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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

What role will BARDA play in the pandemic?

There’s a government agency meant explicitly to invest in technologies the private sector won’t touch — such as vaccines or treatments for diseases like Ebola, Zika, anthrax, and swine flu. Now, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has been given a $3.5 billion boost from Congress to help fund coronavirus research. 

But what’s BARDA’s game plan? It’s pouring millions into vaccine projects from companies like Moderna Therapeutics and Johnson & Johnson, and intends to invest in a wider array of tools to combat the pandemic. Still, biotech experts doubt the agency is prepared for such a massive new workload, STAT’s Nicholas Florko reports. 

“Everyone knows that the government wheels can turn slowly and bureaucracy can raise its ugly head, and this is a race against time,” BIO President Jim Greenwood said. “This is a matter of life and death.”

Read more.

Remdesivir production gets a big boost

Gilead Sciences is ramping up production of remdesivir, the experimental antiviral drug being tested for its efficacy against the novel coronavirus.

Gilead now has 1.5 million individual dosages of remdesivir, which could be used for more than 140,000 patients. It’s offering the drug for free through clinical trials and special access programs.

“Providing our existing supplies at no charge is the right thing to do, to facilitate access to patients as quickly as possible and in recognition of the public emergency posed by this pandemic,” Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day wrote in an open letter this past weekend.

Read more.

How to make immunotherapy work better

Checkpoint inhibitors and similar drugs have changed how cancer is treated — but only about 1 in 7 patients respond to immunotherapy. There are still significant gaps in the scientific understanding of the immune system, which makes it difficult to predict whose immune cells can be redirected to kill cancers. 

In a new piece, two executives at Genocea —a Cambridge-based biotech developing cancer therapies — argue that there's an urgent need to learn more about immune responses. Doing so will be key to deploying immunotherapies more precisely — and making them effective for more patients. 

Read more.

Gilead teams up with microbiome startup to hunt for biomarkers

A San Francisco microbiome startup has inked a deal with Gilead to help the pharmaceutical company find new biomarkers for inflammatory diseases, as well as to pinpoint potential drug targets for inflammatory bowel disease. 

The company, Second Genome, will be tasked with finding new biomarkers that can show whether some of Gilead’s drug candidates are working. The four-year deal, announced Monday, could be worth up to $1.5 billion. Second Genome will receive just $32 million upfront. 

This isn’t the first collaboration of its kind. Both Janssen and Bristol Myers Squibb signed biomarker discovery deals with other microbiome startups in 2018 and 2016, though financial details on those deals were scarce. 

More reads

  • The Covid-19 pandemic forces a new way of thinking for Quil, Comcast's health tech startup. (STAT)
  • Zentalis pulls off $165 million IPO amid pandemic-driven uncertainty. (FierceBiotech)
  • Bet big on treatments for coronavirus. (Wall Street Journal)

Monday, April 6, 2020

STAT

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