🗞 Novartis starts Phase 3 trials for antimalarial drug; Novavax says no more vax to Gavi
Hello and welcome back to The Friday Kable, your round-up of the most interesting life sciences stories this week.
The week started off with the conclusion of COP27, which ended on a bitter-sweet note. While a groundbreaking agreement to create a loss and damage climate adaptation fund was signed, two contentious issues - calls to phase out the use of fossil fuels and limit global warming to 1.5 deg C - were sidestepped. During the week, news emerged that the WHO is close to finalising a new name for monkeypox. The new name? MPOX. It has otherwise been a relatively quiet week on the news front but still we have enough to comfortably take you all the way into next week. Dig in.
A universal flu vaccine that can fight every known strain of flu may be on the horizon after an experimental 20-subtype mRNA flu vaccine successfully protected animals against lethal flu strains. The super-vaccine containing mRNA instructions recognized the hemagglutinin proteins found on the influenza virus' surfaces and defended animals against 18 strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. Here's hoping the multivalent vaccine protects humans too.
The WHO warns of an imminent measles threat after nearly 40 million children missed routine shots last year due to the pandemic. With outbreaks reported in more than 20 countries, including 128 000 deaths last year, it is critical to get immunisation programs back on track, says the WHO.
Novartis and its partner Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) are progressing their novel once-daily antimalarial treatment into Phase 3 trials. The combination treatment of Ganaplacide with Lumefantrine hopes to block malarial transmission and, if successful, will help beat drug resistance to the widely used Artemisinin-based antimalarial.
The WHO is updating its 2017 priority pathogen list targeting over 25 virus families, bacteria and diseases X (unidentified pathogens) to identify and avert a large-scale pandemic crisis. The WHO R&D Blueprint for epidemics will develop R&D and investment roadmaps for pathogens that make it to the priority list.
Novavax has ended its advance purchase agreement with Gavi for its Covid-19 vaccine, Nuvaxovid. Though Novavax has received non-refundable advance payments totalling $700 million from Gavi, the company terminated the deal claiming Gavi procured only 2 million of the committed 350 million doses. Gavi has refuted the accusations insisting Novavax has been unable to deliver on manufacturing commitments.
Bacterial infections caused 7.7 million deaths worldwide in 2019, second only to heart disease, according to a large study funded by the Gates Foundation. Researchers pointed to (obvious) stark differences between poor and wealthy regions, with Sub-Saharan Africa reporting 230 deaths per 100,000 humans compared to 52 per 100,000 in high-income countries.
While deaths by bacterial infection are rising, so is the unsupervised use of antibiotics, like in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, where one in three people use antibiotics without prescriptions.
The Quadripartite, which includes the Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the WHO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), has launched the Antimicrobial Resistance Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Platform to empower stakeholders across the One Health spectrum and build consensus in the global fight against AMR.
India has developed Sarthi, a new digital surveillance platform that will trace and track dengue, malaria, and chikungunya down to district and street locations using publicly available information on social media. The goal is to prevent and control disease outbreaks.
Bangladesh imports 100% of plasma products valued at around Tk2,000 crore annually. But that is likely to change with China's Sinovac investing close to Tk5,000 crore to produce plasma-based medicine in the country by 2023.
(The Business Standard)
With limited medical seats in its home country and rising demand, Pakistan's Khyber Medical University, Peshawar (KMUP), is setting up medical college campuses in Afghanistan to boost the neighbouring country's healthcare services.
Despite being the third-largest pharmaceutical market in the world, Japan is becoming less attractive to pharmaceutical companies. The Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA) has serious concerns about pricing policies, including low national health insurance (NHI)-listed drug prices and high investment costs.
Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is partnering with mRNA platform company RVAC Medicines to develop next-gen mRNA manufacturing and analytics capabilities for infectious diseases in Singapore.
India pharma giant Glenmark's manufacturing problems continue after its Goa plant received a warning letter from the USFDA. Last month the company's Baddi unit was placed under import alert by the USFDA.
UK's brain health technology developer, Cambridge Cognition, finds a local partner in Luca Healthcare to enter China's cognitive diagnostic market efficiently and cost-effectively.
South Korea's SK Bioscience has suspended production of SKYCovione, the first domestically developed Covid vaccine due to low market demand and strict global approval regulations.
MENA & GCC
Israel's Sheba Medical Center is partnering with UAE's G42 Healthcare to introduce cutting-edge innovations in cardiology, oncology, gynaecology, diabetes, and fertility through joint advanced medical research and clinical trials across the UAE and Israel.
Iran's southern province, Fars, is expanding its medical tourism sector to attract patients from Persian Gulf countries, including Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. It hopes to serve two million medical travellers by March 2026.
Lancet reports West Africa is now the hub for the highest antimicrobial resistance (AMR) deaths at 27.3 per 100,000 humans. Prescription-less access to and overprescription of antibiotics is rampant and much above the WHO-set targets. Animal-antimicrobials are available in the open market without restrictions. Projections suggest that if left unchecked, by 2050, AMR could cost $300 billion to $1 trillion every year globally.
Following Bangladesh and Indonesia, Nigeria's capital, Lagos, is setting up specialist hospitals to reverse medical tourism and brain drain trends.
Nigeria isn't alone in its woes. Since 2021, 4,000 inflation-hit Zimbabwean health workers have left the country in droves. Britain, once again, tops the 'greener pastures' chart.
The South African President's recent UK visit sees both countries sign a series of health and climate agreements, including research projects, genome sequencing, vaccine manufacturing and decarbonizing the African country.
South Africa's Biovac South Institute has partnered with the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) to develop an oral cholera vaccine (OCV). This initiative is excellent news amidst rising cholera infections worldwide and vaccine shortages that led the WHO to switch to a one-dose routine. The tech transfer from IVI will begin in January next year, with trial batches expected in 2024 and licencing from the South African regulator by 2026.
With less than 250 psychiatrists left in the country, Nigeria's brain drain is making psychiatric care relatively difficult. The country currently has one qualified psychiatric doctor for about a million people compared to the standard psychiatrists-to-patient ratio of 1:10,000.
South & Central America
Brazil's drug regulatory agency, ANVISA, has authorised the prescription-only sales of Paxlovid in private hospitals and pharmacies.
Rest of the world
Danish drug maker Novo Nordisk is investing $744 million to expand manufacturing facilities in Bagsvaerd, Denmark to add R&D capacity and manufacture APIs to supply its global clinical trials.
Europe's drugs monitoring agency EMCDDA says that the recreational use of nitrous oxide or laughing gas is soaring among young people, and so are associated cases of poisoning.
The US FDA has greenlit India-based Alembic Pharmaceutical's Nifedipine extended-release tablets to treat cardiac disorders.
scPharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage theraupeutics company, has secured $50 million in a public offering to launch its FDA-approved on-body infusor Furoscix, a proprietary heart failure therapy.
India's first therapeutic behavioural health startup, Sukoon Health has raised $15 million from venture firm, Lightrock India, to expand its operations across India.
The Gates Foundation-backed equity fund Evercare Health is selling its stake in Nairobi's Metropolitan and Ladnan hospitals to minority co-owner Metro Group Plc for Sh1 billion.
Merck's anti-PD1 oncology mega blockbuster Keytruda has met its primary endpoints in Phase 3 trials, Keynote-859. Keytruda, combined with chemotherapy, increases the survival rate of stomach cancer (HER2-negative) patients versus chemo alone. This win puts Keytruda in the running with Bristol Myers Squibb's Opdivo, the first PD-1/L1 inhibitor-approved frontline stomach cancer treatment.
The first human trials of computer-designed antibodies to treat cancer are currently underway in Australia. Researchers say these smart-nano robots are multifunctional and act depending on the nature of the cell (good or bad) surrounding the tumour.
(The Times of Israel)
Do you exercise? We suggest aerobics since it may lower the risk of metastatic cancer spread by a good 72%, especially in the liver, lymph nodes and lungs. A new study shows that high-intensity exercises derive their energy from sugar, limiting the amount of energy cancer has access to. And if your idea of exercise is walking, then sprinting in between is a good idea.
That's it for the week. Thanks for reading The Friday Kable. This post is public, so feel free to share it.