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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Moderna is worth more than Vertex

Yesterday’s news that Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine was about 94% effective in a Phase 3 trial sent the company’s share price up 20% to an all-time high. Now, at a roughly $60 billion valuation, Moderna is worth more than four of the biggest biotech companies in the world: Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Biogen, and Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

Each of those companies has a multitude of approved medicines and, on average, made about $7.9 billion in revenue last year. Moderna has no approved products, and accordingly its 2019 revenue was $60 million.

But stock prices are more about the future than the past, and investors often look at a company’s potential future cash flows to decide whether its share price is sound. By that metric, in order for Moderna to live up to its new valuation, not only will its Covid-19 vaccine have to become a multibillion-dollar product; it’ll have to validate a whole pipeline of vaccines and therapies that use the same mRNA technology, a process that even in the best-case scenario will take years to play out. We’ll find out whether the market is as patient as it is exuberant. 

What if you could just inhale Regeneron’s Covid-19 therapy?

That’s the idea behind a new collaboration between Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and gene therapy pioneer James Wilson’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

Regeneron’s antibody cocktail, which recently received an FDA emergency authorization, is administered through an intravenous infusion that takes about an hour. Wilson’s plan is essentially to cut out the biological middleman. Working with Regeneron, his lab plans to attach the instructions for producing Regeneron’s two antibodies to the same dormant viruses used to deliver gene therapy. The result would be an intranasal medicine that would target the very site infection and produce therapeutic antibodies.

To test out the theory, Regeneron and Penn will run an animal challenge study, administering the treatment and then exposing subjects to SARS-CoV-2. If that’s successful, the partners plan to apply for FDA permission to start a human trial.

Don’t worry about that federal investigation, Chinese biotech CEO says

Legend Biotech’s former CEO was arrested in a government investigation into the Chinese firm’s parent company. But that’s no reason to fret about its future, Legend’s new leader said.

Ying Huang, who took over as CEO in September, told STAT’s Jonathan Chan that the company has received no indication that it’s a target of the government’s investigation into Genscript, which owns about 66% of Legend’s shares. “And we believe that we have performed our business activities in China according to the laws and regulations in China,” Huang said.

Last week, Huang’s predecessor, Frank Zhang, was arrested — but not charged — as part of a Customs Anti-Smuggling Department investigation into Genscript. Zhang had only been CEO for about a month, taking over weeks after Legend raised $400 million in a June IPO.

Read more.

Google’s AI project won a biology bake off

Every two years, there’s an international contest to see if anyone can crack one of biology’s most vexing problems: It’s really hard to identify the precise shape of proteins in the body. This year, Google’s artificial intelligence unit DeepMind outperformed its competitors by a wide margin with a discovery that could accelerate the development of new drugs.

As STAT’s Casey Ross reports, each contestant was given a list of amino acids and challenged to predict just how they’d fold into 3-D proteins. DeepMind, using a program called AlphaFold, scored about 90 out of 100 on protein structures deemed moderately difficult, while most others scored around 75.

DeepMind’s breakthrough essentially means that it figured out how to use AI to deliver quick answers to questions about protein structure and function that would take many months or years to solve using currently available methods. Such a tool could rapidly give scientists precise information on how proteins function, speeding up the process of designing drugs.

Read more.

More reads

  • Medicines Patent Pool expands deal for access to key HIV drug to several upper middle-income countries. (STAT+)
  • Covid R&D Alliance launches trial of Amgen, UCB, Takeda drugs. (Reuters)
  • Ziopharm and a minority investor spent Thanksgiving fighting over control of the company. (Endpoints)
  • The U.S. must support access to care and incentives for the innovation that transforms it. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

STAT

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