The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine results are 'surprisingly positive'

There's been a lot of drama concerning the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, from fumbled clinical trials to concerns about side effects. But this morning brought very positive news, with AstraZeneca saying that in a U.S. trial the vaccine demonstrated 79% efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 and completely protected against severe disease and hospitalization.

Peter Welford, a pharmaceuticals analyst at the investment bank Jefferies, called the results “surprisingly positive.” Results were equally strong in people over 65. There were no new safety concerns, including no sign of blood clots, a concern raised last week in Europe.

AstraZeneca said that it will request an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile, experts will start to puzzle over why the results look materially better than the pooled trials conducted in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

Read more.

Winners and losers in the Covid-19 vaccine race

When the Covid-19 vaccine race first began a year or so back, we had no idea who would succeed, and which companies would fall behind.  Today, we’ve got a much better idea — so STAT’s Helen Branswell, Matthew Herper, and Damian Garde have called out winners and losers in the world-altering pursuit. 

Not surprisingly, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna emerged as clear winners, along with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, though the latter drug maker did get bruised in the process. Other winners emerged from abroad, including SinoPharm and Sinovac — though it's worth noting that, for now, their success comes with an asterisk, since very little efficacy data have been made available publicly.  

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Storied cancer researcher José Baselga dies

José Baselga, a world-renowned oncology researcher and AstraZeneca oncology R&D chief, died yesterday at the age of 61. The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia reported that he died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare brain infection that causes degeneration and death. 

Baselga is perhaps best known for advancing a number of breast cancer drugs, including trastuzumab, or Herceptin. He worked for many years at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, though his academic career ended two years ago amid a conflict-of-interest scandal. 

Biopharma types took to Twitter to mourn Baselga’s passing: “Utterly devastated to hear about José Baselga’s passing,” Pulitzer prize-winning oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee tweeted. “RIP…” 

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Will pharma patents help Covid-19 rage on?

The U.S. government will soon gain control of the intellectual property that underpins the success of at least five major Covid-19 vaccines. Possession of this patent could help incentivize drug makers to expand access to their vaccines to less affluent countries — but it remains to be seen whether the government will do anything about it, the New York Times writes.

About 90 percent of the nearly 400 million vaccines administered at this point have been distributed in wealthy and middle-income countries. The others will likely have to wait years. And this could wind up worsening the Covid-19 pandemic on a global scale — since it’s hard to eradicate the disease if it’s still raging in disparate pockets around the world.

Global health officials and advocacy groups are calling for Western governments to force drug makers to make their vaccine recipes publicly available. But will they?

Finch Therapeutics goes public

Microbiome player Finch Therapeutics began trading publicly on Friday morning — emerging with a market value of $960 million. The company has been developing a microbe-based treatment for C. difficile, a dangerous gut infection that often resists antibiotics. It announced positive top-line results of a Phase 2 trial testing this treatment last summer. 

Finch’s IPO is particularly significant for the microbiome field because of a critical clinical trial in the space back in 2016 that spooked investors, STAT’s Kate Sheridan writes. Notably, the company went public without a COO — which does raise a few eyebrows about Finch’s operating plans moving forward. 

Read more.

More reads

  • ‘The public is being denied the truth’: A legal expert blasts Purdue’s bankruptcy plan to end opioid lawsuits. (STAT
  • What ‘Beans’ taught her parents about pediatric cancer, the need for research, and patient advocacy. (STAT)
  • AstraZeneca, once touted as a pandemic slayer, faces challenges. (Washington Post)
  • Digital therapeutics startups are ready for more regulation, not less. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Monday, March 22, 2021


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