💉 Dealmaking continues unabated in Big Pharma; Malaria vaccines join routine immunisation plans; The world is prepared for a pandemic... NOT!
#501 | Can autoimmune conditions finally be cured?
Hello, and welcome back to The Kable to mark what has been a historic week for humankind. Historic why? Because for the first time ever, malaria vaccines started rolling into human arms as part of a national immunisation program, with Cameroon being the flagbearer for this march. Cameroon's program, which uses GSK's RTS,S vaccine, may not, however, have been met with initial enthusiasm by the general population, but we guess that is only a matter of time.
Elsewhere in Africa, cholera continues to affect life and liberty. Zambia is facing its worst cholera outbreak in 20 years, attributed to climate change, of course, leading to the closure of schools for an additional two weeks and affecting all 4.3 million school-aged children in the country.
And in South America, it is dengue reigning supreme. The continent is experiencing a record surge in summer dengue cases, leading to significant health responses in countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Brazil has initiated a unique dengue vaccine campaign - the world's first - and is spraying insecticide to control mosquitoes, while Argentina faces shortages of bug spray due to the rapid increase in cases. This spike in dengue is also attributed to climate change and the El Niño weather pattern, which have expanded the range and breeding conditions for mosquitoes.
Is the world prepared, though, if any of these disease outbreaks were to devolve into a pandemic? Well, no. The WHO chief says countries are on course to miss the May deadline for a legally binding treaty on pandemic response, warning of a significant missed opportunity for future generations. This treaty and updates to the International Health Regulations aim to strengthen global defences against new pathogens in light of the pandemic that shall not be named, which claimed over 7 million lives. While negotiations for such agreements typically take seven years, the urgency of pandemic prevention has shortened this timeframe, with the WHO having previously established only one similar accord in its 75-year history.
Before we move on to stories of the week, The Kable is Editorial Partner to Pharmaconex, Africa's most influential hub for life sciences professionals in the region, something we're absolutely thrilled about. If you haven't registered to attend the newest addition to the Pharmaconex family, Pharmaconex West, you should do so today. The event will be held from 22 - 24 April 2024 at the Landmark Centre in Lagos, Nigeria. Having worked with Team Pharmaconex, we can only say if you want to be part of the Africa story, this is one event you CAN'T AFFORD TO MISS.
Stories Of The Week
Becoming the biotech boss. Saudi Arabia has unveiled a national biotech strategy aimed at becoming a global biotechnology hub by 2036 and a regional leader by 2030. This strategy, part of the country's broader Vision 2030 project, focuses on developing vaccines, bio-manufacturing, genomics, and plant optimisation, with a keen interest in advancing vaccine technology and establishing local bio-manufacturing platforms. The move enhances domestic production, creates jobs, and drives economic growth and diversification.
Pandemic prep report: More homework needed. The International Pandemic Preparedness Secretariat's (IPPS) latest report reveals a concerning global lack of preparedness and investment in R&D for vaccines and therapeutics against emerging epidemic threats. Highlighting the "slipping urgency" in pandemic preparedness, the report emphasises the need for more coordinated efforts in developing therapeutics, as evident in the 100 Days Mission (100DM) for pandemic preparedness. The report applauds some progress, like the US FDA-approved Chikungunya vaccine and Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever vaccine trials, but points out the vast funding disparity and reactive nature of epidemic disease funding, dominated by public funders like the United States. The IPPS urges for enhanced international cooperation, increased funding, and a focus on neglected areas like therapeutics and diagnostics to better prepare for future pandemics.
SII gets a CEPI boost. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is set to receive up to $30 million from CEPI to enhance its vaccine production capabilities against potential epidemic or pandemic-causing infections. This funding will enable SII to rapidly collaborate with CEPI-backed vaccine developers for quick technology transfer, accelerating the production and equitable distribution of affordable vaccines during outbreaks. Aiming to manufacture and validate the first batches of experimental vaccines within 100 days of an outbreak, this collaboration is part of CEPI’s strategy to fortify vaccine makers in regions prone to deadly viral threats like Lassa Fever, Nipah, and Disease X. The partnership will also support the development, stockpiling, and licensing of new vaccines, especially benefiting countries in the Global South with limited access to life-saving vaccines. SII joins Aspen, Institut Pasteur de Dakar, and Bio Farma as the fourth CEPI’s global manufacturing network member.
No more I poke yous? Gone may be the days of needle pricks for the 425 million people with diabetes worldwide, thanks to scientists who've cooked up a new "sweet" solution: chocolate-infused oral insulin! This tasty treat, hiding nano-carriers tinier than a speck of fairy dust, is set to revolutionise diabetes management. Researchers cleverly coated these insulin-filled nanocarriers to survive the treacherous journey through the stomach, releasing insulin in the liver only when sugar levels spike. This smart insulin mimics the body's natural process, reducing side effects like hypoglycaemia and unwanted fat accumulation. Tested successfully on nematodes, rodents, and even baboons (who couldn't resist the sugar-free chocolatey allure), this innovation could hit the human market in 2-3 years. Say goodbye to syringes and hello to a world where managing diabetes could be as delightful as nibbling on a chocolate bar!
Pharma's feeding frenzy. The wheeling and dealing continues - a glut of dealmaking in 2024 - riding on the back of a massive year-end surge in 2023.
Sanofi is acquiring biologics drug developer Inhibrx for $1.7 billion, focusing on a single drug candidate, INBRX-101, intended to treat alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD). The remainder of Inhibrx's assets, primarily cancer medicines, will be spun off into a new company, with Sanofi retaining an 8% stake. The deal includes a contingent payment to Inhibrx shareholders if INBRX-101 achieves FDA approval by mid-2027, potentially adding another $296 million to the payout.
Coherus Biosciences is selling its USFDA-approved biosimilar drug Cimerli, along with related staff and assets, to Sandoz for $170 million. This move aligns with Coherus' strategic shift from biosimilars to developing its own cancer immunotherapies, including a handful of experimental drugs targeting various cancers. The sale of Cimerli, a copycat of the macular degeneration drug Lucentis, provides Coherus with the necessary funds to support its oncology focus, reduce debt, and cut overhead costs.
Novo Nordisk is intensifying its focus on obesity treatments by partnering with Swiss biotech EraCal Therapeutics in a deal potentially worth €235 million. This collaboration, building on a previous agreement to study obesity candidates in zebrafish larvae, grants Novo Nordisk exclusive rights to an oral treatment program targeting a novel mechanism for appetite and weight control. While specific details about the drug candidate and its mechanism remain undisclosed, the partnership fits into Novo Nordisk's broader strategy to lead the competitive obesity treatment market, complementing its acquisitions and collaborations aimed at innovative obesity solutions.
(Sanofi, Coherus, EraCal)
Bird flu takes flight? In a devastating blow to wildlife, nearly 96% of Southern elephant seal pups born in Argentina in 2023 - over 17,000 pups - have died due to a highly contagious strain of avian influenza (H5N1), raising alarms over potential mammal-to-mammal transmission. This catastrophic loss signals a delayed but significant impact on the elephant seal population. H5N1, primarily a bird flu, has been infecting various species since 1996, and recent cases in mammals like polar bears, dolphins, and otters have heightened concerns. While direct mammal-to-mammal transmission isn't confirmed, the unique circumstances of the elephant seal deaths suggest this possibility, raising fears of the virus adapting for human infection. With a high fatality rate in humans and the potential to become highly contagious, global health authorities are urging caution and preparedness against this evolving threat.
Autoimmune avengers assemble. Over two decades ago, immunologists embarked on a diabetes study that led to an innovative therapy using nanoparticles. Now nearing human trials, this study aims to target and quiet cells responsible for autoimmune disorders. This therapy is part of a larger scientific movement striving to restore immune tolerance, with several approaches being explored, including administering antigens to reprogram rogue cells, selectively wiping out problematic cells, or introducing engineered suppressive immune cells. These developments, particularly in diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis, offer hope for transformative treatments in autoimmune disorders, which have been managed by broadly suppressing the immune system, often with significant side effects. This piece in Nature examines where we are in our quest to understand, and cure autoimmune conditions.
Thanks for reading The Kable! Subscribe for to receive every post.