💉 CEPI boost for PAHO; Novartis makes a buy; Novo Nordisk makes a buy too
#503 | Dengue comes for Brazil; CAR-T comes for cancer; Climate change comes for us all
Hello, and welcome back once again to The Kable for a week where a lot of the news looks very more-of-the-same kind.
Like dengue in Brazil. The country is grappling with a significant dengue fever outbreak, with reported cases in the first five weeks of this year reaching 364,855, a fourfold increase from the same period in 2023, and resulting in 40 confirmed deaths. In response, the administration has secured 5.2 million doses of the Qdenga vaccine, declared emergencies in three states, and initiated targeted vaccination campaigns amidst efforts to control the mosquito population and manage the surge in infections.
Elsewhere, in apparent good news, the WHO has signed an agreement with KSrelief to provide emergency health services to people in Gaza. However, will any aid actually reach the people in Gaza who need it?
CEPI and PAHO have inked an MoU to bolster their partnership in improving epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response in the Americas, focusing on equitable access to vaccines and health technologies. This collaboration aims to share expertise and resources, enhance disease surveillance and vaccine development, and ensure timely access to health interventions.
And finally, we've all read reports on how each successive month beginning June last year was the hottest of its kind ever. January 2024 didn't buck the trend, ascending to the spot of hottest January ever. The January heat was so high the world actually breached a 1.7°C warming mark.
Stories Of The Week
Turning the tables on cancer. In a groundbreaking study, researchers have discovered that mutations which typically enable cancer cells to survive under conditions that would kill healthy cells can also enhance the efficacy of CAR T-cell therapies in combating cancer. By incorporating a specific mutation found in cancerous T cells into engineered CAR T cells, scientists have been able to significantly improve these cells' ability to destroy tumours resistant to existing treatments. This innovative approach, detailed in a recent publication in Nature, not only showcases the potential for improved CAR-T therapies against various cancers, including solid tumours but also highlights a novel strategy of using cancer's own survival tactics against it. The study's success in mice models, particularly with a mutation known as CARD11–PIK3R3, has led to the treatment's rapid advancement towards clinical trials, promising a new horizon in cancer treatment that leverages the robustness of cancerous mutations to enhance the immune system's fight against the disease.
Leafy greens to the rescue. In a potentially huge shot in the arm for CEPI's 100 Days mission, LenioBio has embarked on a groundbreaking study, funded by (of course) CEPI with up to $2 million, to validate its plant-based, cell-free technology, ALiCE, which promises to produce vaccine proteins for clinical trials in just 20-40 days - significantly faster than traditional cell culture methods. This innovative approach, using plant cell extracts for rapid protein expression, not only accelerates the vaccine development process but also offers advantages in scalability, ease of use in diverse settings, and a smaller environmental footprint, marking a significant step towards achieving faster access to medicines and preparing for future health threats.
X marks the spot. Ever wonder why women are more likely than men to face the music with autoimmune diseases like lupus and MS? Well, a study published in Cell might just have cracked a part of the code, and it's all about the X chromosome's extra baggage. Researchers discovered that a special set of molecules acting on women's additional X chromosome could be throwing the immune system off its game. This intriguing find suggests that these molecules, rather than the immune system at large, could be the key to developing more targeted treatments. While the X chromosome's role in disease isn't a solo act, this research opens the door to potentially game-changing treatments. It turns out that the same mechanism that silences one of the X chromosomes in women might also inadvertently flag down the immune system, leading to a bit of internal confusion.
Pharma giants go shopping. The big money spending continues unabated in Big Pharma. BioNTech is set to invest $250 million in Autolus Therapeutics to boost its cell therapy capabilities, including a $50 million payment and a $200 million equity investment. The deal gives BioNTech royalties on sales of Autolus’ CAR-T therapy for leukaemia, options to co-commercialise two early-stage programs, and enhances its own BNT211 cell therapy development with access to Autolus’ manufacturing capacity.
Meanwhile, Novartis is acquiring MorphoSys for €2.7 billion to enhance its cancer therapy portfolio, particularly focusing on MorphoSys's lead drug, Pelabresib, for myelofibrosis treatment. The deal, however, might attract antitrust scrutiny due to Novartis' existing stakes in a similar blood cancer drug, raising concerns about market competition and potential regulatory challenges in both the US and Europe.
Elsewhere, in the biggest deal of the year so far, Novo Nordisk is bolstering its production capacity through two major deals. The company's investment arm, Novo Holdings, is acquiring Catalent for $16.5 billion, providing Novo Nordisk with three specialised manufacturing sites for $11 billion, aimed at scaling up the production of drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. This strategic move is expected to significantly enhance Novo Nordisk's manufacturing capabilities to meet growing market demand. One of the Catalent sites in the deal, though, is currently in the US FDA crosshairs for quality lapses.
(Autolus, Novartis, Catalent, Reuters)
Sponges spill sea secrets. Diving deep into the ocean's past, scientists have discovered we might have hit the 1.5°C global warming limit two decades earlier than expected, thanks to some ancient sea sponges. These slow-growing creatures, living in the ocean's caves, have recorded water temperatures since the 1700s, revealing we're on a faster track to warming than previously thought. It turns out these sponges are not just good for cleaning; they're also excellent at keeping a record of our climate, offering a clearer - and much warmer - picture of our planet's health.
Breathing new life. Dr Bernard Olayo, haunted by the preventable deaths of children in Kenya due to oxygen shortages, transformed his pain into action by founding Hewatele, aiming to vastly increase local medical oxygen production. Facing daily tragedies in Homa Bay, where pneumonia took young lives in the rainy season, Dr Olayo's journey from despair to determination led to building a $20 million liquid oxygen plant near Nairobi. This brilliant profile on Devex showcases how this endeavour not only aims to prepare Kenya better for future pandemics but also represents a beacon of hope for other African nations, highlighting the power of local solutions to global health crises.
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