💊 Sinovac scraps Bangladesh project; Gilead subsidiary expands Arcellx collab; Acuitas sues CureVac over LNP tech patents
#473 | Treating MDR-TB in new ways; Fighting loneliness; Deploying fertiliser microbes
Hello there. Welcome back to your favourite weekday life sciences newsletter. As with most things these days, our first story today points fingers at climate change. Environmental scientists are attributing Uganda’s escalating disease burden to the impacts of climate change. Anthropogenic disruptions to fragile ecosystems have intensified the prevalence of cholera, Ebola, hepatitis E and malaria, straining the country’s healthcare system. The Ministry of Health revealed a funding gap of about UGX 24 billion in climate health funding.
The fight against diabetes is gaining steam in Africa. In Nigeria, which bears the highest burden of diabetes in Africa, the Diabetes Association of Nigeria is calling for an increase in taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages from 10% to 20%. Meanwhile, Kenya, where about 750,000 diabetics cannot access treatment, has received a €7.1 million grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the World Diabetes Foundation to integrate diabetes and hypertension prevention and control into primary health care.
The Nigerian startup Metaphor Laboratory focuses on oncology, infectious diseases, and women’s health. It collaborates with CROs, biotech firms, and global academic research institutions to develop and validate innovative assays for early disease detection in sub-Saharan Africa. Metaphor has now announced the launch of its flagship site and clinical research initiatives in Lagos to develop local talent and infrastructure to support pharma and biotech R&D.
In South Africa, Rubic One Health is establishing a state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing facility in the Coega Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Gqeberha. The facility will produce affordable and accessible vaccines for humans and animals, with a special focus on disease epidemiology in Africa. Rubic is partnering with the African Export-Import (Afrexim) Bank to fund this project, which aims to develop and own vaccine intellectual property along the entire value chain. When completed, the facility will have the capacity to produce 27 million doses annually.
Further north, the Saudi Public Health Authority has inked an MoU with China-headquarterd BGI Genomics to extend their combined efforts in infectious disease detection to wider cooperation in reproductive health, early cancer screening, scientific research, and talent cultivation.
Meanwhile, Chinese biopharma Sinovac has scrapped a Tk5,000 crore investment project in Bangladesh under which it would have established a plant to produce plasma-derived medicines and vaccines. A company official claims that Sinovac abandoned the project due to project approval delays, but other sources blame the lack of an appropriate legal framework in Bangladesh and competition from two local companies. If this deal had gone through, it would have been the Bangladesh health sector’s largest foreign investment in recent years.
In Bangladesh, the dengue death toll has crossed the 1500 mark.
Coming to the inescapable bird flu situation, South Africa claims that its worst bird flu outbreak is now under control. Egg stock levels are improving too. Just in time for some holiday season eggnog!
In December 2022, Gilead Sciences’ subsidiary Kite Pharma paid cancer cell therapy developer Arcellx $225 million upfront to access a CAR-T therapy. Now Kite Pharma is shelling out $285 million to expand its collab with Arcellx, with Kite having exercised an option to license a second experimental drug, ACLX-001, for multiple myeloma. Further, the partners will also broaden their collab on the cell therapy, which was part of their initial partnership.
The latest pharma spinout is Mural Oncology from the Dublin-based Alkermes, which wants to focus its research efforts singularly on neuroscience meds. The now-independent biotech Mural Oncology has a solid tumour candidate and $275 million in the bank to fund the development of a pipeline of engineered cytokines for cancer.
Sources claim that Eli Lilly is planning a single-digit billion-dollar investment in a new plant in western Germany, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate on the French border. We don’t yet have details of what the plant will produce.
US FDA staff has raised concerns about the efficacy of Gefapixant, Merck’s chronic cough drug, saying that the additional data may not be enough to prove meaningful benefit. This data was submitted after the FDA did not approve the drug in January last year. Nonetheless, the drug is approved in the EU and Japan.
Covid vaccine tech-linked lawsuits don’t seem to end. Biotech company Acuitas Therapeutics is suing Germany’s CureVac. Acuitas claims that CureVac did not credit the former’s scientists on patent applications for the lipid nanoparticle tech used to make the shots.
For the first time ever, a gene therapy to treat both sickle cell disease and beta thalassaemia, Casgevy, has been authorized by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK. Trials are continuing in the UK, the US, France, Germany, and Italy.
According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high last year. Again. Global averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide were 50% above the pre-industrial era for the first time in 2022. 2023 saw continued growth. There appears to be “no end in sight” to this tragic trend.
And finally, a landmark clinical trial initiated in 2017 has found three new drug regimens to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis! A fourth regimen also offers promise for those who cannot tolerate one of two key drugs. If recommended by the WHO, these new regimens would cut treatment times.