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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Air cargo unready for Covid-19 vaccines

Only 28% of air cargo companies feel prepared to transport temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines around the globe, a new survey shows. And 19% of the surveyed companies feel “very unprepared” — underscoring how complex the supply chain logistics of this endeavor are.  

“We are still at early stages of industry preparation for the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines and there are still a lot of unknowns,” one pharma transport exec said. “Getting the equation right requires us to work together now.” 

Read more.

Merck plans to ramp up its BCG production 

There’s been a global shortage of TICE BCG — a potent medication that’s been used to treat certain forms of bladder cancer for decades. Since 2012, Merck has been the only manufacturer of the drug: Companies have had little incentive to make it because it’s tricky to produce, and there hasn’t been a huge return on investment. As a result, many cancer patients have lacked access to an important treatment option. 

Merck says it has a way to address this global shortage: It now plans to expand its manufacturing capacity for TICE BCG in its North Carolina vaccine plant. It’ll take several years to complete the expansion, the company said in a statement — so it’ll continue to proportionally allocate the drug throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Is your local lawmaker flush with pharma cash? 

How does racism in medicine loom over Covid-19 studies? And who decides when a clinical trial goes on pause? We discuss all that and more this week on “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast. First, we discuss two high-profile pauses to Covid-19 clinical trials from Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson and explain why experts say they offer more good news than bad. 

Then, STAT Washington correspondent Lev Facher calls in to talk about his first-of-its-kind analysis of the drug industry’s spending to influence policy at the state level. Finally, our STAT colleague Nicholas St. Fleur joins us to tell the story of two Black university leaders who urged their campuses to join a Covid-19 vaccine trial — and the backlash that ensued. 

Listen here.

Vertex, Amgen pivoting into new deals

Both Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Amgen have stumbled in recent months — with some of their pipeline drugs not living up to expectations. So the two companies are likely on the lookout for new deals, STAT’s Adam Feuerstein writes

Vertex announced this week that it is shelving VX-814, an experimental drug aimed at alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Its next best chance for pipeline growth are likely CRISPR-based treatments for sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia, since it likely can’t look at cystic fibrosis much longer for new drug development. The company has $5.5 billion in cash, however, and generates another $800 million each quarter. 

Read more.

A long walk to a coronavirus drug

How to find Covid-19 drugs? An international group led by Nevan J. Krogan of the University of California, San Francisco, combined computer simulations with molecular biology experiments that looked at coronaviruses, which include not only SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid, but also the viruses that cause of MERS and SARS, and also the cells they infect. That led them to drug targets. Then, the team found existing medicines that happened to hit those targets, and used clinical data to see if patients who got them did better.

In this observational study, published in Science, patients who received indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory, appeared to do better than those who got Celebrex, and those who got older, typical antipsychotics did better than those who got the newer atypicals antipsychotics. Jeremy Rassen, a co-author and the chief medical officer of real-world evidence firm Aetion, noted that this approach could be used not only to decide whether to test an existing drug in a clinical trial, but as a way to decide whether a it's worth inventing new medicines that hit a particular target. 

"I think it sort of gives us a head start, if you will, on identifying molecules," Rassen said.

More reads

  • Thank this Ebola-fighting African doctor for monoclonal antibody treatments. (STAT)
  • Attorneys general urge the Justice Department to revise a settlement deal with Purdue. (STAT)

Thanks for reading! More next week,


Friday, October 16, 2020


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