US spent near­ly $32B in pub­lic funds on mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment, study finds

The US gov­ern­ment con­tributed at least $31.9 bil­lion in pub­lic fund­ing to the de­vel­op­ment of mR­NA-based Covid-19 vac­cines, ac­cord­ing to a new BMJ study.

That in­cludes at least $337 mil­lion in the three decades pri­or to the pan­dem­ic, sev­en re­searchers from Brigham and Women’s Pro­gram On Reg­u­la­tion, Ther­a­peu­tics, And Law (POR­TAL) wrote. More than $29 bil­lion was used to pur­chase vac­cines.

For co-au­thor and pri­ma­ry care physi­cian Hus­sain Lalani, the study be­gan as a way to un­der­stand the ori­gins of mR­NA vac­cines and con­vey to pa­tients that the Covid shots were not cre­at­ed overnight.

How­ev­er, the au­thors are al­so con­cerned with the pub­lic’s re­turn on in­vest­ment. While mR­NA vac­cine dos­es are es­ti­mat­ed to cost be­tween $1 to $3 apiece to man­u­fac­ture, ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers, Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er re­cent­ly an­nounced plans to charge health in­sur­ance plans be­tween $110 to $130 per dose.

Mod­er­na re­cent­ly an­nounced that peo­ple won’t need to pay out-of-pock­et for its Covid vac­cine, re­gard­less of their in­sur­ance sta­tus, and Pfiz­er has pre­vi­ous­ly com­mit­ted to of­fer­ing unin­sured US res­i­dents free ac­cess to its vac­cine through the com­pa­ny’s pa­tient as­sis­tance pro­gram.

“We be­lieve that the US gov­ern­ment cat­alyzed and ac­cel­er­at­ed the de­vel­op­ment of these vac­cines and that life-sav­ing pub­licly fund­ed tech­nolo­gies should be ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able to all peo­ple glob­al­ly,” Lalani told End­points News. 

While the re­searchers col­lect­ed fund­ing in­for­ma­tion from data­bas­es at the NIH, DOD and BAR­DA, Lalani said their es­ti­mate is like­ly hun­dreds of mil­lions to bil­lions of dol­lars low­er than the amount of pub­lic funds ac­tu­al­ly spent.

“The part that is a con­ser­v­a­tive es­ti­mate is the pre-pan­dem­ic part, the 1985 to 2019,” he said. “We can say that be­cause we found there was an­oth­er about $6 bil­lion in in­di­rect fund­ing that we didn’t re­view in­tense­ly. So some of that very like­ly con­tributed to the vac­cine.”

That’s on top of $3.2 bil­lion in ven­ture cash poured in­to mR­NA pro­grams in 2021, fol­lowed by an­oth­er $2 bil­lion fol­lowed in 2022, ac­cord­ing to Deal­For­ma’s Chris Doko­ma­ji­lar.

The news comes rough­ly a week af­ter Mod­er­na re­vealed in its Q4 earn­ings re­sults that it paid the NIH $400 mil­lion “re­lat­ed to a catch-up pay­ment” for a patent li­cense struck in De­cem­ber. The li­cense cov­ered “cer­tain patent rights con­cern­ing sta­bi­liz­ing pre­fu­sion coro­n­avirus spike pro­teins and the re­sult­ing sta­bi­lized pro­teins for the use in Covid-19 vac­cine prod­ucts or 2P tech­nol­o­gy,” CFO James Mock said on the earn­ings call. Mod­er­na be­came em­broiled in a dis­pute with the NIH back in 2021 over who in­vent­ed its life-sav­ing Covid-19 vac­cine.

“This is just re­al­ly the be­gin­ning of the mR­NA tech­nol­o­gy,” Lalani said. “It’s re­al­ly im­por­tant for us to keep in mind that any and all fu­ture us­es of this tech­nol­o­gy are go­ing to uti­lize these ba­sic build­ing blocks that were pub­licly fund­ed and ac­cel­er­at­ed.”

Ed­i­tor’s Note: This sto­ry has been up­dat­ed to clar­i­fy the amount in­vest­ed in the pur­chase of vac­cines. 

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Feng Zhang (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

In search of new way to de­liv­er gene ed­i­tors, CRISPR pi­o­neer turns to mol­e­c­u­lar sy­ringes

Bug bacteria are ruthless.

Some soil bacteria have evolved tiny, but deadly injection systems that attach to insect cells, perforate them and release toxins inside — killing a bug in just a few days’ time. Scientists, on the other hand, want to leverage that system to deliver medicines.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, MIT CRISPR researcher Feng Zhang and his lab describe how they engineered these syringes made by bacteria to deliver potential therapies like toxins that kill cancer cells and gene editors. With the help of an AI program, they developed syringes that can load proteins of their choice and selectively target human cells.

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Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Cedric Ververken, Confo Therapeutics CEO

Dai­ichi Sankyo inks $183M dis­cov­ery deal with GPCR biotech for CNS tar­get

Belgian biotech Confo Therapeutics has landed $183 million, plus potential royalties, in a drug-discovery deal with Daiichi Sankyo.

Early Thursday, Confo Therapeutics put out word of the deal that will be focused on small molecule antagonists to go after an undisclosed target that the company says is associated with CNS diseases.

Confo CEO Cedric Ververken told Endpoints News that Daiichi originally reached out to learn about the biotech’s technology. He added that Confo, founded in 2015, will use its platform to drug a GPCR target that Daiichi has struggled with internally.

Dif­fu­sion to hand Nas­daq spot to EIP Phar­ma for PhI­Ib de­men­tia study of ex-Ver­tex drug

One of the more than a dozen bidders for Diffusion Pharmaceuticals’ spot on Nasdaq has prevailed.

Boston biotech EIP Pharma will merge with Diffusion in an all-stock deal, with plans to start a Phase IIb clinical trial in the coming months in a common form of dementia with no approved treatments. The combined company will be renamed CervoMed.

The nine-year-old privately-held EIP is working on a former Vertex drug that it will test in a 160-person Phase IIb in patients with dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB. The National Institute on Aging is expected to fund that trial with a $21 million grant. With the reverse merger, slated for closing in the middle of this year, EIP will be funded through that readout in the second half of 2024. EIP’s equity and debt holders will own about 77.25% of the combined company.

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CSL CEO Paul McKenzie (L) and CMO Bill Mezzanotte

Q&A: New­ly-mint­ed CSL chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul McKen­zie and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Bill Mez­zan­otte

Paul McKenzie took over as CEO of Australian pharma giant CSL this month, following in the footsteps of long-time CSL vet Paul Perreault.

With an eye on mRNA, and quickly commercializing its new, $3.5 million-per-shot gene therapy for hemophilia B, McKenzie and chief medical officer Bill Mezzanotte answered some questions from Endpoints News this afternoon about where McKenzie is going to take the company and what advances may be coming to market from CSL’s pipeline. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Boehringer re­ports ro­bust sales led by type 2 di­a­betes and pul­monary drugs, promis­es more to come high­light­ing obe­si­ty

Boehringer Ingelheim reported human pharma sales of €18.5 billion on Wednesday, led by type 2 diabetes and heart failure drug Jardiance and pulmonary fibrosis med Ofev. Jardiance sales reached €5.8 billion, growing 39% year over year, while Ofev took in €3.2 billion, notching its own 20.6% annual jump.

However, Boehringer is also looking ahead with its pipeline, estimating “In the next seven years the company expects about 20 regulatory approvals in human pharma.”

Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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FDA ap­proves Nar­can opi­oid over­dose re­ver­sal spray for over-the-counter sale

The FDA today approved Emergent BioSolutions’ Narcan brand naloxone nasal spray for over-the-counter sales. The nod was expected and comes on the heels of a unanimous 19-0 advisory committee vote in favor of approval last month.

The move to OTC means the opioid overdose reversal agent will now be available on grocery, convenience and gas stations shelves, as well as potentially for purchase online.