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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

NIH wants Big Pharma’s help with coronavirus

The National Institutes of Health has picked Moderna Therapeutics as its partner in the quest to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The problem is that Moderna, despite employing more than 700 people, doesn’t have the wherewithal to make the millions of doses the world would need if the vaccine ends up working. That means NIH needs to recruit a pharma giant to help with manufacturing, and the process of doing so has been “very difficult and very frustrating,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Speaking to STAT’s Helen Branswell, Fauci acknowledged major drug makers might have their reasons to be reticent. In the past, responding to outbreaks has been a money-losing endeavor, one that sometimes ends with reputational damage.

While NIH looks for a suitor, Johnson and Johnson said yesterday it would partner with another U.S. agency, BARDA, on its own product. 

Read more.

Business is talking about mental health. Investing, not so much

Funding for companies in the mental health space fell nearly 60% between the third and fourth quarters last year, despite a sharp increase in lip service from business leaders.

That’s according to CB Insights, whose latest report on health care investing points out that the final three months of 2019 saw just $63 million flow into mental health startups, the smallest amount in three years.

At the same time, executives are talking about mental and behavioral health more and more. Those words were uttered more than 100 times on 2019’s fourth-quarter earnings calls, according to the same report, which is more than double the average across the previous four years.

One idea to fix pharma’s superbug problem: debt

By now it’s well understood that the drug industry’s antimicrobial pipelines are insufficient in the context of society’s need for new armaments against superbugs. And it’s widely known that startups in the space have found it nearly impossible to attract investors.

The World Health Organization is offering a potential solution: Let us loan you the money.

As Peter Beyer, a senior advisor in the WHO antimicrobial resistance division, explained to STAT’s Ed Silverman, the group is working with the European Investment Bank to start a $1 billion fund. With that fund, they’d aim to rescue biotech companies from the valley of death that so often scuttles new antibiotic ideas.

Under that model, a company on the verge of Phase 3 could draw on a credit line, Beyer said, using the money to wrap up development and, ideally, bring a much-needed treatment to market.

Read more.

After five years and a few pivots, this company is shooting for a $1 billion valuation

Revolution Medicines began its life 2014 with $45 million and a plan to turn naturally occurring compounds into drugs for fungal and bacterial infections. About a year later, the company abandoned infectious disease and delved into oncology, raising another $175 million or so and buying the flagging Warp Drive Bio to pad its pipeline.

Now, with a single cancer treatment in human trials and a handful yet to be tested in animals, Revolution is aiming for a roughly $1 billion valuation. The company is expected to pull off an IPO this week that would raise more than $200 million, selling 14 million shares at $17 each.

Just how that IPO fares will be an interesting test case of investor sentiment for biotech in 2020. Pre-election anxiety led to a record number of follow-on stock offerings in the early weeks of the year, creating a glut of investable supply that threatens to outpace market demand.

More reads

  • Biopharma’s big bet on cancer is laid bare. (EP Vantage)
  • Understanding pandemics: What they mean, don’t mean, and what comes next with the coronavirus. (STAT)
  • Pharma megadeals pass first checkup. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Upstart cancer biotech recruits a top Pfizer oncology researcher as CSO. (Endpoints)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

STAT

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