Scot Roberts, Altimmune CSO

Why mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty may be re­quired to end the pan­dem­ic

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Fol­low­ing the re­cent emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tions of mul­ti­ple vac­cines for COVID-19, the first wave of peo­ple have al­ready be­gun the vac­ci­na­tion process — a tru­ly re­mark­able mile­stone. As some­one who has ded­i­cat­ed his ca­reer to drug de­vel­op­ment and dis­cov­ery fo­cused on vi­ral vec­tors and an­tivi­ral ther­a­pies, I can tell you that the sci­ence has moved fast, and we have every rea­son to cel­e­brate. The da­ta on these vac­cines are good. They are well stud­ied and their po­ten­tial for pub­lic health is promis­ing.

How­ev­er, I can al­so tell you that this is like­ly on­ly the be­gin­ning. I wor­ry that the roll­out of the cur­rent vac­cines will cre­ate a false sense of se­cu­ri­ty among a large pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple. There is a sce­nario that we need to be pre­pared for and one that could pos­si­bly de­rail our fight against this virus: These first-gen­er­a­tion vac­cines will be able to ef­fec­tive­ly block dis­ease, but not the trans­mis­sion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Pfiz­er, Mod­er­na and near­ly every oth­er phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny are pro­duc­ing in­jectable vac­cines. Their pro­tec­tive pow­er re­sults from sys­temic im­mu­ni­ty, mean­ing that they gen­er­ate an­ti­bod­ies that cir­cu­late in the blood to oth­er parts of the body. They were au­tho­rized based on their abil­i­ty to block the de­vel­op­ment of dis­ease, which is not the same as the abil­i­ty to in­hib­it vi­ral in­fec­tion or trans­mis­sion.

The best way to block both vi­ral in­fec­tion and trans­mis­sion is by in­duc­ing a spe­cial type of im­mune re­sponse called mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty. Mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty pro­tects the parts of the body that are in con­tact with the en­vi­ron­ment, and in the case of a res­pi­ra­to­ry pathogen, that means the nasal cav­i­ty and the lungs. Be­cause it is a lo­cal­ized type of re­sponse, a vac­cine needs to be de­liv­ered to the ap­pro­pri­ate com­part­ment if mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty is to be stim­u­lat­ed. In the case of a res­pi­ra­to­ry pathogen like SARS-CoV-2 that means in­tranasal vac­cine ad­min­is­tra­tion.

With­out mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty, the virus may con­tin­ue to thrive in a per­son’s nasal cav­i­ty al­low­ing for easy trans­mis­sion. This is why wear­ing a mask, even af­ter vac­ci­na­tion with an in­tra­mus­cu­lar vac­cine, will re­main crit­i­cal.

Thank­ful­ly, sci­en­tists, in­clud­ing our team, are work­ing on next gen­er­a­tion vac­cines that can elic­it mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty, in­clud­ing in­tranasal vac­cines that have the po­ten­tial to elic­it an im­mune re­sponse in the nose as well as sys­tem­i­cal­ly. This type of broad­er im­mune re­sponse could de­fend against in­fec­tion, dis­ease and trans­mis­sion. In fact, an in­tranasal vac­cine could al­so be used in com­bi­na­tion with an in­tra­mus­cu­lar vac­cine to elic­it mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty and serve as a boost­er for sys­temic im­mu­ni­ty.

We have a prece­dent. Flu­Mist is a live but weak­ened in­fluen­za vac­cine de­liv­ered by in­tranasal spray and this type of mu­cos­al vac­cine has been shown to de­crease the trans­mis­sion of in­fluen­za to close con­tacts.

Be­cause of their po­ten­tial to block trans­mis­sion, vac­cines that stim­u­late nasal mu­cos­al im­mu­ni­ty may be es­sen­tial to bring the pan­dem­ic to an end. How­ev­er, it will take a lit­tle more time to de­vel­op and test these new­er vac­cines as we can’t sac­ri­fice ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty for speed.

Un­til then, the pub­lic must take pre­cau­tions to keep this virus un­der con­trol. Even af­ter vac­ci­na­tion, our best weapon is so­cial dis­tanc­ing, test­ing and masks. They must re­main a core part of our pub­lic health strat­e­gy even as the first-gen­er­a­tion vac­cines roll out.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

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With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Te­va drops out of in­dus­try trade group PhRMA

Following in AbbVie’s footsteps, Teva confirmed on Friday that it’s dropping out of the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Teva didn’t give a reason for its decision to leave, saying only in a statement to Endpoints News that it annually reviews “effectiveness and value of engagements, consultants and memberships to ensure our investments are properly seated.”

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Sanofi CFO Jean-Baptiste de Chatillon (L) and CEO Paul Hudson (Romuald Meigneux/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi sees downtick in flu sales as it preps for launch of RSV an­ti­body

Sanofi expects its RSV antibody jointly developed with AstraZeneca will be available next season, executive VP of vaccines Thomas Triomphe announced on the company’s quarterly call.

Beyfortus, also known as nirsevimab, was approved in the EU back in November and is currently under FDA review with an expected decision coming in the third quarter of this year. The news comes as the FDA plans to hold advisory committee meetings over the next couple months to review RSV vaccines from Pfizer and GSK.

Christophe Weber, Takeda CEO (Photographer: Shoko Takayasu/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Take­da fo­cus­es on ‘di­verse’ pipeline prospects on heels of two ac­qui­si­tions

After a whopping $4 billion asset buy from Nimbus Therapeutics, along with a $400 million deal with Hutchmed for a colorectal cancer drug, Takeda executives touted pipeline optimism on its latest earnings call this week.

That’s because the TYK2 inhibitor for psoriasis Takeda is getting from Nimbus, along with the Hutchmed fruquintinib commercialization outside of China, are just two of what it reports are 10 late-stage development programs of promising candidates.

Regeneron CSO George Yancopoulos (L) and CEO Len Schleifer at a groundbreaking for its new Tarrytown, NY facility, June 2022 (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In show­down with Roche, Re­gen­eron gears up for po­ten­tial Eylea ex­pan­sion amid Covid de­cline

Regeneron faced a substantial slump in overall revenue last year, but the focus still remains on some of its biggest blockbusters.

The pharma with several high-profile partnerships — Sanofi and Bayer among them — said Friday that Q4 revenue was down 31% for the quarter, and down 24% for the entire year. However, that won’t stop blockbuster expansion plans.

One of those is Eylea, the Bayer-partnered eye disease drug that has been in major competition with Roche’s Vabysmo. While Eylea is currently only approved in a 2 mg dose, the company recently filed for approval to give a 8 mg dose, in hopes of making a longer-lasting treatment.