Why hasn’t pharma come up with a Zika vaccine?
human trials on two experimental zika vaccines have already begun, but most of the heavy hitters in pharma are sitting this one out. (Tom Ervin/Getty Images)
As global health authorities race to develop a vaccine for Zika, only two major drugmakers — GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi — are pitching in.
Why are the rest so reticent? As STAT’s Helen Branswell reports, it’s a matter of economics. In pandemics past, drug companies have marshaled their resources to quickly craft vaccines only to find that the spread of disease has waned before they have a chance to launch a product. That might be good for public health, but it leaves companies with a sunk cost and little means of recovering their investments.
But governments can’t go it alone, leading some to push for new approaches that might better align the industry’s incentives.
A cure, or your money back
The first ever gene-therapy cure will come with an equally novel pricing concept: A money-back guarantee.
GlaxoSmithKline's treatment, which inserts a missing gene in patients with a rare immune disorder known as SCID, is priced at $665,000.
That's a steep bill, but this morning, MIT Tech Review reports that GSK has pledged to refund the cost for patients who don't benefit from the treatment. (In a clinical trial, it cured 15 out of 18 children.) Anna Padula, a GSK spokeswoman, told the Tech Review that GSK recognizes "the industry will need to adapt the way in which medicines are priced and funded."
Another twist for KaloBios
Remember KaloBios? In the span of just a few months, it went from corporate death spiral to Shkrelian infamy to a second corporate death spiral. In between, it acquired a long-ago-developed drug for a rare infection and hatched a plan to corner the US market and charge whatever it pleased.
Despite Martin Shkreli’s prosecutorially motivated resignation, that plan is pretty much still in place at KaloBios, which rose “from the ashes” of bankruptcy last month, as its new CEO put it.
But some new science coming out of Novartis could imperil the company’s path to profits.
Writing in Nature, Novartis researchers report that they’ve found a compound that can kill a trio of tropical ailments, including Chagas disease, the target of KaloBios’s recently acquired drug. The Novartis treatment succeeded in an animal study, curing mice with no adverse side effects.
That new compound is years away from potential real-world use, but its emergence could damage the case KaloBios has made to investors. The company’s grand plan hinged on winning the FDA’s blessing for its Chagas drug and then charging hepatitis C-like prices for it. If Novartis fast-tracks its rival therapy, that monopoly could be short-lived.
Keeping biotech bridges unburnt
Biotech is a footloose industry, where workers dip and dart between startups, pharma companies, and back again, presumably accumulating quite the stash of embroidered fleeces in the process.
The problem? Many flirt with a new job, only to turn back at the last minute. If their boss finds out about their dalliance, their careers may suffer, according to blogger and well-traveled chemist Derek Lowe. His advice: “if you’re going to move, move.”
On a related note, the hashtag #firstsevenjobs has caught on among biotech types on Twitter. Most didn't list the many drug companies they’ve bounced among over the years. But we now know a lot of biotech-famous people are ex-bartenders.
And if you're looking for the next place to send your resume?
It's "a very exciting time to be joining Valeant," according to the company's new general counsel.
We'll see if today's earnings report bears that out.
- Luke Timmerman, co-host of STAT's Signal podcast, wrote a book about legendary biotech entrepreneur Lee Hood. Here's an excerpt. (UnDark)
- A look at the track record of startups founded by famed MIT professor Robert Langer. (Chemical & Engineering News)
- AstraZeneca's selumetinib fails late-stage lung cancer trial, but it still has high hopes for immunotherapy durvalumab. (Reuters)
- Celgene passed on what could have been a $1.7 billion deal with small biotech Acetylon. (Endpoints)