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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

2020 was particularly sweet for these four biotech VCs

Between IPOs, private financings, and a surge in SPACs, 2020 was flush with financial record-setting in the biotech world. But the industry’s latest boom was particularly rewarding for a handful of venture investors whose many bets benefitted from the sector’s moment in the sun.

STAT’s Kate Sheridan combed through public records to find performance data on the transparency-averse venture capital community and figure just who did best amid biotech’s profitable year. Thanks to a bramble of clandestine agreements and un-FOIA-able statements, it’s impossible to say whether these four outperformed all of their competitors, but the gaudy numbers suggest they were near the top of the industry league table.

Without giving away the big reveal, one of the four (let’s say it rhymes with “Hatless Denture”) exemplified all the avenues biotech VCs had to make money in 2020: The firm saw one of its portfolio companies sell in a $1.2 billion deal, another go public and promptly double in value, and a third merge with a SPAC founded by another resident of the VC top four.

Read the full list.

A safety scare puts UniQure on hold

UniQure’s plans to seek approval for hemophilia gene therapy are indefinitely paused after a patient in the trial developed liver cancer.

As STAT’s Adam Feuerstein reports, the company is yet to conclude whether the diagnosis had anything to do with its treatment for hemophilia B, noting that the patient had multiple risk factors associated with liver cancer. In the meantime, the FDA placed a clinical hold on three ongoing studies of the company’s gene therapy.

All three had completed dosing, and UniQure didn’t plan to enroll any more patients. But the clinical hold could disrupt the company’s plan to file for FDA approval in 2021. And if the cancer proves to be treatment-related, UniQure’s plans could be derailed altogether.

Read more.

What will Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine name be?

Yesterday, the European Union cleared Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for distribution among its member states, a major milestone in the global effort to end the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. But if you scroll past the headline on that news, you’ll find another milestone: Now we know the first Covid-19 brand name, and it’s Comirnaty.

Fans of the sweet science of drug naming will recall that Pfizer and BioNTech had registered trademarks including RnaxCovi, KoviMerna, and Covuity. Each apparently lost out to the winner, which subtly references RNA and presumably rhymes with “eternity.”

That means we’re likely weeks away from learning what Moderna’s going to call its Covid-19 vaccine. The Pfizer news came hours after a scheduled meeting of the European Medicines Agency. Moderna has an identical meeting slated for Jan. 6, suggesting that’ll be the big reveal of its vaccine branding. In the meantime, we want to hear from you: Which of these real Moderna trademarks will end up on the label of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine?

CovidVax
Covid mVax
SpikeVax
SpykeVax

Here’s an argument for letting rich people buy their way to the front of the vaccine line

A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. has two vaccines that could save lives and the economy alike. But two problems stand in their way: a creaky infrastructure for distribution and an alarming number of people who simply don’t want to get vaccinated.

Here, courtesy of STAT contributor Alan Levine, is a plan to rectify both: Let rich people pay for preferential access to vaccines. Levine envisions a tiered system, in which the 100 richest people donate $100 million each to be first in line, followed by the next 1,000 wealthiest kicking in $10 million apiece, and so on until you get to tier five and you’ve raised $50 billion. That money can paper over gaps in vaccination infrastructure, helping to reach people in rural areas, experience homelessness, or who are undocumented.

Then there’s the PR angle. Citing Elvis Pressley’s famed polio shot from 1956, Levine argues that the images of, say, Bill Gates and LeBron paying top dollar for something the rest of us can get for free will have the double effect of demystifying a vaccination and underlying it’s incredible value.

He asks that you hear him out.

More reads

  • Watch: What to expect when you’re injected: Vaccine side effects explained. (STAT)
  • The sell side has picked a winning Covid-19 vaccine — for now. (Evaluate Vantage)
  • Patrick Soon-Shiong merges troubled 'moon shot' NantKwest and cell therapy play ImmunityBio. (Endpoints)
  • Health tech’s newest unicorn is running toward Medicaid patients long marginalized in medicine. (STAT+)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

STAT

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