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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

GSK joins forces with CureVac

GlaxoSmithKline announced this morning that is partnering with German biotech CureVac to help manufacture the latter's messenger RNA vaccine — and jointly develop a separate vaccine to target new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The deal, worth more than $180 million, is the latest in a string of moves in which major vaccine producers have teamed up with competitors to help them make Covid-19 vaccines, as STAT's Helen Branwell reports.

Under the terms of the deal, GSK will make up to 100 million doses of the vaccine currently in development by CureVac. And the two companies will develop a next-generation that may be multivalent, meaning it would protect against several strains of the virus. If it works, the companies hope to be able to roll it out in 2022.

Read more.

Speaking of mRNA

Pfizer, which expects to make at least $15 billion from its mRNA vaccine for Covid-19 this year, sees a future for the technology that extends beyond the pandemic and outside the world of vaccines.

Speaking on the company’s earnings call yesterday, CEO Albert Bourla said the company would work with its mRNA partner BioNTech on variant-specific booster shots for Covid-19, annual flu vaccines, and therapeutics for undisclosed diseases.

Bourla didn’t provide specifics on targets and timelines when it came to mRNA drugs, but his bullishness on the novel technology fits within his definition of a refocused (and rebranded) Pfizer. The company recently spun off its aging products and doubled down on more novel ideas, betting that it can compete with biotech upstarts in the fields of gene therapy, cell therapy, and rare diseases. A long-term investment in mRNA makes sense in that framework — and it pits Pfizer against Moderna, a pioneer in the field, in the race to prove the technology’s promise outside of vaccines.

Vertex and the immortal question for big biotech

There’s a rite of passage in the drug industry for companies that have been successful enough to turn their science projects into positive cash flow: Analysts stop badgering you with questions about how you’re going to make money and instead badger about how you’re going to spend it.

As STAT’s Adam Feuerstein reports, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is a relatively recent entrant into the profitability club, and that means CEO Reshma Kewalramani spent its latest earnings call fielding a bunch of creatively worded questions that boil down to “What are you going buy?”

Her answers were unsurprisingly sparse on details (“I have no preconceived notions about the timing of a transaction, and I have no preconceived notions about the dollar amount of a transaction,” Kewalramani said). But the tempo and tenor of analysts’ questions reflect a growing sense that Vertex needs to do something to augment its business to sate Wall Street. 

Read more.

Biogen speaks

Elsewhere in the world of interminable conference calls, it’s another big week of corporate earnings that might have implications beyond discerning which analysts have fallen out of favor with management. The coming days could bring news about a superlatively debated Alzheimer’s disease treatment and three therapies meant to curb the Covid-19 epidemic. Here’s what to look out for.

  • Today, at 8 a.m. ETBiogen will address its public for the first time since last week’s news that the FDA had delayed its approval decision on aducanumab, the company’s controversial Alzheimer’s treatment. If the past is any guide, Biogen is likely to be evasive when it comes to detail. But any commentary beyond Friday’s four-paragraph press release will be eagerly chewed over.
  • On Thursday, at 4:30 p.m. ET, Gilead Sciences will explain just how valuable remdesivir, the first treatment approved for Covid-19, might be. In the third quarter, remdesivir added $873 million to Gilead’s bottom line, more than making up for the company’s rapidly declining hepatitis C business. Thursday will reveal both remdesivir’s fourth-quarter sales and Gilead’s projections for 2021 revenue, which will illuminate whether management believes the intravenous medicine will be a pillar of its enterprise or a lucrative blip to be crowded out by better medicines.
  • Speaking of which, at 8 a.m. ET the same day, Merck might provide an update on its two in-development therapies for Covid-19. Late last month, the company halted development of its two vaccine candidates and shifted its attention to two pipeline medicines, one directed at the virus that causes Covid-19 and another meant to treat the immune system’s over-response to infection.

What sets the Covid-19 vaccines apart?

Recent months have brought a deluge of data on vaccines from Covid-19, whether one shot or two, frozen or simply refrigerated, and variant-tested or not. One could be forgiven for struggling to keep up.

STAT’s Helen Branswell has done that work for you, comparing the knowns and unknowns about the three vaccines that have completed pivotal trials in the U.S., made by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. That means comparing efficacy, safety, storage requirements, and trial populations.

Read more.

More reads

  • As the FDA clears a flood of AI tools, missing data raise major questions on effectiveness and safety. (STAT)
  • Oxford, AstraZeneca vaccine shows effectiveness with spread-out doses. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Eli Lilly's new cancer R&D chief has some things to say about drug discovery. (Endpoints)
  • A conversation on racial health disparities, Covid-19, and vaccine distribution. (STAT+)

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


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