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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Siddhartha Mukherjee has two biotech companies now

Famed oncologist and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee is unveiling a new cell therapy company today, one he co-founded in hopes of bringing the benefits of immunotherapy to some difficult-to-treat cancers.

As STAT’s Kate Sheridan reports, Mukherjee’s Myeloid Therapeutics has raised $50 million in venture funding to get started. The company takes its name from myeloid cells, found in the bone marrow, which can galvanize the immune system to attack cancer. The firm expects to start its first clinical trial, targeting brain cancer, in the next few months.

Myeloid is Mukherjee’s second foray into biotech, following the foundation of Vor BioPharma in 2016. That company, which is working on ways to genetically modify healthy cells to help them survive existing cell therapy treatments, has yet to start a clinical trial with a therapy developed in-house.

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2021’s first two IPOs will come from biotech

Biotech IPOs had their most lucrative year ever in 2020, raising more than $14 billion. And 2021’s inaugural offerings present some early evidence as to whether that trend will continue into the new year.

Gracell Biotechnologies and Cullinan Oncology are poised to be the year's first non-blank-check IPOs in any sector when they start trading this week. Gracell, a CAR-T company headquartered in China, expects to raise about $150 million by offering about 9 million shares. Cullinan, based in Cambridge, Mass., is targeting the same amount with an 8 million-share offering.

What will be interesting is how they trade in the days following their IPOs. A major factor in last year’s exuberance was the post-IPO pop, which saw the median biotech company rise about 40% after going public. Whether that trend is sustainable has been the subject of some skepticism, and the year’s first two offerings will present some illuminating data points for 2021.

Pediatric cancer drugs could move at warp speed, too

The unprecedented speed at which Covid-19 vaccines have arrived is both a testament to modern science and evidence that the FDA can move quickly without sacrificing safety. The agency should apply that same approach to another devastating disease: childhood cancer.

That’s according to Julie Guillot, an advocate with the Children’s Oncology Group, who points out that despite decades of progress, cancer remains the No. 1 disease-related cause of death in kids. If the FDA applied the flexibility and creativity that accelerated vaccine development, that might change, according to Guillot.

“Watching the lightning-speed approvals of Covid-19 vaccines and therapies, I can’t help but ask, ‘Can’t we pick up the pace and do better for children with cancer?’” she wrote. “Many parents like me see childhood cancer as our pandemic.”

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‘Don’t leave vaccine in the fridge. Don’t leave vaccine in the vial’

The early days of Covid-19 vaccine rollout have stoked a global debate over how to maximize the benefits, in terms of who gets a shot and when. To Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, the solution is fairly simple: prioritize the most in need and don’t let a drop go to waste.

Speaking to STAT’s Helen Branswell, Messonnier endorsed the CDC’s recommendations, which rank groups based on their risks of virus exposure and developing severe Covid-19, but encouraged providers to use their full supply of the vaccines, even if people wind up getting the shots ahead of their spot in line. That means if one facility still has supply but no one left in a particular category to vaccinate, it should move to people in the next tier.

“Don’t leave vaccine in the fridge,” she said. “Don’t leave vaccine in the vial.”

Read more.

More reads

  • Brigham and Women’s president to step down. (Boston Globe)
  • Indian biotech company says approved COVID shot trials 'honest.' (Reuters)
  • Italy’s Angelini to buy Swiss biotech group for $1 billion. (Financial Times)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

STAT

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