Wuhan virus out­break trig­gers in­evitable small-biotech ral­ly

Every few years, a pub­lic health cri­sis (think Ebo­la, Zi­ka) spurred by a rogue pathogen trig­gers a small-biotech ral­ly, as drug­mak­ers emerge from the wood­work with am­bi­tious plans to treat the mount­ing out­break. In most cas­es, that en­thu­si­asm nev­er quite de­liv­ers.

Things are no dif­fer­ent, as the coro­n­avirus out­break in Wuhan, Chi­na takes hold. There have been close to 300 con­firmed hu­man in­fec­tions in Chi­na, and at least four deaths. Coro­n­avirus­es are a large fam­i­ly of virus­es, which in­clude MERS and SARS. On Tues­day, the CDC re­port­ed the virus was de­tect­ed in a US trav­el­er re­turn­ing from Wuhan.

Shares of Mary­land-based vac­cine de­vel­op­er, No­vavax, which has seen a steady stream of set­backs with its RSV vac­cine and is cur­rent­ly in late-stage de­vel­op­ment with a flu vac­cine, saw its shares $NVAX cat­a­pult on Tues­day — clos­ing up more than 71% at $9.82. The com­pa­ny’s tech­nol­o­gy has al­so been used to de­vel­op ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cines for MERS and SARS.

In an email to End­points News on Wednes­day, the com­pa­ny said it ex­pects to de­vel­op a vac­cine can­di­date from the ge­net­ic se­quence of the Wuhan coro­n­avirus. The stock was down near­ly 16% at $8.25 on Wednes­day morn­ing, af­ter the drug­mak­er al­so dis­closed plans to sell $100 mil­lion worth of shares in a pub­lic of­fer­ing af­ter the mar­ket closed on Tues­day.

Mean­while, mR­NA-fo­cused Mod­er­na al­so un­veiled its plans on Wednes­day. The com­pa­ny is­sued a state­ment say­ing it is work­ing with NIH’s vac­cine re­search cen­ter on a po­ten­tial vac­cine re­sponse to the cur­rent pub­lic health emer­gency. Shares of the Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­sets-based de­vel­op­er $MR­NA — which pulled off a his­toric $604 mil­lion IPO in late 2018 — were up near­ly 9% at 22.80.

“Mar­kets tend to bot­tom with the peak in new cas­es and news flow,” JP Mor­gan an­a­lysts said, as cit­ed by Mar­ket­Watch. “A pos­i­tive bias is ap­pro­pri­ate on phar­ma stocks broad­ly and mak­ers of di­ag­nos­tic kits and pro­tec­tive equip­ment (like gloves).”

An­tho­ny Fau­ci NI­AID

Ther­a­peu­tics will like­ly make the cut be­fore vac­cines do, An­tho­ny Fau­ci, di­rec­tor of NIH’s Na­tion­al In­sti­tute of Al­ler­gy and In­fec­tious Dis­eases (NI­AID), sug­gest­ed in an in­ter­view with Bio­Cen­tu­ry.

The agency plans to in­ves­ti­gate the ef­fi­ca­cy of ex­ist­ing an­tivi­rals and mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies, as well as de­vel­op a ther­a­py us­ing an­ti­bod­ies de­rived from blood drawn from a pa­tient di­ag­nosed in the state of Wash­ing­ton (the trav­el­er) to fight the Chi­na coro­n­avirus strain, he said in the re­port.

Oth­er biotech stocks al­so rose as new coro­n­avirus cas­es came to light.

Shares of a de­vel­op­er of nano-med­i­cines for vi­ral in­fec­tions, NanoVi­ri­cides, jumped more than 150% on Tues­day, but the shares $NNVC pared gains on Wednes­day, falling more than 52% to $4.07. Aethlon Med­ical $AEMD, a de­vice mak­er de­vel­op­ing a he­mo­p­u­ri­fi­er to com­bat vi­ral dis­eases, jumped more than 15% to $2.6. Shares of In­ovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $INO — which is work­ing on a MERS vac­cine — al­so ticked high­er on Tues­day, al­though the stock was in the red on Wednes­day. BioCryst Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which is de­vel­op­ing a yel­low fever and Mar­burg virus drug that has shown ear­ly promise in coro­n­avirus­es, al­so saw its shares $BCRX rise about 5.5% to $3.09 on Wednes­day.

Max­im Ja­cobs, man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of in­vest­ment re­search firm Edi­son, sug­gest­ed the out­cry over coro­n­avirus­es was mis­placed.

Source: Twit­ter, 2020

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Coro­n­avirus­es typ­i­cal­ly cir­cu­late among an­i­mals, such as camels, cats, and bats. Rarely, there is an­i­mal-to-per­son trans­mis­sion, as is sus­pect­ed in the Wuhan out­break. Many pa­tients af­flict­ed in Chi­na were linked to a large seafood and an­i­mal mar­ket, al­though there are cas­es where pa­tients were not ex­posed to the mar­ket at all, which sug­gests there is “lim­it­ed per­son-to-per­son spread…though it’s un­clear how eas­i­ly or sus­tain­ably this virus is spread­ing be­tween peo­ple,” the CDC said.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

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

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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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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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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Am­gen sev­ers 14-year Cy­to­ki­net­ics part­ner­ship, bail­ing on ome­cam­tiv af­ter mixed PhI­II re­sults

Amgen is shrugging off a 14-year development alliance and the tens of millions of dollars spent to develop a new heart drug at Cytokinetics after a Phase III trial turned up weak data — leaving Cytokinetics to soldier on alone.

Omecamtiv mecarbil technically worked, meeting the primary composite endpoint in the Phase III GALACTIC-HF study. But it missed a key secondary endpoint, which analysts had been following as a key marker for success — reduction of cardiovascular (CV) death. While Cytokinetics celebrated the results, its stock tanked 43% upon the news, and analysts warned of an uncertain path ahead. Now, Amgen wants out.