Will sup­ply chain de­mands freeze Pfiz­er and BioN­Tech out of a big chunk of the Covid-19 mar­ket?

Since the start of the pan­dem­ic, far more at­ten­tion has been paid to de­vel­op­ing a vac­cine than to the sticky process of ac­tu­al­ly get­ting that vac­cine, once de­vel­oped, to peo­ple.

As the first vac­cines near pos­si­ble ap­proval, though, that ques­tion is gain­ing ur­gency, and it’s pos­ing a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem for the new tech­nol­o­gy that has al­lowed some of these can­di­dates to move so quick­ly: mR­NA. To re­main sta­ble, mR­NA vac­cines have to be stored at in­cred­i­bly low tem­per­a­tures — as low as -80 de­grees Cel­sius (-112 Fahren­heit). Dis­trib­ut­ing them, ex­perts have warned, pose a ma­jor lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge for the US and an even greater chal­lenge to the world.

On Wednes­day, Mod­er­na al­le­vi­at­ed some of those con­cerns. At a meet­ing for Ad­vi­so­ry Com­mit­tee on Im­mu­niza­tion Prac­tices, the now house­hold-name com­pa­ny said that its vac­cines would have to be stored long-term at -20 de­grees Cel­sius and kept in nor­mal vac­cine re­frig­er­a­tors for around 7 days. That’s still a chal­lenge, but it im­pos­es few­er de­mands than some had feared. It was al­so no­tice­ably less strict than what BioN­Tech and Pfiz­er, pre­sent­ing on the same day, said they would need for their joint­ly-de­vel­oped mR­NA vac­cine: Long-term stor­age at -70 de­grees, and on­ly 24 hours of stan­dard re­frig­er­a­tion.

The dif­fer­ences have im­pli­ca­tions both for who gets a vac­cine and when and for the in­vestor-watched race for Covid-19 mar­ket share. To­wards the end of the meet­ing, CDC med­ical of­fi­cer Kath­leen Dool­ing sketched dif­fer­ent dis­tri­b­u­tion plans de­pend­ing on if Mod­er­na’s vac­cine is ap­proved, if BioN­Tech’s is ap­proved, or if both are ap­proved. If Mod­er­na came first, it would “re­quire dili­gent vac­cine man­age­ment to min­i­mize waste,” she said. A BioN­Tech ap­proval, on the oth­er hand, would all but elim­i­nate com­mu­ni­ty clin­ics and lo­cal phar­ma­cies from the ini­tial roll­out. Health­care work­ers at “cen­tral­ized sites with ad­e­quate equip­ment and high through­put” — e.g. large, ur­ban hos­pi­tals — would take pri­or­i­ty.

Nan­cy Mes­son­nier

Pfiz­er says it has “ther­mal ship­pers” that can be stored at room tem­per­a­ture and keep the vac­cine cold for 10 days if they’re re­plen­ished with dry ice. But Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, di­rec­tor of the CDC’s Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Im­mu­niza­tion and Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­eases, said their ap­proach still posed sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers.

“The com­plex­i­ties of this plan for vac­cine stor­age and han­dling will have ma­jor im­pact in our abil­i­ty to ef­fi­cient­ly de­liv­er the vac­cine,” Mes­son­nier said af­ter their pre­sen­ta­tion, as Reuters re­port­ed.

An­a­lysts agreed that less strin­gent re­quire­ments could give Mod­er­na an “ad­van­tage,” as SVB Leerink’s Mani Foroohar put it, but they ac­knowl­edged that ad­van­tage may be tem­po­rary or lim­it­ed. The oth­er vac­cine ap­proach­es, such as vi­ral vec­tor or re­com­bi­nant pro­tein, don’t tend to re­quire such glacial stor­age con­di­tions and will like­ly be eas­i­er to dis­trib­ute when they ar­rive.

No­vavax has said their re­com­bi­nant pro­tein can be kept in a stan­dard vac­cine re­frig­er­a­tor. End­points News has reached out to the rest of the lead­ing US-backed vac­cine com­pa­nies about their re­quire­ments, as well as to Cure­Vac, the third ma­jor com­pa­ny de­vel­op­ing an mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine. Mer­ck, which has said it chose its Covid-19 can­di­dates to be as broad­ly dis­trib­utable as pos­si­ble, said in an email they ini­tial­ly plan to store their vi­ral vec­tor vac­cines at -70 de­grees Cel­sius but are work­ing to­ward stor­ing “at more typ­i­cal re­frig­er­a­tor con­di­tions.”

The dark­horse mR­NA vac­cine ef­fort, Sanofi-part­nered Trans­late Bio, said in May they were at­tempt­ing to come up with a for­mu­la­tion that can be stored at warmer tem­per­a­tures. But they have said lit­tle of the ef­fort since.

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

No­var­tis' ap­proved sick­le cell dis­ease drug fails to beat place­bo in PhI­II

Novartis’ sickle cell drug, approved in 2019 and branded as Adakveo, has failed an ongoing Phase III, according to preliminary results.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled early data from the ongoing STAND Phase III study on Friday, saying that crizanlizumab showed no statistically significant difference between the drug at two different dose levels compared to placebo in annualized rates of vaso-occlusive crises that lead to a healthcare visit over the first year since being randomized into the trial.

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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FDA ap­proves an­oth­er in­di­ca­tion for Keytru­da, this time in the ad­ju­vant NSCLC set­ting

Merck’s blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda has been handed another indication by the FDA.

The US regulator announced on Thursday that it has approved Keytruda to serve as an adjuvant treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is its fifth indication in NSCLC and 34th indication overall.

According to a Merck release, the approval is based on data from a Phase III trial, dubbed Keynote-091, which measured disease-free survival in patients who received chemotherapy following surgery. The data from Merck displayed that Keytruda cut down on the risk of disease recurrence or death by 27% versus placebo.

Ying Huang, Legend CEO

J&J, Leg­end say Carvyk­ti beat stan­dard ther­a­py in ear­li­er-line blood can­cer

J&J and Legend Biotech’s next step in turning their CAR-T therapy Carvykti into a potential megablockbuster has succeeded, the companies said Friday.

Carvykti achieved the primary endpoint — progression-free survival — in an open-label Phase III study testing the treatment in second- to fourth-line multiple myeloma patients. The CARTITUDE-4 trial, for which there aren’t any hard data yet, represents the biggest development for Carvykti’s ability to compete with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abecma since its approval last February.

Dutch biotech starts liq­ui­da­tion af­ter end­ing PhI­II in GVHD

A 13-year-old Dutch biotech is going through a liquidation process after an unexpected end to its Phase III trial testing whether its combination of two monoclonal antibodies was superior to Incyte’s Jakafi.

Xenikos had hoped to prove its investigational therapy, named T-Guard, was better than Jakafi at garnering a complete response in patients experiencing life-threatening complications in which new cells from a hematopoietic stem cell transplant begin to fight the body. Jakafi was approved for the indication, steroid-refractory acute graft-versus-host disease, in May 2019.

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Eliot Forster, F-star CEO (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

F-star gets down to the wire with $161M sale to Chi­nese buy­er as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns linger

With the clock ticking on F-star Therapeutics’ takeover by a Chinese buyer, the companies are still scrambling to remove a hold on the deal from the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

F-star and invoX Pharma said they are “actively negotiating” with CFIUS “about the terms of a mitigation agreement to address CFIUS’s concerns regarding potential national security risks posed by the transaction.”

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