💊 IVI, partners train African vaccine manufacturing workers; A new Alliance for mRNA Medicines; AstraZeneca's cell and gene therapy partnership
#463 | Repurposing cancer drugs; Making mice like men; Dirty air giving you diabetes
Hello there. Welcome back to The Kable for your daily dose of all things good, bad, and ugly in the life sciences. First, experts at the 2023 Future of Health conference in Lagos are sounding the alarm on the increasing spread of Lassa fever across West Africa. With more deadly strains of the virus in some parts of the region, there have been more deaths of pregnant women and children. At about 80%, there have also been an alarming number of asymptomatic cases. Initially, the neglected disease was mainly prevalent in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria; now, Mali, Togo, Ghana, and Cote d’Ivoire have been added to that list. With three vaccine candidates already shown to be safe, larger studies are now needed. Experts are also calling for more private sector involvement in producing Lassa fever vaccines.
Second, Afreximbank is spearheading a vaccines and medicines production collab signed earlier this year between Rwanda, Guyana, and Barbados. Highlighting the growing synergy between Africa and the Caribbean, this initiative will receive financial and logistical support from Afreximbank’s Africa Medical Supplies Platform, which was introduced in response to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, cholera has been raging across all 10 provinces in Zimbabwe for months now. There have been about 6,000 cases and 123 suspected deaths this year. All because of the lack of clean water, or just no running water at all for weeks at a stretch in some areas, driven by underwhelming government investment in freshwater supplies and inefficient sewage management. With seasonal rains expected soon, people fear the situation will worsen.
In Namibia, the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) has launched a comprehensive 16 billion Namibian dollar (~$1 billion) plan to enhance the country’s public health system. Projects under the plan include constructing a district hospital, setting up ICUs, installing oxygen-generating systems at health facilities, and more. With the second-highest budget allocation, the MoHSS is committed to ensuring adequate resources to recruit the required human resources, develop physical infrastructure, and procure equipment, medicines, and clinical supplies.
In Indonesia, a court has sentenced the CEO and three other officials of Afi Farma to two years in prison, in addition to a fine of 1 billion Indonesian rupiah (~$63,000). The company’s cough syrups, linked to the deaths of more than 200 children, had been found to be contaminated with the toxic ethylene glycol. The company officials were prosecuted for consciously not testing the ingredients, even though they had the means and responsibility to do so.
The South Korea-based International Vaccine Institute (IVI) has teamed up with KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) and Korea Biopharmaceutical CMO (K-Bio CMO) to train African vaccine manufacturing industry workers on all aspects of the upstream production process. KWTRP will support apprenticeships for 20 technicians, engineers, scientists, and managers from Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe at the training in Korea. A two-week teaching component at IVI will be followed by a four-week hands-on segment at K-Bio CMO. By the end of the programme, apprentices will be expected to have the capabilities to transition from preclinical vaccine R&D to small-scale production. A big win for biological manufacturing capacity in Africa!
Botswana’s Ministry of Health, the WHO, and the US CDC have launched the National Laboratory Strategic Plan for Botswana. The plan aims to modernise and upgrade lab infrastructure to better standards to improve diagnostic services, disease control, surveillance, and prevention. The plan also has provisions to train healthcare workers in managing advanced lab tech and practices.
In association with KPMG in India, the Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed) has launched a whitepaper on research and innovation in India’s medical device industry. It highlights that India lags in patent filings compared to the US, Japan, and China. It also points to technologies like IoT, 5G, generative AI, and 3D printing that can help manufacturers identify problem areas and customize innovation. Finally, it sheds light on the importance of private-sector investments as well as government facilitation of dialogue and collaborations between academia, healthcare providers, and private-sector medical device companies.
AstraZeneca is partnering with Cellectis, a company that uses gene editing to overcome challenges in cell and gene therapies. AstraZeneca will shell out $105 million to kick things off – this includes a $25 million upfront cash payment and an $80 million equity investment for 22% of Cellectis (and possibly more in the future). This partnership covers oncology, immunology, and rare diseases. Cellectis has reserved 25 undisclosed genetic targets for its new partner, with up to 10 of them being explored for development under the new deal. AZ will fund Cellectis’ research costs, with the option to exclusively license the products developed under the collab.
Novartis has announced that the US FDA has approved its Cosentyx for the treatment of moderate to severe hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) in adults. This makes it the first new biologic to treat the painful skin condition in close to a decade. So far, the only biologic treatment available in the US was AbbVie’s Humira. But soon, UCB’s Bimekizumab may also enter the ring.
San Francisco-based life sciences VC, Bioluminescence Ventures, made its official debut yesterday with a $350 million inaugural fund. Including a smaller second fund, the firm has a total of $477 million in assets under management. Its central focus? To help biotech startups accelerate the drug discovery and development process.
Yesterday, 31 biotech, biopharma, and life science companies and educational institutions at the forefront of mRNA and next-gen encoding RNA therapeutics and vaccine development launched the Alliance for mRNA Medicines (AMM) – the first and only scientific and policy organisation focused solely on advancing and advocating for mRNA innovation worldwide. AMM’s founding members include BioNTech, CureVac, Ginkgo Bioworks, Johns Hopkins University, Mayo Clinic and many many more partners.
And finally, the US government is set to launch the AI Safety Institute, a federal organisation dedicated to the cause of evaluating the safety of AI. This evaluation will concern healthcare as well as wider societal concerns. The institute will develop technical guidance for future regulatory policymaking and enforcement.