, while individual CDMOs have expanded their facilities, apparently anticipating demand or responding to a government-led push to onshore drug manufacturing.

Now Baxter Biopharma Solutions, the CDMO wing of the many-armed healthcare giant Baxter, is getting in on the game. On Tuesday, they announced plans to spend $50 million to expand their flagship, 600,000 square-foot facility in Bloomington, IN.

Eu­ro­pean Union aims to es­tab­lish patent workaround in case of emer­gen­cies while try­ing to strength­en its own IP

The European Union is looking at ways to bypass patent protections and make it easier to make generic drugs in cases of emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, a new document says.

Normally, under WTO regulations, the practice known as “compulsory licensing” is allowed in exceptional circumstances and could be applied as a waiver to bypass patent holders. Wednesday’s document was published as part of the EU’s plan to shore up the intellectual property rights of its member states.

Vivek Ramaswamy (Jeff Rumans/JPM 2020)

Urovan­t's lead drug dis­ap­points in mid-stage study as first big FDA de­ci­sion looms

Just as Urovant gets ready for its first big FDA decision on vibegron, the drug has flopped in what would’ve been a follow-on indication.

In a Phase IIa trial involving women with abdominal pain due to irritable bowel syndrome, vibegron failed to meet the bar on improving “average worst abdominal pain” over 12 weeks, compared to placebo, among IBS-D patients.

There were actually slightly more responders in the placebo group than in the drug arm, with only 40.9% of those randomized to vigebron achieving at least a 30% decrease in “worst abdominal pain” in the past 24 hours. The trial enrolled 222 women but only 189 completed the study.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.