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The Readout Damian Garde & Meghana Keshavan

Vaccine success would be street cred — and more

We’re in the thick of a biopharmaceutical Space Race. The Trump administration has cherry-picked five firms it believes are best poised to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. And, beyond doing good for all of humanity, there’s a lot at stake for the drug makers themselves, STAT’s Damian Garde writes. For some, success would be a matter of national pride; for others, it could serve as a rebuke to voluble skeptics.

Every drug maker is hoping to cross the finish line early.

“Everybody knows about Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the first people to go to the moon,” one pharma bigwig told STAT. “Who were the fourth and fifth people on the moon?” 

Read more.

A symbiotech union 

Two young biotechs are developing a symbiotic partnership to expand the safety and reach of genome-edited treatments.

Beam Therapeutics, which is using a next-gen CRISPR technique called base editing, announced this morning that it is working with Magenta Therapeutics to pair its experimental bone marrow conditioning agent to prepare patients to receive gene-edited cells. 

Beam’s technology can edit single letters in the genome, and is meant to help treat inherited blood disorders like sickle cell anemia. Magenta, meanwhile, is working on an antibody linked to a cell-killing toxin that helps ready a patient’s bone marrow for Beam’s experimental therapeutic.

A new front in the battle over 'right to try'

A private equity firm wants to launch a chain of cancer centers focused primarily on experimental medicines — particularly those available under the controversial "right to try" law that went into effect two years ago. 

The chain, called United Cancer Centers, is being backed by Vivaris Capital. It says it provides “integrative cancer care,” which entails sidestepping the FDA when determining whether dying patients can access drugs still being tested in clinical trials, STAT’s Ed Silverman writes. Although the concept is meant to expand treatment options for terminal patients, it has drawn some scrutiny. 

As one medical ethics researcher put it: The effort “translates to: ‘profit on the backs of desperately ill and dying patients who will be willing to pay whatever we charge for a remote chance of saving their lives.’”

Read more.

Gardasil finally approved for head and neck cancer

Gardasil, at long last, has been approved to help prevent head-and-neck cancer — a disease that affects 13,500 Americans each year. Although the Merck vaccine has already been recommended to prevent cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancer, along with genital warts, cancers of the tonsils and throat have been left off of that list — until now. 

It’s been a surprising omission, STAT’s Matthew Herper writes, because head-and-neck cancer is the most common malignancy caused by HPV — and evidence of the association has been apparent for many years. 

Read more.

Encouraging early Covid-19 vaccine data

Preliminary data suggest that CoronaVac, an experimental Covid-19 vaccine from Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech, might indeed protect people from the novel coronavirus. Preliminary results from a 600-patient, placebo-controlled Phase 2 study found that “above 90%” of people tested two weeks after receiving the vaccine developed neutralizing antibodies, STAT’s Adam Feuerstein writes.

Sinovac still hasn’t provided much detail about CoronaVac’s safety and efficacy — though plans to do so in the “near future.” There are more than two dozen research efforts underway to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. 

Read more.

More reads

  • Covid-19 and remdesivir: rethinking how we measure a drug’s ‘value’ (STAT)
  • As efficacy of Constellation’s blood cancer drug wanes, the debate over its future ratchets higher. (STAT)
  • Meet the secretive Wall Street investor with the billion dollar medicine cabinet. (Forbes)
  • Very fast CRISPR on demand. (Science)

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


Monday, June 15, 2020


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