Three of the frontrunners in the global coronavirus vaccine race announced Friday deals for hundreds of millions of doses with European countries, which will add to the demand on an already strained supply chain as the global pandemic rages on.
Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) struck a deal for 30 million doses with the U.K. and is collaborating on a Phase 3 trial. The company is also in talks with the European Union to provide 200 million doses. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca (AZN) announced a deal for 400 million doses, and Novavax (NVAX) struck a deal for 60 million doses with the U.K. that also includes collaboration on a Phase 3 trial.
By comparison, these same companies have promised 100 million doses (J&J and Novavax, each) and 300 million doses (AstraZeneca) to the U.S. All are in various stages of clinical trials, with AstraZeneca leading with its partnership with Oxford University.
Much of the focus of vaccine distribution has been on the developed West, while concerns about the impact on low- and middle-income countries linger.
The World Health Organization (WHO), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the global vaccine alliance, GAVI, are all focused on the problem. The Serum Institute of India has been a dominating dealmaker, with commitments to produce Oxford University’s vaccine candidate as well as Novavax, and has also partnered with the Gates Foundation to produce cheaper vaccines.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced Friday McKesson Corporation will be the distributor of vaccines purchased by Operation Warp Speed. McKesson won a bid in 2016 to be a distributor for the government, including for vaccines during a pandemic. The company previously distributed vaccines during the 2009 flu pandemic.
The global case count is on the cusp of surpassing 21 million this week, with more than 760,000 dead. In the U.S., more than 5.2 million have been affected, and more than 167,000 have died from the coronavirus.
While hopes are pinned on the vaccine to end the global pandemic, National Institute of Health director Francis Collins said Thursday that no decision on a vaccine approval is likely by the fall, countering the claims of President Donald Trump, who is pushing for a vaccine to be ready before the election in November.
Meanwhile, CureVac (CVAC) announced its IPO price at $16 Friday, even as the stock was set to open at $45 per share. Vaccine enthusiasm has boosted small biotechs this year, such as Moderna (MRNA) and Novavax, prompting concerns about over-valuation of companies facing strong competition for their potential first-ever product on the market.
Antibody treatments, at home
Growing momentum and optimism about the potential of antibody therapies — seen as a bridge until vaccines are available— carries with it some of the same affordability and accessibility concerns as vaccines. It’s why one firm is focused on a potential topical antibody treatment.
American BioDefense Institute executive director Ravi Starzl told Yahoo Finance an at-home treatment would remove many accessibility barriers, shifting the cost from hundreds or thousands of dollars to — potentially— less than $100 per month, without insurance coverage.
“Antibodies are the key to solving this pandemic,” Starzl said, noting that convalescent plasma, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines all have that key ingredient in common.
But with monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma, the need for medical professionals in a health care system, and the cost that goes with all of it, are barriers to accessibility.
The company is looking at avian antibodies as a way to suppress the virus with applications in the nasal and throat passages — where the virus is known to enter the body— and act as “passive immunity,” Starzl said.
The production of these at-home kits would be much cheaper to produce and to apply, he said. But the total number of kits will also determine the success of any such potential product. At best, some of the largest monoclonal antibody factories can produce 400,000 treatments per month.
“That is not enough to turn the tide on what we are facing as a country,” Starzl said.
While no clinical data has been published on ABI’s product, Starzl expects something to be available in the next few weeks.
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