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

Pfiz­er, BioN­Tech say Covid-19 vac­cine is more than 90% ef­fec­tive, ex­ceed­ing ex­pert ex­pec­ta­tions and set­ting up an EUA sub­mis­sion late this month

For 10 months, the US and the world have won­dered and watched and wait­ed for when an ef­fec­tive Covid-19 vac­cine will ar­rive. Pfiz­er said Mon­day morn­ing that it has.

The Big Phar­ma and its part­ner BioN­Tech said that, on an in­ter­im look, their vac­cine was at least 90% ef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing symp­to­matic Covid-19 cas­es. If the da­ta hold up, it would mean a pan­dem­ic in­oc­u­la­tion vast­ly more ef­fec­tive than an­tic­i­pat­ed through­out 2020, when ex­perts warned that the first vac­cines could be as low as 60% or 70% ef­fec­tive and the FDA in­di­cat­ed it was will­ing to ap­prove jabs that sur­passed the 50% mark.

Pfiz­er said it will sub­mit for an emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion around the third week of No­vem­ber, when it sur­pass­es a safe­ty bench­mark set by the FDA. FDA of­fi­cials have in­di­cat­ed they could move to en­act an EUA at record speed, al­though not be­fore con­ven­ing an ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee to re­view Pfiz­er’s da­ta.

A da­ta safe­ty and mon­i­tor­ing com­mit­tee didn’t flag any ma­jor safe­ty is­sues, al­though the com­pa­ny still has to reach the me­di­an two months of fol­lowup the FDA has re­quired Covid-19 vac­cine mak­ers reach in their Phase III tri­als.

A sea of ques­tions still looms for the mR­NA can­di­date, though. It’s not clear how well the vac­cine pre­vents in­fec­tion or se­vere cas­es of Covid-19 — an is­sue raised at the re­cent FDA ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee on vac­cines — and no one knows how long pro­tec­tion will last. The da­ta have al­so not been peer-re­viewed, draw­ing crit­i­cism from ac­tivists who have called for com­pa­nies not to re­lease Covid-19 re­sults by press re­lease.

Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, the left-lean­ing Wash­ing­ton-based NGO, called it “bad sci­ence,” not­ing the lin­ger­ing un­knowns on safe­ty and se­vere cas­es.

“Cru­cial in­for­ma­tion ab­sent from the com­pa­nies’ an­nounce­ment is any ev­i­dence that the vac­cine pre­vents se­ri­ous COVID-19 cas­es or re­duces hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and deaths due to the dis­ease,” Michael Car­ome, the NGO’s lead health re­searcher, said in a state­ment. “More im­por­tant­ly, crit­i­cal safe­ty da­ta from the phase 3 tri­al of the Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech vac­cine is not yet avail­able.”

Still, the re­sults pro­vide a ma­jor boon for hopes that vac­cines can even­tu­al­ly help curb the pan­dem­ic in the US and world­wide. Mod­er­na, the vac­cine de­vel­op­er like­ly to read­out next, al­so us­es mR­NA, a tech­nol­o­gy that had nev­er been test­ed in large scale tri­als be­fore 2020, and vir­tu­al­ly all ma­jor can­di­dates tar­get the coro­n­avirus spike pro­tein that Pfiz­er tar­gets.

Even if the vac­cine holds up and is au­tho­rized by the FDA, though, it will still be in short sup­ply. Pfiz­er has said that around 50 mil­lion dos­es of the vac­cine could be avail­able by the end of the year, with 1 bil­lion dos­es avail­able in 2021. The vac­cine re­quires two dos­es to be ef­fec­tive.

The 90% fig­ure comes from an analy­sis of 94 con­firmed cas­es of Covid-19 across both arms of the com­pa­ny’s Phase III tri­al, which has en­rolled 44,000 vol­un­teers to date. The com­pa­ny had orig­i­nal­ly planned to con­duct its first analy­sis at 32 cas­es, prompt­ing CEO Al­bert Bourla to in­sist they’d know if it worked by Oc­to­ber, but af­ter dis­cus­sions with the FDA, agreed to look af­ter 62 cas­es. By that time, though, 94 cas­es had al­ready ac­crued.

In a state­ment, Bourla cast the re­sults as a ma­jor mile­stone in the fight against the pan­dem­ic, not­ing that it comes at a time when cas­es are surg­ing to record lev­els. Those surg­ing cas­es like­ly helped Pfiz­er reach the ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta faster than they would have if the virus was un­der con­trol.

“To­day is a great day for sci­ence and hu­man­i­ty,” he said. “The first set of re­sults from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vac­cine tri­al pro­vides the ini­tial ev­i­dence of our vac­cine’s abil­i­ty to pre­vent COVID-19. We are reach­ing this crit­i­cal mile­stone in our vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram at a time when the world needs it most with in­fec­tion rates set­ting new records, hos­pi­tals near­ing over-ca­pac­i­ty and economies strug­gling to re­open.”

Al­though Pfiz­er has in­di­cat­ed they would want to un­blind the study once re­sults were in, the com­pa­ny said that it will con­tin­ue un­til it reach­es 164 con­firmed cas­es. At that point, how­ev­er, it’s un­clear whether the FDA would want them to con­tin­ue the blind­ed study, which would al­low them to col­lect bet­ter long term safe­ty da­ta.

The an­nounce­ment marks a ma­jor suc­cess for Bourla, who was pro­mot­ed to CEO two years ago to re-en­er­gize a slow-foot­ed Amer­i­can gi­ant and who ar­guably bet more on his com­pa­ny’s Covid-19 vac­cine ef­forts than any oth­er ex­ec­u­tive on the plan­et. Team­ing with the Ger­man mR­NA biotech BioN­Tech, he es­chewed gov­ern­ment fund­ing on the prin­ci­ple that they could move faster alone. Asked by Time in Ju­ly what would hap­pen if the FDA re­ject­ed the vac­cine they in­vest­ed over a $1 bil­lion in, he said: “We will just have to write it off and call it a day.”

Pfiz­er, a com­pa­ny that first made its mark mass-pro­duc­ing peni­cillin dur­ing World War II, could now stand to reap both the pres­tige and fi­nan­cial wind­fall of the first ef­fec­tive Covid-19 shot. The gov­ern­ment has agreed to pay the New York phar­ma $1.95 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es of its vac­cine. Pro­jec­tions for fu­ture sales vary great­ly, but SVB Leerink  pegged them for over $3 bil­lion in 2021 and JP Mor­gan has put that fig­ure as high as $5.5 bil­lion.

With the world like­ly fac­ing a short­age of coro­n­avirus vac­cines for sev­er­al years to come and vac­ci­nat­ed peo­ple like­ly to need boost­er shots, the prod­uct could be a block­buster for a con­sid­er­able time.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 129,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Chamath Palihapitiya and Pablo Legorreta

Bil­lion­aires Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya and Pablo Legor­re­ta hatch an $825M SPAC for cell ther­a­py biotech

Three years after Royalty Pharma chief Pablo Legorreta led a group of investors to buy up a pair of biotechs and create a new startup called ProKidney, the biotech is jumping straight into an $825 million public shell created by SPAC king and tech billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya.

ProKidney was founded 6 years ago but really got going at the beginning of 2019 with the $62 million acquisition of inRegen, which was working on an autologous — from the patient — cell therapy for kidney disease. After extracting kidney cells from patients, researchers expand the cells in the lab and then inject them back into patients, aiming to restore the kidneys of patients suffering from CKD.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 129,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

CBO: Medicare ne­go­ti­a­tions will ham­per drug de­vel­op­ment more than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

As President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — and, with it, potentially the Democrats’ last shot at major drug pricing reforms in the foreseeable future — remains on life support, the Congressional Budget Office isn’t helping their case.

The CBO last week released a new slide deck, outlining an update to its model on how Medicare negotiations might take a bite out of new drugs making it to market. The new model estimates a 10% long-term reduction in the number of new drugs, whereas a previous CBO report from August estimated that 8% fewer new drugs will enter the market over 30 years.

Joshua Brumm, Dyne Therapeutics CEO

FDA or­ders DMD tri­al halt, rais­ing ques­tions about a whole class of promis­ing drugs

Dyne Therapeutics’ stock took a nasty hit this morning after the biotech put out word that the FDA had slapped a clinical hold on their top program for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. And now speculation is bouncing around Biotwitter that there could be a class effect at work here that would implicate other drug developers in the freeze.

Dyne execs didn’t have a whole lot to say about why the FDA sidelined their IND for DYNE-251 in DMD while “requesting additional clinical and non-clinical information for” the drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 129,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Evan Vucci, AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er ex­pands in­to France; Omi­cron-spe­cif­ic ver­sion of Mod­er­na's boost­er com­ing soon 

As the hype surrounding Pfizer’s antiviral Covid-19 pill swirls, the pharma announced that it will build a production facility in France to make the drug as a part of a five-year investment.

Pfizer will team up with Novasep to install equipment and initiate tech transfer and on-site development at Novasep’s Mourenx facility. The move is a part of a $594 million investment in France.

“We are of course proud to contribute to the manufacturing of this medicine which has shown in clinical trials to have a positive impact on hospitalization among at-risk Covid-19 patients,” Novasep’s CEO Michel Spagnol said in a statement. “This contract also validates our investment strategy for several years and our focus on small molecules.”