The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Merck enters Covid-19 vaccine development fray

Merck, one of the largest vaccine makers in the world, is entering the Covid-19 arena with an announcement it is developing two different vaccines for Covid-19 and is also licensing an oral drug that might treat the virus. To do this, it is buying Vienna-based Themis, which is developing an experimental Covid-19 vaccine based on a measles vaccine that could begin human studies soon. It is partnering with the nonprofit IAVI on the development of a vaccine related to Merck's existing Ebola vaccine. And it is licensing an experimental drug from a small company called Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

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After severe vaccine reaction, Moderna trial participant is still a believer

Twelve hours after receiving his second dose of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine made by Moderna Therapeutics, 29-year-old Ian Haydon developed a fever of more than 103 degrees. He went to urgent care and then, after being released back home, briefly fainted. He’s one of four people in the 45-person trial to experience “Grade 3” adverse events to the vaccine.

Still, Hayden, who spoke publicly about the experience for the first time with STAT's Matthew Herper, said that he believes in the vaccine’s importance — and is still willing to be exposed to the novel coronavirus to test its efficacy. He sees his story as a cautionary tale for those people who want to race a vaccine to market regardless of consequences.

“I understand that sharing the story, it’s going to be frightening to some people,” he said. “I hope that it doesn’t fuel any sort of general antagonism towards vaccines in general or even this vaccine.” 

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Pharma tries to keep global supply chains intact

Pharma supply chains have been fractured in the wake of the novel coronavirus. So U.S. lawmakers are calling for more medications to be made exclusively in the U.S. — introducing some 20 bills to overhaul drug manufacturing logistics. This, STAT’s Nicholas Florko writes, is an existential threat for much of the industry.

To counter the efforts, the pharmaceutical industry is deploying its substantial lobbying power — aiming to keep new restrictions at bay. The industry is also trying to craft alternative proposals that might slake the government’s thirst to domesticate the supply chain without completely upending the status quo. 

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A pediatric oncologist helms Sanofi's cancer division

Peter Adamson, Sanofi’s new chief cancer therapeutics executive, is mindful of the urgency of his role: “One thing cancer patients don’t have is time,” he told STAT’s Elizabeth Cooney. This is the pediatric oncologist’s first foray into the private sector, after spending the past three decades in academia — working most recently as chair of the Children’s Oncology Group in Philadelphia at CHOP. 

Adamson intends to hone Sanofi’s focus on innovation in therapeutics geared at children. 

“How we measure success in pediatric cancer is the cure rate,” he said. “When you’re taking care of a 7-year-old child, three months’ increase in life expectancy ... that’s not our goal.” 

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Myasthenia gravis drug performs well in Phase 3

Belgium-based Argenx said its experimental drug, called efgartigimod, improved the symptoms of myasthenia gravis in a late-stage trial. It’s now going to seek U.S. approval before the end of the year, STAT’s Adam Feuerstein writes

Myasthenia gravis is a chronic and debilitating neuromuscular disease, where the body’s own antibodies interfere with the communication between nerve endings and muscles. Efgartigimod blocks the neonatal Fc receptor, which triggers several types of autoimmune disease. 

There are several drug makers competing to develop FcRn blockers, including Immunovant, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, and Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

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More reads

  • How 5 biotech investors are responding to the Covid-19 crisis. (The Information)
  • Regeneron to buy back $5 billion stake held by Sanofi. (Reuters)
  • Stéphane Bancel’s audacity pays off for Moderna. (Financial Times)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Tuesday, May 26, 2020


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