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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Voices from the coronavirus pandemic

How long will this pandemic persist? Are U.S. hospitals going to be overwhelmed? And what’s it like to be quarantined on a cruise ship?

We discuss all that and more on the latest episode of “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. This week, we’re devoting the entire show to the voices of people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. First, our colleague Helen Branswell joins us for an update on containment efforts in the U.S. and how experts expect the outbreak to evolve. Then, we talk to a consultant in Milan about life under the lockdown in Northern Italy. Later, we talk to a New York University physician who, like clinicians around the world, is preparing for the possibility of a flood of cases in her hospital. Finally, we hear from a Florida woman who was trapped on a cruise ship and subsequently quarantined.

You can listen to the episode here. To listen to future episodes, be sure to sign up on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Two dead, four hospitalized after stool transplants

Two people died after receiving therapeutic stool transplants, according to the FDA, raising alarm about the newfangled approach to treating certain bacterial infections.

As STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, in addition to the two deaths, four patients were hospitalized and two more may have been affected by transplants from three donors whose stool contained illness-causing bacteria. The transplants came from OpenBiome, a Cambridge, Mass., stool bank whose products are used to treat recurrent C. difficile infections by implanting helpful bacteria.

The latest concern is less than a year removed from a case in which two patients died after receiving stool transplants. And it comes just as companies developing manufactured versions of microbiome-based therapies are gaining steam.

Read more.

Rubius is moving in the wrong direction

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On July 18, 2018, Rubius Therapeutics went public at a $2 billion valuation and traded up 17% over the next three days. The next 18 months would bring only bad news.

The most recent indignity came yesterday, when Rubius revealed that its most advanced project, a modified red blood cell treatment for a rare disease, had been discontinued after a long-delayed clinical trial produced “uninterpretable” results. The company had enrolled a single patient, behind schedule.

A share of Rubius is now worth about $4, down more than 80% from its IPO price. The company’s plan now is to focus on oncology, where Rubius believes it can overcome the clinical, practical, and manufacturing problems that doomed its last project.

This company has made $208 million since the dawn of the outbreak

Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a company that has existed for four decades without developing an approved product, has made $208 million thanks to a coronavirus vaccine that hasn’t been tested on humans.

According to the company’s latest financials, it sold more than 43 million shares between Jan. 1 and March 11. Issuing that many new shares is usually bad for a company’s valuation, as it dilutes existing investors. But Inovio did it through an at-the-market agreement, or ATM, which is a pre-existing deal that lets the company mete out new stock to investment banks that then sell it on the open market. Companies tend to be wary of hitting ATMs too hard, mindful of the dilution issue, but thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, Inovio’s stock price has more than tripled since the start of the year.

Now that the $208 million has changed hands, there’s no money left in Inovio’s at-the-market agreement, the company said. In the meantime, Inovio is sticking by its promise to start a clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine in April, and CEO Joseph Kim has told investors — and President Trump — that his company will be able to manufacture 1 million doses by the end of the year.

More reads

  • Why Trump’s coronavirus speech, designed to calm, deepened panic. (STAT)
  • China turns Roche arthritis drug Actemra against COVID-19 in new treatment guidelines. (FiercePharma)
  • As coronavirus spreads, a biotech IPO squeaks through. Others may 'wait and see.' (BioPharma Dive)
  • Beth Israel is working with Johnson & Johnson on a coronavirus vaccine. (The Boston Globe)

Thanks for reading! Until Monday,

Friday, March 13, 2020

STAT

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