• University of Oxford researchers says they have begun recruiting for the next phase in human trials of their AstraZeneca-partnered COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222, in human volunteers.
• Abbott says data from an ongoing clinical study indicates its ID NOW COVID-19 rapid test has a sensitivity of more than 94.7%. Earlier this month, a preliminary study by NYU Langone Health researchers found it could miss nearly 50% of positive cases.
• AstraZeneca will receive USD1 billion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the development, production and delivery of the University of Oxford’s potential coronavirus vaccine, starting in the autumn. The development programme includes a Phase III clinical trial with 30,000 participants and a paediatric trial.
• Roche says its Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody test is live at more than 20 commercial and hospital lab sites throughout the US. The company plans to increase to more than 200 sites over the coming weeks.
• CanSino Biologics and Precision NanoSystems (PNI) announce a co-development agreement for a mRNA lipid nanoparticle vaccine against COVID-19. PNI will be responsible for development and CanSinoBIO will be responsible for pre-clinical testing, human clinical trials, regulatory approval and commercialization.
• The US government signs a USD 354 million contract with pharma start-up Phlow Corporation to manufacture generics and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) needed for drugs in short supply, including COVID-19 treatments, in a move to create the nation’s first strategic stockpile of key ingredients and reduce its dependence on overseas supply.
• Thermo Fisher Scientific announces it has received a contract from the US government to provide highly specialized viral transport media (VTM) for COVID-19 sample collection. The VTM is used during collection of patient samples for transport to laboratories that can test for the presence of the virus. Thermo Fisher currently produces VTM at its site in Lenexa, Kansas, and has ramped production from 50,000 to more than one million VTM-filled tubes per week.
• In a White House briefing, US President Donald Trump tells reporters he is taking antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a precaution against coronavirus. In April, the US Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory saying that the drug has “not been shown to be safe and effective” against COVID-19.
• CDMO Lonza says Dr Moncef Slaoui has stepped down from his position on its board of directors, following his appointment as Chief Advisor for the US government's “Warp Speed” national vaccine program. Dr Slaoui is also divesting his equity interest in biotech Moderna – understood to be worth around USD10 million -- so that there is no conflict of interest in his new role.
• Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir could secure an EU-wide conditional marketing authorisation as a treatment against COVID-19 in the coming days, European Medicines Agency head Guido Rasi tells a hearing at the EU Parliament in Brussels.
• Moderna reports positive interim clinical data of mRNA-1273, saying that in a Phase 1 trial, the vaccine candidate against novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) elicited neutralizing antibodies in all eight participants so far available for analysis.
• The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announces that the UK government is investing up to GBP93 million to accelerate the construction of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire. The funding will ensure the new centre – designed to provide extra capacity if and when a vaccine becomes available -- opens in summer 2021, a year ahead of schedule.
• After testing 24 therapeutic candidates for inhibiting the coronavirus in human lung cells, researchers at the Institut Pasteur Korea publish their findings that anticoagulant Nafamostat appears to be much more effective than remdesivir. The institute has partnered with ten hospitals to launch an investigator-initiated clinical trial.
• The US National Institutes of Health start a Phase 2b clinical trial to evaluate whether a combination of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin can prevent hospitalization and death from COVID-19. The trial is being conducted by the AIDS Clinical Trials Group and Teva Pharmaceuticals is donating medications for the study.
• Abbott says it is changing the set of instructions for its point-of-care coronavirus test, ID NOW, after a preliminary study by NYU Langone Health researchers found it could miss nearly 50% of positive cases. “Negative results should be presumed negative, but if inconsistent with clinical signs and symptoms or necessary for patient management, should be tested with an alternative molecular assay,” the company says.
• In an opinion piece for Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan says a vaccine for COVID-19 may not become available until H2 2021. “The ultimate way to deal with this pandemic is likely to be a vaccine against Covid-19. But it will take more time for this - in my estimation, about one and a half to two years,” he writes.
• Exyte and Univercells Technologies announce a partnership for optimized construction of modular standardized and flexible GMP manufacturing facilities for vaccines in response to increased global demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Takeda says it will donate JPY 2.5 billion (USD 23 million) across three UN-led organizations -- the World Food Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the International Atomic Energy Agency -- to strengthen health systems, improve access to care and supplies, and address food insecurity.
• GreenLight Biosciences announces it has raised USD17 million from new and existing investors to build out its scalable mRNA production capability targeting the production of billions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine. In addition to expanding its manufacturing capacity, the biotech is developing several differentiated mRNA vaccine candidates against SARS-CoV2.
• Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson tells Bloomberg that the US government has the right to the largest pre-order if the company’s COVID-19 vaccine programme is successful because the country has “invested in taking the risk.”
• Japan’s health ministry says pharmaceutical companies will not be required to submit clinical trial results in advance if the safety and efficacy of drugs are confirmed in public studies that have received grants from the ministry or the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development. This exception to pharmaceutical regulations has been made to expedite the availability of drugs such as Fujifilm’s Avigan, which has been approved against COVID-19.
• Gilead signs non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with five India- and Pakistan-based generics manufacturers -- Cipla, Ferozsons Laboratories, Hetero Labs, Jubilant Lifesciences and Mylan -- to manufacture antiviral remdesivir for distribution in 127 countries.
• The US Food and Drug Administration expands an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Thermo Fisher Scientific’s PCR test for detecting nucleic acid from SARS CoV 2, increasing the number of high-throughput PCT instruments labs can use to run tests.
• Glenmark Pharmaceuticals says it is the first company to start Phase 3 clinical trials on antiviral favipiravir tablets for COVID-19 patients in India. Favipiravir is a generic version of Fujifilm’s Avigan. Glenmark estimates study completion by July/August 2020. The molecule if commercialized, will be marketed under the brand name FabiFlu in India.
• Hikma Pharmaceuticals says the US FDA has cleared its anaesthetic Propofol Injectable Emulsion for use in the US. Propofol Injectable Emulsion is indicated for the initiation and maintenance of sedation and anaesthesia, including for intubated, mechanically ventilated adult patients. It is currently on the FDA's Drug Shortage List, following a surge in demand due to the increase in hospitalized, ventilated patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hikma says it is working quickly to scale up manufacturing and will continue releasing product as soon as it is available.
• The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee (CHMP) recommends expanding the compassionate use of Gilead’s remdesivir so that more patients with severe COVID‑19 can be treated. In addition to patients undergoing invasive ventilation, the recommendation now applies to hospitalised patients requiring supplemental oxygen, non-invasive ventilation, high-flow oxygen devices or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
• The US Food and Drug Administration is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control to develop a phased approach to restarting on-site inspections at both domestic and foreign manufacturing facilities. The regulator halted inspections in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
• The US Department of Health and Human Services says Gilead Sciences has committed to supplying approximately 607,000 vials of antiviral remdesivir over the next six weeks to treat an estimated 78,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients under an EUA granted by the FDA. The donation to the US is part of 1.5 million vials the company is donating worldwide. “Initial supply of remdesivir is likely to be constrained to an even greater degree than we had previously estimated,” RBC Capital analyst Brian Abrahams says in a research note.
• Regeneron CEO, Dr. Leonard Schleifer, says in a live television interview with CNN that he is concerned US manufacturing capacity is “limited” in terms of producing coronavirus related treatments and vaccines.
• Indian health minister Harsh Vardhan tweets that the government has enlisted Zydus Cadila for mass production of the country’s first indigenous test kit for antibody detection of COVID-19, ELISA. “The Drug Controller General has granted commercial production and marketing permission to Zydus,” he says.
• Israel’s RedHill Biopharma announces that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved its application for a Phase 2a clinical study of its drug, opaganib, in patients with confirmed moderate-to-severe SARS-CoV-2 infection.
• The US Food and Drug Administration publishes results of independent performance and accuracy tests on 12 COVID-19 antibody diagnostics tests already authorized for emergency use against the pandemic.
• The US National Institutes of Health says it has begun a clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of a treatment regimen pairing up Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir with Lilly’s anti-inflammatory drug Olumiant (baricitinib) for COVID-19. The trial is expected to open at approximately 100 US and international sites and investigators currently anticipate enrolling more than 1,000 participants.
• India’s Cadila Pharmaceuticals says it has closed operations at its Dholka manufacturing unit after 26 employees from the facility tested positive for COVID-19.
• Sorrento Therapeutics and Mount Sinai Health System say they have teamed up on the development of an antibody cocktail, COVI-SHIELD, to potentially treat COVID-19. The collaboration aims to generate antibody products that would act as a "protective shield" against coronavirus infection, potentially blocking and neutralizing the activity of the virus.
• CDMO Recipharm says it has secured supply of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) chloroquine phosphate for its drug Klorokinfosfat RPH Pharma and has started manufacturing the product. While chloroquine products are not currently indicated for treatment or prevention of COVID-19, some clinical studies involving chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have recently been initiated.
• Endo says it has withdrawn its full-year 2020 financial guidance due to uncertainty regarding the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Moderna says a Phase 2 study of its coronavirus vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, is imminent. The company is also finalizing protocol for a Phase 3 study of mRNA-1273, expected to begin in the early summer of 2020.
• The CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, an industry collaboration of 10 companies including Takeda to accelerate the development of a plasma-derived hyperimmune globulin therapy for COVID-19, says the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the NIH will test the safety, tolerability and efficacy of the therapy in adult patients with COVID-19. The global study is expected to start in the summer.
• Japan approves Gilead Sciences’ antiviral remdesivir as Veklury for patients with severe COVID-19. The exceptional approval references the Emergency Use Authorization of remdesivir in the US.
• Gilead Sciences says it is in discussions with pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers around the world about expanding global production and supply of its antiviral remdesivir, which has shown promise as a treatment for COVID. “Close coordination of remdesivir manufacturing will be critical,” the company says, adding that it is working to build a consortium of manufacturing partners to pool efforts to help maximize global supply.
• Medical devices industry association AdvaMed announces the launch of an online platform to connect ventilator companies with component suppliers to help quickly scale production and distribution of devices. The new platform was developed pro bono with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Google, and other industry alliances and partners.
• Pfizer and BioNTech announce that the first participants have been dosed in the US in the Phase 1/2 clinical trial for their BNT162 vaccine against COVID-19. The trial is part of a global development program, and the dosing of the first cohort in Germany was completed last week. Pfizer sites in Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri and Puurs, Belgium have been identified as manufacturing centres for COVID-19 vaccine production, with more sites to be selected. Through its existing mRNA production sites in Mainz and Idar-Oberstein, Germany, BioNTech plans to ramp up its production capacity.
• Regeneron says it is working to rapidly scale up manufacturing of its investigational antibody ‘cocktail’ treatment, REGN-COV2, for COVID-19, with the goal of having hundreds of thousands of preventative doses available by the end of August 2020. The company moved its leading neutralizing antibodies into pre-clinical and clinical-scale cell production lines in April and plans to begin clinical studies in June 2020.
• In a preliminary modelling exercise, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review says that Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir can be priced at USD 4,460 per patient and still be cost-effective when being used as a treatment for hospitalized patients with advanced COVID-19 and lung involvement.
• Eli Lilly and China’s Junshi Biosciences agree to co-develop therapeutic antibodies for the potential prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Lilly will receive an exclusive license to conduct clinical development, manufacturing and distribution of products outside of Greater China while Junshi will maintain all rights in China. Lilly will pay an upfront fee of USD10 million and has committed to milestone payments of up to USD245 million.
• Arcturus Therapeutics and Catalent announce a partnership on the expected manufacture of Arcturus’ COVID-19 mRNA vaccine candidate, LUNAR-COV19. Manufacturing at Catalent’s facility in Madison, Wisconsin will support human clinical studies and, if successful, commercialization of the vaccine. Technology transfer will be completed this month and manufacture of the first cGMP batches are expected to be completed by June 2020.
• AbCellera says it has received funding of up to USD 175.6 million from the Canadian government to expand efforts related to the discovery of antibodies for use in drugs to treat COVID-19, and to build technology and manufacturing infrastructure for antibody therapies against future pandemic threats. In March, the firm announced a partnership with Eli Lilly to develop a COVID-19 treatment with the aim of beginning clinical trials in July 2020.
• Vir Biotechnology and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals say they have selected a development candidate for VIR-2703 (also referred to as ALN-COV), an investigational RNAi therapeutic targeting the SARS-CoV-2 genome. The companies plan to meet soon with the US Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory authorities to discuss a potential accelerated path for filing an Investigational New Drug or IND equivalent application by the end of 2020.
• Roche announces that its coronavirus antibody test, has received emergency approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. The Swiss pharma company says it has already started shipping the antibody tests to laboratories around the world and will ramp up production capacity to provide “high double-digit millions” of tests in May to healthcare systems in countries accepting the European CE regulatory mark as well as the US.
• The US Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization for Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized patients with severe disease. The agency says the investigational drug was shown in a clinical trial to shorten recovery in some patients.
• Moderna has signed up CDMO Lonza in a 10-year strategic collaboration agreement to enable larger scale manufacture of its mRNA vaccine (mRNA-1273) against the novel coronavirus. Under the terms of the agreement, manufacturing suites will be established at Lonza’s facilities in the US and Switzerland. Technology transfer is expected to begin in June 2020, and the companies intend to manufacture the first batches of mRNA-1273 at Lonza US in July 2020.
• The US Food and Drug Administration publishes guidance to clarify exemptions and exclusions under the Drug Supply Chain Security Act to help ensure adequate distribution of prescription drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• CDMO Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, says it will reserve manufacturing capacity at its facility in Hillerød, Denmark for a future COVID-19 therapy for the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard to speed-up the response to the global pandemic. FDB will work with a selected pharmaceutical partner to manufacture and supply the therapy for patients with COVID-19 in lower-income countries.
• The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee (CHMP) has started a ‘rolling review’ of data on the use of Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19. A rolling review is one of the regulatory tools available to the agency to speed up the assessment of a promising investigational medicine during a public health emergency, such as the ongoing pandemic.
• AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford announce a global development and distribution agreement for the University’s potential recombinant adenovirus vaccine aimed at preventing COVID-19 infection. AstraZeneca says the partnership aims to bring to patients the potential vaccine known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, being developed by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group. Under the agreement, AstraZeneca would be responsible for development and worldwide manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine.
• Johnson & Johnson signs its second COVID-19 manufacturing deal for its lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate, partnering with Catalent to ramp up capacity and prepare for large-scale commercial manufacturing at the CDMO’s facility in Bloomington. Catalent plans to hire approximately 300 additional employees for the programme starting in July 2020 to meet operational readiness and 24×7 manufacturing schedules by January 2021.
• Data from a clinical trial shows that Gilead’s experimental antiviral, remdesivir, “has a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recover” from COVID-19, the US’s top infectious disease expert National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, Dr Anthony Fauci tells reporters. Hospitalized patients with advanced COVID-19 and lung involvement who received remdesivir recovered faster than similar patients who received placebo, according to a preliminary data analysis from the randomized, controlled trial involving 1063 patients, which began on February 21.
• AstraZeneca says it is confident that its clinical trials programme will not be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The company says it has implemented mitigation strategies such as home-based treatment and monitoring options, moving patient recruitment to less-affected regions, and planning for accelerated recruitment once the pandemic has receded. “Having assessed the COVID-19 impact across the pipeline, the company does not expect material delays to anticipated dates of late-stage and lifecycle-management news flow in 2020 and 2021,” it says.
• India’s Strides Pharma Science says it has developed and commercialized a generic version of Fujifilm’s flu antiviral Avigan (favipiravir) which has shown promise as an experimental treatment for COVID-19. The drug is currently being exported to Gulf Cooperation Council countries to treat patients under their treatment program for COVID-19.
• CDMO CordenPharma tells its employees and manufacturing facilities to cease and cancel all business travel and face-to-face meetings until the end of May, and to convert all meetings into video or teleconference calls. All customer-related quality audits originally scheduled in Q2 of 2020, have been rescheduled to H2, although any regulatory agency audits that may arise during this period will still go ahead.
• Novartis says it plans to initiate a Phase III clinical trial of its interleukin (IL)-1β blocker, canakinumab, in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. The company aims to enrol 450 patients at multiple medical centres across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK and the US. Top-line results are anticipated late summer 2020.
• Innate Pharma announces that the first patient has been dosed in a randomized, double-blind Phase II clinical trial of its anti-C5aR antibody, avdoralimab (IPH5401), in COVID-19 patients with severe pneumonia.
• Japan’s Shionogi announces it is developing a recombinant protein vaccine for the novel coronavirus and plans to initiate clinical trials this year. The company says it is looking to offer the vaccine for 10 million people.
• Merck & Co and the Institute for Systems Biology announce a new research collaboration to investigate and define the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 and identify targets for medicines and vaccines.
• Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe tells a parliamentary session that the government will soon approve Gilead’s anti-viral remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19, in what will be the country's first such decision amid the pandemic.
• Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals say that after preliminary results from the Phase 2 portion of an ongoing Phase 2/3 for IL-6 receptor Kevzara® (sarilumab) to treat sever and critically ill patients with COVID-19, they will scale back the trial so that only ‘critical’ patients will continue to be enrolled. The phase 3 trial will exclude the 200-mg dose, which showed little efficacy at the phase 2 stage.
• World leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel join a video conference to launch a World Health Organisation initiative to speed development of therapies, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19.
• In a safety communication, the US Food and Drug Administration says it has received reports of serious heart-related adverse events and death in patients with COVID-19 receiving hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, either alone or combined with azithromycin or other QT prolonging medicines. The agency recommends that the drugs, when used for COVID-19, should be limited to clinical trial settings or for treating certain hospitalized patients under an Emergency Use Authorisation.
• AstraZeneca in partnership with St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute initiates a Phase III trial to assess the potential of diabetes drug Farxiga (dapagliflozin) as a treatment in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 who are at risk of developing serious complications, such as organ failure. The global, double-blind study will enrol around 900 patients at US and European clinical sites.
• Gilead disputes the findings of a clinical trial in China which said its antiviral remdesivir was ineffective in treating patients with COVID-19. The company said the information was “prematurely posted” on the World Health Organisation website and has since been removed. “Furthermore, we believe the post included inappropriate characterizations of the study. The study was terminated early due to low enrolment and, as a result, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions. As such, the study results are inconclusive,” Gilead says.
• Risks of disruption to the global medicine supply chain are rising as emerging markets are likely to join developed markets in implementing COVID-19 lockdown measures in the coming weeks, according to a Fitch Solutions report. “COVID-19 has highlighted vulnerabilities in the medical manufacturing supply chain, most notably in the US. We believe that over the longer term, governments may aim to source more key pharmaceutical ingredients locally as opposed to the current heavy reliance on China, and to a lesser degree India,” the report says.
• India’s key pharmaceutical manufacturing hub in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, has been severely impacted after the region was locked down on April 12. According to the Economic Times, 50 pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, including those of Wockhardt, USV Pharma and Sun Pharmaceuticals have stopped operations while several others are operating at vastly reduced capacities.
State deputy drug controller Manish Kapoor told the newspaper that units of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Abbott, Glenmark Pharma and Cadila are all operating at a fraction of their normal capacities.
• The European Medicines Agency launches its enhanced fast-track monitoring system to help prevent and mitigate supply issues with medicines used for treatment of COVID-19. Under this system, each pharmaceutical company will report to the EMA and national competent authorities all current and anticipated shortages, both for centrally and nationally authorised medicines.
• Pfizer and BioNTech announce that the latter’s BNT162 vaccine program has been approved to enter a Phase I/II clinical trial in Germany. The trial is the first clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate to start in Germany. The development partners will also conduct trials for BNT162 in the US upon regulatory approval, which is expected shortly.
• Teva says its supply chain remains largely uninterrupted and there is an adequate inventory of products across its network. The generic company has donated nearly 18 million units of hydroxychloroquine and 500,000 units of azithromycin to more than 26 countries.
• Chinese CDMO Wuxi Biologics says it has donated more than 1,600 masks to medical facilities in Leverkusen, Germany, where it has completed the acquisition of a drug manufacturing plant from Bayer.
• Bayer says its Canadian subsidiary is partnering with the Population Health Research Institute in a clinical research program to identify potential treatments for COVID-19. Two studies will evaluate the safety and efficacy of different combination therapies including Bayer’s chloroquine and interferon beta-1b. Bayer will make a financial commitment of CAD 1.5 million (approx. 1 million euros) towards the studies and will supply study drugs to support the research.
• Indian generics firm Cipla says it has set up an INR 250 million (USD 3.25 million) dedicated COVID-19 fund to support patients, the healthcare ecosystem and communities.
• Merck & Co says it is making a number of changes to its US patient assistance programme to help patients who have lost their job or cannot access healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, including assessing their real-time financial situations, providing assistance with expiring enrolments, and offering new options to collect signatures on enrolment forms. The company will also be making changes to other US access and assistance programs, including a temporary USD 0 co-pay for certain products for eligible privately insured patients enrolled in Merck’s access programme and relaxed certain refill restrictions related to coupon use.
• Hikma Pharmaceuticals says it is experiencing a significant increase in demand for respiratory, pain, anaesthetic, sedatives, anti-viral and anti-infective medicines due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and is therefore prioritizing their manufacture. “We have been proactively managing our inventory and stock levels, transportation options and the availability of raw materials and component parts. We continue to work closely with our supplier networks to address demand-related shortages caused by this fast-evolving situation,” it adds.
• In an update, CDMO Catalent says it is working with several customers on multiple COVID-related antivirals, vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. The company has been declared an essential business by all the national and local governments where it operates and it has paid a ‘thank you’ bonus to lab, development and production employees at its 40+ global facilities.
• API manufacturer Wavelength Pharmaceuticals says it has expanded production of APIs for certain pharmaceutical products needed to manage respiratory critical care patients. “Demand for these products, including Midazolam, Cisatracurium, and Rocuronium, has skyrocketed as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic,” it says.
• Alexion Pharmaceuticals says it plans to start a Phase 3 study to investigate its rare disease biologic Ultomiris (ravulizumab-cwvz) in treating patients with COVID-19 and suffering severe pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The 270 patient study is expected to begin in May.
• Novartis says it has US Food and Drug Administration approval to go ahead with a Phase III clinical trial of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of 440 hospitalized US patients with COVID-19 disease. The clinical trial drug supply will be provided by the firm’s generics and biosimilars division, Sandoz.
• Roche says its newly developed serology test, Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2, can detect COVID-19 antibodies in patients who have previously been exposed to the virus. The company aims to have the test available by early May in European countries accepting the CE mark. It says it is also actively working with the US Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorisation.
• Bayer says it is donating EUR 1 million to the 'All united against the virus' alliance set up by the Fondation de France, the Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP) hospital network and the Pasteur Institute. The money will be used to support caregivers, patients and their families, to fund research projects and to develop antibody detection tests, treatments and vaccines.
• Sanofi and Luminostics are working on an at-home test for COVID-19, with the US start-up contributing its consumer-diagnostics technology that utilizes a consumer smartphone’s optics.
• Biogen, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Partners HealthCare form a consortium to build and share a COVID-19 biobank to help scientists study a large collection of de-identified biological and medical data to advance knowledge and search for potential vaccines and treatments. Biogen employees were among the first people in Massachusetts to be diagnosed with and recover from COVID-19 after a leadership conference in February.
• Moderna is awarded a grant of up to USD483 million from US government agency Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to accelerate development of its mRNA vaccine candidate (mRNA-1273) against SARS-CoV-2. The money will also be used to fund manufacturing process scale-up to enable large-scale production in 2020 for pandemic response. Moderna plans to hire 150 new team members to support these efforts.
• AstraZeneca donates 3 million surgical masks for US healthcare workers battling COVID-19. The masks, which were procured through the company’s manufacturing relationships in China, will be distributed by Direct Relief to health facilities in areas with the most significant public health need.
• CDMO Lonza says it has not suffered any major disruptions to business continuity caused by challenges to supply, citing one capsule production site in Colmar, France, which experienced a temporary slowdown for a few days. “A small number of bulk raw material supplies have been disrupted, and there have been some inbound and outbound logistics delays,” it says.
It adds that its Pharma, Biotech & Nutrition unit has received in excess of 40 clinical and commercial enquiries regarding projects relating to COVID-19. “While the business cannot participate in every initiative, it is focusing on a small number of key development projects relating to both vaccines and therapeutic treatments,” it says.
• Kaneka says it has signed an agreement to supply APIs to Fujifilm for its influenza antiviral, Avigan, which the Japanese government is stockpiling for potential use against COVID-19. “We have already started supplying PCR reagents used for COVID-19 tests,” it says.
• India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade relaxes an export ban on paracetamol finished dosage formulations. However, export restrictions on paracetamol APIS remain in place. A common OTC painkiller and fever medication, paracetamol has been in even higher demand since the COVID-19 outbreak.
• Ex-GlaxoSmithKline CEO, Andrew Witty, currently president of UnitedHealth, is taking a leave of absence to co-lead the World Health Organization's efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
• Biotech firms Dynavax and Sinovac announce a partnership to develop a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The collaboration will evaluate the combination of Sinovac’s chemically inactivated coronavirus vaccine candidate, with Dynavax’s advanced adjuvant, CpG 1018.
• The US Food and Drug Administration starts publishing an ‘At-a-Glance Summary’ that captures the agency's major activities in the fight against COVID-19. The agency intends to regularly update this resource on efforts related to medical products and equipment, vaccines and therapeutics.
• Japan’s Fujifilm says it has expanded its manufacturing capacity to significantly increase production of its influenza antiviral drug Avigan for treating patients with COVID-19.
The company expects to progressively increase monthly production of Avigan up to 100,000 treatment courses by July 2020, approximately 2.5 times more compared to the beginning of March, when the company first began its current production run. In addition, Fujifilm plans to further accelerate production up to 300,000 treatment courses by September 2020.
• Abbott launches its lab-based IgC antibody test that identifies if a person has had COVID-19. The test, which has been made available as part of the FDA notification without an Emergency Use Authorization pathway, will initially be available on more than 2,000 instruments that can run up to 100-200 tests per hour.
The company also says it is significantly scaling up its manufacturing for antibody testing and is expecting to immediately ship close to 1 million tests this week to US customers and will ship a total of 4 million tests in total for April.
• In its annual report, CDMO Recipharm says recent COVID-19-related events have highlighted the risks of relying on suppliers who are located on the other side of the world and anticipates that customers will re-evaluate their supply chains and business continuity plans.
“This is likely to favour more localised production and focus on reliable suppliers in a way we have not seen previously which with our global footprint means we should be well placed. It is also not unlikely that we will see a slowdown in our development services business as our partners struggle to complete (or even initiate) clinical trials or focus on established projects,” says CEO Thomas Eldered.
• Bristol Myers Squibb announces it will hold its 2020 annual shareholders meeting on 5 May virtually due to public health concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
• San Francisco-based biotech Flow Pharma says it is partnering with Oakwood Laboratories to use the CDMO’s microsphere-based manufacturing operations to make doses of its FlowVax COVID-19 vaccine for clinical testing.
• Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline sign a letter of intent to develop an adjuvanted vaccine for COVID-19. Sanofi will contribute its S-protein COVID-19 antigen, based on recombinant DNA technology while GSK will contribute its pandemic adjuvant technology. The companies plan to start phase I clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and complete development required for availability by the second half of 2021.
• AstraZeneca says it will start a clinical trial to assess the potential of its BTK inhibitor Calquence (acalabrutinib) in the treatment of the exaggerated immune response (cytokine storm) associated with COVID-19 in severely ill patients.
• Innate Pharma says it will hold its annual general meeting on 19 May virtually with shareholders invited to vote by mail or proxy due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
• South Korean drug developer Celltrion says it has successfully selected the most potent antibody candidates to neutralise SARS-CoV-2 and hopes to start human testing in July.
• China’s CanSino Biologics becomes the first company in the world to advance to advance a potential vaccine - Ad5-nCOV -- for coronavirus into Phase II clinical trials.
• Vir Biotechnology and Samsung Biologics sign a manufacturing agreement valued at around USD362 million under which the Korean CDMO will perform large scale manufacturing services for Vir's SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody program.
• BioCryst Pharmaceuticals says it has started enrolment for a clinical trial of its antiviral galidesivir in patients with COVID-19. The trial is being funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.
• The cost of manufacturing Gilead’s remdesivir – a potential treatment for COVID-19 -- could be as little as USD9 while hydroxychloroquine could be made for as little as USD1, according to a study published in the Journal of Virus Eradication.
• Sanofi says it is donating 100 million doses of Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) across 50 countries. The company has already increased its production capacity by 50% and is on track to further increase production over the coming months, it adds. Ongoing global clinical studies are assessing the efficacy and safety of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19.
• The US Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization authorization to Terumo BCT and Marker Therapeutics AG for a blood purification system to treat patients with COVID-19 admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with confirmed or imminent respiratory failure. The product works by reducing the amount of cytokines and other inflammatory mediators.
• Pfizer says a Phase 2 investigator-initiated study for the use of tofacitinib, a JAK inhibitor, in patients with SARS-CoV-2 interstitial pneumonia is about to start in Italy.
• Mylan says its expedited manufacturing of hydroxychloroquine has resulted in stocks being available ahead of schedule. The company is donating 10 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine sulphate to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and has also begun shipping additional product to US wholesalers to address shortages for FDA-approved use.
• Fujifilm announces it is starting a phase II clinical trial of its antiviral drug Avigan in the US for patients with COVID-19. The drug is approved in Japan as an influenza treatment, with phase III clinical trials for COVID-19 patients in Japan having already started at the end of March.
• Analysts at Morningstar say the coronavirus pandemic will affect Big Pharma and Big Biotech companies in two major ways: an economic slowdown, likely causing a 4.6% hit to 2020 global GDP (implying a 1.4% decline in 2020), and a disruption in the use of drugs, vaccines, and consumer healthcare products. “However, the highly inelastic demand for most drugs should largely offset any recessionary impact,” they add.
• The European Commission publishes its guidelines on the optimal and rational supply of medicines to avoid shortages during the COVID-19 outbreak. Within the communication, it states the importance of implementing green lanes to facilitate transport of medicinal products, raw materials, intermediates, APIs, substances of human origin (such as plasma) and related materials such as packaging. “In order to effectively facilitate transport, trucks travelling to/from manufacturing sites after or before pick-up must also be allowed to cross borders without delays,” it says.
• As part of the UK Government’s announcement of a new five pillar plan to boost testing for COVID-19, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and the University of Cambridge are setting up a COVID-19 high throughput testing laboratory at the University’s Anne McLaren Building. The facility will also be used to explore the use of alternative chemical reagents for test kits to help overcome current supply shortages. The partners are also working to provide process optimisation support to UK national testing centres in Milton Keynes, Alderley Park and Glasgow for COVID-19, providing expertise in automation and robotics.
• US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn says that since the agency issued its policy to allow developers of serological tests to identify patients that have developed an immune response to market them without FDA review, over 70 tests are available for use. “However, some firms are falsely claiming that their serological tests are FDA approved or authorized, or falsely claiming that they can diagnose COVID-19. The FDA will take appropriate action against firms making false claims or marketing tests that are not accurate and reliable,” he says.
• The Indian government relaxes an export ban on anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine – which the US administration has touted as a potential treatment for sufferers of COVID-19 -- just 24 hours after US President Donald Trump warned of “retaliation” if the measure was not lifted. “After having confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies currently envisaged, these restrictions have been largely lifted,” says Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesman Anurag Srivastava.
• Bristol Myers Squibb announces an expansion of its patient support programs to help unemployed US patients who have lost their health insurance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The expansion offers access to any branded Bristol Myers Squibb medicine for free.
• IQVIA launches its COVID-19 Trial Matching Solution within the US, an online platform that matches individuals with specific COVID-19 studies to accelerate clinical research projects.
• British prime minister Boris Johnson is moved into an intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London as his condition worsens, and foreign secretary Dominic Raab will deputise for him “where necessary.”
• GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology announce an agreement to research and develop solutions for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. GSK will make an equity investment of USD250 million to gain access to Vir’s monoclonal antibody platform technology. The initial focus of the collaboration will be to accelerate the development of two antibody candidates identified by the platform, VIR-7831 and VIR-7832, that show potential in neutralising SARS-CoV-2 and could move into phase 2 clinical trial within the next three to five months.
• Industry organisation Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance releases a set of best practices for employee safety in pharmaceutical manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• India lifts export restrictions on 12 APIs and their formulations including antibiotics, vitamins and hormones with immediate effect, according to a Directorate General of Foreign Trade notification. Paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine are notable omissions from the list.
• Pfizer commits USD40 million to global anti-COVID-19 efforts. The Big Pharma firm says it is also responding to patient and healthcare provider needs by evolving its US Patient Assistance Program and donating additional medicines and vaccines around the world.
• Thermo Fisher Scientific says that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is withdrawing its 2020 annual financial guidance, which was provided on January 30. “As the pandemic spread from China to countries worldwide, the company saw a significant reduction in customer activity by late March. Given the ongoing uncertainty of the scope, duration and impact of the pandemic, Thermo Fisher is currently unable to reasonably estimate its annual financial performance,” it says. The company adds it believes its long-term prospects remain excellent and that the pandemic is also likely to result in additional future funding opportunities for its customers.
• British prime minister Boris Johnson is admitted to hospital for tests as a “precautionary step” after suffering persistent symptoms of coronavirus since testing positive ten days earlier, says a Downing Street spokesman.
• In an open letter, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day says the biotech company has managed to reduce the end-to-end manufacturing timeline for its antiviral remdesivir – which has shown potential to treat patients with severe COVID-19 -- from one year to around six months. “Our existing supply, including finished product ready for distribution as well as investigational medicine in the final stages of production, amounts to 1.5 million individual doses,” he writes, adding that Gilead is providing this existing supply at no cost to treat patients with the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.
• India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade announces an immediate blanket ban on exports of hydroxychloroquine “without any exceptions.” The trade regulator introduced the ban on March 25 but allowed limited exceptions on humanitarian grounds and for meeting prior commitments. The malaria and arthritis treatment has been touted by US president Donald Trump as showing promise in treating patients with COVID-19. At the same time, the DGFT places export restrictions on most types of diagnostics kits and reagents.
• in response to continued respirator shortages, the US Food and Drug Administration issues a new Emergency Use Authorization for non-NIOSH-approved respirators made in China, which makes KN95 respirators – the Chinese equivalent of the US standard N95 -- eligible for authorization if certain criteria are met, including evidence demonstrating that the respirator is authentic.
• GlaxoSmithKline teams up with Xiamen Innovax Biotech to evaluate a recombinant protein-based coronavirus vaccine candidate (COVID-19 XWG-03), being developed by Innovax with Xiamen University. GSK will provide Innovax with its pandemic adjuvant system for preclinical evaluation of the COVID-19 vaccine. GSK says it is also exploring options to share available manufacturing capacity, to help provide scale manufacturing and production for an eventual vaccine.
• Generics industry association Medicines for Europe supports a call by the European University Hospital Alliance for European coordinated efforts to prevent shortages of ICU medicines – which include sedatives, muscle relaxants, antibiotics and anaesthetics -- amid rising demand.
• The US Food and Drug Administration says it is revising guidance regarding blood donor eligibility due to significant blood shortages in the US due to the coronavirus pandemic. “These changes are based on recently completed studies and epidemiological data, leading the FDA to conclude that the polices could be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply,” the agency says.
• Astellas Pharma’s US division and the Astellas Global Health Foundation announce they are providing up to USD2 million to meet the urgent demand for resources to help patients, healthcare workers and first responders in the fight against COVID-19.
• Novartis says it plans to start a clinical trial of its JAK inhibitor, Jakavi (ruxolitinib), in patients with COVID-19 associated cytokine storm, a form of severe immune overreaction that can result from coronavirus infection.
• Roche Canada announces its COVID-19 Innovation Challenge, a competition to bring forward innovative ideas to fight the pandemic. Individuals or teams can submit a proposed innovative solution to a challenge or issue that they have identified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic by April 10. Winning submissions from individuals are eligible for funding of up to USD50,000 per programme, and team submissions are eligible for funding of up to USD100,000 per programme.
• Denmark’s Novo Nordisk says it has ample supplies of medicines, including insulin, and should be able to fulfil orders and replenish pharmacies in the US throughout the pandemic. However, it warns that due to periodic increases in demand, “there may be times when local pharmacies are temporarily out of stock of diabetes medicines.”
• Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnologies announce a partnership to develop neutralizing antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 to potentially prevent or treat COVID-19. The companies say they will begin work immediately and finalize financial details and terms in the coming weeks.
• The US Food and Drug Administration approves Celularity’s Investigational New Drug application for its CYNK-001 cell therapy in adults with COVID-19. The fast-track approval comes a week after President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani expressed his support for expedited trials.
• The US Food and Drug Administration says to date, 23 emergency use authorizations have been issued for coronavirus diagnostic tests. The regulator adds that more than 110 laboratories have begun testing under the policies set forth in its COVID-19 policy for diagnostic tests.
• Eiger BioPharmaceuticals says it does not expect to complete enrolment for its HDV Phase 3 D-LIVR clinical trial until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The company is working closely with clinical sites across twenty countries to enable remote patient study visits, use of local labs for safety monitoring, and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and integrity,” it says.
• The European Medicines Agency says chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, currently authorised for malaria and certain autoimmune diseases but being investigated for their potential to treat COVID-19, should only be used in clinical trials or emergency use programmes. “It is important that… patients [with auto-immune conditions] are still able to obtain them and do not face shortages caused by stockpiling or use outside the authorised indications,” the agency says.
• Johnson & Johnson reschedules its 2020 medical devices business review that was planned to take place on May 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
• Merck & Co, Pfizer and Eli Lilly announce medical service volunteer programmes enabling employees who are licensed medical professionals to aid in the fight against COVID-19 while maintaining their base pay.
• South Korean CDMO Samsung Biologics says its supply chain management team performed has concluded that although some cargoes from US and China could be delayed due to flight cancelations, the COVID-19 situation does not pose any immediate threat to its raw material supply.
• Roche Diagnostics “sincerely apologizes” in China for referring to coronavirus as ‘Wuhan virus’ on three of its testing kits on its Argentinian website. It says the labelling was done in early January, before the WHO had named the virus uniformly.
• EUSA Pharma reports positive preliminary findings from its study at the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, northern Italy, for SISCO (siltuximab) treating COVID-19 patients who have developed serious respiratory complications.
• AbbVie is donating USD35 million to support COVID-19 relief efforts. In the US, the money will be used to support healthcare capacity for hospitals as well as protect vulnerable populations by enabling access to food and essential supplies. In Europe, the donation will provide critical equipment and supplies to patients and front-line healthcare workers in the hardest-hit countries.
• Med tech firm Smith+Nephew confirms it has been contracted by the UK government to build a ventilator designed specifically for large scale production. The OxVent ventilator results from a collaboration of scientists, clinicians and medical technology manufacturers from the University of Oxford, King’s College London and Smith+Nephew and is currently under review by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority.
• Brii Biosciences announces a partnership with China’s Tsinghua University and 3rd People’s Hospital of Shenzhen to develop and commercialize monoclonal antibodies -- characterized from recovered patients in China -- to fight COVID-19.
• In an SEC filing, biotech firm CRISPR Therapeutics says that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, “we may experience disruptions that could severely impact our business, preclinical studies and clinical trials.” It says that with regards to trials for its candidate CTX001TM for severe hemoglobinopathies -- specifically, transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia and severe sickle cell disease -- ICU beds and related healthcare resources are anticipated to become significantly constrained and so no additional patients are currently scheduled to begin dosing in either study at this time.
• Gilead announces that it has started two Phase 3 studies of its investigational antiviral treatment, remdesivir, in patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 in the UK. Both have been given urgent public health research status by the Chief Medical Office and will initially involve 15 centres in the country.
• Flexion says that due to the “extraordinary impacts of the novel coronavirus global pandemic”, it is withdrawing its 2020 revenue guidance for its osteoporosis knee pain treatment Zilretta. The company is also suspending its active clinical trials including the Phase 1 trial of its investigational intra-articular gene therapy candidate, FX201, in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, and the Phase 2 trial for Zilretta in patients with shoulder OA or adhesive capsulitis. The decision was based on recent FDA guidance on ensuring patient safety and minimising risk to trial integrity from disruptions caused by COVID-19.
• Jazz Pharmaceuticals says that it entered 2020 with over USD1 billion in cash and investments and access to significant additional liquidity so it sees a limited current financial impact from COVID-19. “However, given the global economic slowdown, reduced field-based interactions with healthcare professionals and the uncertainty surrounding the scale and duration of the pandemic, the company, at this time, cannot rule out future impact on its business and associated guidance,” it adds.
• The US Food and Drug Administration says it has launched a program to speed up the development of treatments for COVID-19. Under the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program, staff from the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research are providing regulatory advice, guidance and technical assistance as quickly as possible.
• The US government is in discussions with India over a possible relaxing of restrictions on API exports from India imposed at the start of March.
• China is stepping up its efforts to produce and ship APIs with a focus on meeting international demand, particularly for those showing potential to treat the COVID-19 disease, says Xin Guobin, deputy minister of industry and information technology, adding that the main cause of recent export bottlenecks is a combination of greatly reduced sea freight and international shipping and increased transportation costs.
• Qiagen says it has received FDA emergency use authorization for its QIAstat-Dx Respiratory SARS-CoV-2 Panel test which it describes as the first syndromic testing solution to be deployed which can differentiate novel coronavirus from 20 other serious respiratory infections. The firm had announced on March 24 that it had begun shipping QIAstat-Dx SARS-CoV-2 test kits to the US under a new FDA Policy allowing the kits to be made commercially available.
• In an SEC filing, Amgen says at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it cannot rule out future impact on its business. “Since the pandemic was declared, we have observed fewer patient/doctor interactions and our representatives are having fewer visits with health care providers which may affect our sales in the future,” it says. However, the biotech adds that it does not expect any significant delays for its “potentially pivotal” AMG 510 Phase 2 non-small cell lung cancer study.
• Genfit says it does not anticipate any delays to the unblinding of its RESOLVE-IT Phase 3 trial in NASH with fibrosis. The database was locked at the end of February and the biotech is awaiting feedback from the FDA.
• CDMO Cobra Biologics says it has joined a consortium led by the Jenner Institute, Oxford University to develop, scale-up and produce a potential adenoviral vaccine candidate for fast-tracked clinical trials for COVID-19. ChAdOx1 is expected to be the UK’s first COVID-19 vaccine. The ChAdOx1 consortium also includes the University of Oxford Jenner Institute, University of Oxford Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility, the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), Advent Srl, Pall Life Sciences and Halix BV.
• In a letter to customers, CordenPharma says it has halted routine manufacturing at its Bergamo facility in northern Italy for one week from 26 March to 1 April due to supply chain interruption and staffing issues. The CDMO says it will use the time to perform routine maintenance programs that would normally occur during the summer shutdown. Bergamo is one of the cities in Lombardy hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak.
• The US Food and Drug Administration approves academic medical centre Houston Methodist’s therapy to transfuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient.
• Allergan announces that The Allergan Foundation has so far donated USD 2 million to more than 70 organizations responding to the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the organizations receiving grants are New York Community Trust NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund, Community Food Bank of New Jersey, Orange County, California United Way, Central Texas Food Bank and Freestore Foodbank, Cincinnati, Ohio.
• Johnson & Johnson and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) announce a USD1 billion deal to progress their lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Human clinical studies should begin by September 2020 at the latest and the first batches could be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021. J&J is also expanding its global manufacturing capacity in order to be able to supply more than one billion doses.
• The European Commission publishes conformity assessment procedures for 3D printing and 3D printed products – such as medical devices -- to be used in a medical context for COVID-19. It says that 3D printed products may qualify as medical devices or accessories and must therefore fulfil all applicable requirements of Directive 93/42/EEC6 concerning medical devices.
• Novartis announces that its generics unit Sandoz has started to ship 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to the US Department of Health and Human Services for use in clinical studies to test its effectiveness in people who have tested positive for COVID-19. The shipment is part of a previously announced donation of 130 million tablets to be distributed internationally. Novartis is also donating 20,000 doses to the University of Washington for a COVID-19 PEP clinical trial.
• Sanofi and Regeneron say the first patient outside of the US has been treated with their novel interleukin (IL)-6 receptor inhibitor Kevzara (sarilumab) in the second phase of their clinical programme for patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19. Trials have now started in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Canada, Russia and the US.
• The US Food and Drug Administration issues an Emergency Use Authorization for certain imported disposable respirators that are not National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved for use by health care professionals.
• In an open letter, Gilead CEO Daniel Day says that if the biotech firm’s antiviral remdesivir is approved for the treatment of COVID-19 “we will work to ensure affordability and access so that remdesivir is available to patients with the greatest need.” He adds that the investigational drug is being made available for severely ill patients who cannot enroll in a trial via a “compassionate use” programme.
• The US Food and Drug Administration issues an Emergency Use Authorization to allow 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products donated by pharma companies Sandoz -- Novartis’s generics unit -- and Bayer to the Strategic National Stockpile(SNS) to be distributed and used for certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
• The European Medicines Agency responds to media reports questioning whether angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs, or sartans) -- used for treating high blood pressure, heart failure or kidney disease -- worsen COVID-19. “The speculation that ACE-inhibitors or ARBs treatment can make infections worse in the context of COVID-19 is not supported by clinical evidence,” it says.
• Sun Pharma says it is donating INR 250 million (USD 3.3 million) of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and other related drugs and hand sanitizers to support India’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
• Abbott says the US Food and Drug Administration has issued an Emergency Use Authorization for its point-of-care coronavirus test, which it claims delivers positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes. The test will run on the company's ID NOW platform in various healthcare settings such as physicians' offices, urgent care clinics and hospital emergency departments.
• Bluebird Bio says it is pushing back to the second half of the year first treatment of commercial patients in Germany with its gene therapy Zynteglo due to the COVID-19 situation. “During this time, Bluebird Bio plans to continue to engage in reimbursement discussions and undertake commercial preparation activities in the priority launch markets in Europe,” it says.
• UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reveals he has tested positive for coronavirus and will be self-isolating at 10 Downing Street.
• Wuxi Biologics says more than 98% of its staff are now back at work after the country’s recent lockdown. The Chinese CDMO says it has received “a surge of requests” in March for new projects, predominantly from clients outside of China. It adds that the FDA pre-approval inspection of a US Biologics License Application originally scheduled for Q1 2020 has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, “delaying commercial manufacturing revenue for the project.”
• Sanofi and Translate Bio are collaborating to develop a novel mRNA vaccine candidate against COVID-19, extending an existing 2018 agreement between the two firms on mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases. Translate Bio will use its mRNA platform to discover, design, and manufacture SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates which Sanofi will provide its external research networks to advance candidates for further development.
• Luxembourg-based API manufacturer C2 Pharma says that in order to meet peaks in demand, it will open access to safety stocks of Digoxin, an API that shows potential to reduce the symptoms of COVID-19 patients in combination with anti-viral drugs. The company is offering samples of Digoxin free of charge to researchers and clinicians working on COVID-19 efficacy trials.
• Denmark’s Novo Nordisk says it will not start any new clinical trials but will continue with ongoing trials and that no significant delays are expected in trials close to finalisation. “All Novo Nordisk manufacturing sites are currently in operation ensuring continued supply of medicine to patients worldwide,” the firm says.
• The proposed merger of Mylan and Pfizer’s generics division, Upjohn, is postponed until the second half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mylan’s EGM has been pushed back two months to 30 June.
• Thermo Fisher Scientific says its diagnostic test to detect nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2 has received the European CE mark, an assurance that it complies with the European Union's In vitro Diagnostic Directive.
• A consortium of fifteen biopharma companies have agreed to share their proprietary libraries of drugs that already have promising safety and activity data with the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator launched by the Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard to quickly screen them for potential against COVID-19. The firms include BD, Boehringer Ingelheim, bioMerieux, Eisai, Eli Lilly, Gilead, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Merck KGaA, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi.
• The US Food and Drug Administration warns consumers and health professionals to be cautious of websites and stores selling fraudulent products that claim to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 and unauthorized test kits. “Do not take any form of chloroquine unless it has been prescribed for you by your health care provider and obtained from legitimate sources,” the agency says.
• Mylan waives its right to a 180-day marketing exclusivity period in the US to distribute its generic version of antiretroviral Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) to help increase the available supply of the product should it prove effective in treating patients with COVID-19.
• Merck & Co. is donating 300,000 masks to New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. As of 25 March, New Jersey had more than 3,500 confirmed novel coronavirus cases, the second highest in the US after New York state.
• India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade bans exports of hydroxychloroquine with immediate effect, just four days after Ipca Laboratories said the US FDA had lifted an import alert on its shipments of the drug. Shipments already ordered or paid for before 25 March can go ahead, says the DGFT. The malaria and arthritis treatment has shown promise in treating patients with COVID-19.
• Medicines for Europe says export restrictions (including some within the EU) on drug and ingredients manufacturers is undermining European production. The generics industry body says its mid-February request for effective coordination between manufacturers and authorities to manage the crisis has not been fully realized. “We deeply regret that this process is not yet fully operational at EU or at national level except in Italy,” it says.
• Gilead asks the US Food and Drug Administration to rescind the orphan drug designation it was granted for its antiviral remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19. The company was granted the controversial designation in early March; one benefit being a waiver of a lengthy paediatric study plan prior to a New Drug Application. “Gilead is confident that it can maintain an expedited timeline in seeking regulatory review of remdesivir, without the orphan drug designation,” Gilead says.
• Medical devices industry body AdvaMed writes to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency asking it to oversee centralized distribution of equipment such ventilators, diagnostic tests, protective gear to where they are most needed.
• Vir Biotechnology announces that it has identified multiple human monoclonal antibody (mAb) development candidates that neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. The firm expects human trials to begin within 3-5 months.
• Suven Pharmaceuticals warns customers it cannot export finished products due to a shortage of raw materials following India’s recent lockdown to fight COVID-19. The Indian CDMO says even though Indian pharmaceutical manufacturing is exempted from the lockdown, the shortage had arisen because movement of goods both interstate and intrastate has been halted. “This has…prevented us from being able to export finished products. To compound the situation, the government agencies at the seaports and airports are not operating to inspect and clear those finished goods,” says Suven Pharmaceuticals chairman Venkat Jasti.
• CDMO Catalent reaffirms it has not identified any significant risk or delay that may have a substantial effect on delivery of products or clinical trial supplies.
• AstraZeneca is donating nine million face masks – manufactured and distributed from China -- to support global healthcare workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has partnered with the World Economic Forum’s COVID Action Platform, supported by the World Health Organisation, to identify countries in greatest need. Italy will receive the first shipments this week with other countries to follow.
• GE Healthcare and Ford Motor Company are working together to scale and accelerate ventilator production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator design to support patients with COVID-19. These ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location.
• Switzerland-headquartered CDMO Siegfried is supplying disinfectant in the Swiss and German regions where it operates production sites. It says it will not supply private or commercial organizations.
• Amid speculation of US insulin shortages, Eli Lilly asserts that its insulin manufacturing sites in the US and Europe remain operational and confirms it does not source APIs for any of its approved medicines from China. The Big Pharma firm says while it has received reports of US pharmacies stating insulin orders are not being fulfilled due to “manufacturer backorder,” it has informed wholesalers and others in the supply chain that it has no products on backorder, including insulin.
• Mesa Biotech receives an Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for its Accula SARS-CoV-2 test, which gives point-of-care results in 30 minutes.
• In a letter to customers, CDMO CordenPharma says it has instructed all employees to cancel all business travel and face-to-face meetings until the end of April. It says all its manufacturing facilities in Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and the US are fully operational.
• CMO Argonaut Manufacturing Services says it is ready to provide services for pre-clinical to Phase III manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics, including those for firms working toward a COVID-19 vaccine or therapeutic under accelerated timelines.
• The International Generic and Biosimilar medicines Association, representing generic and biosimilar manufacturers, urges governments to reopen air freight routes to ensure access to medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Air freight is a crucial part of the pharmaceutical supply chain. Pharmaceutical manufacturers rely on capacity in passenger flights to ship medicines and ingredients rapidly and securely,” says IGBA chair Hanan Sboul, IGBA chair.
• Amgen is donating USD12.5 million to support global relief efforts to address critical needs in communities impacted by COVID-19. The funds will be used to support emergency response efforts in communities, patient-focused organizations that are mounting their own response efforts, and international relief efforts by Direct Relief and International Medical Corps.
• Roche’s Genentech in collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority says the FDA has approved a Phase III clinical trial of its arthritis drug Actemra (tocilizumab) to treat hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. Genentech will also provide 10,000 vials of Actemra to the US Strategic National Stockpile for potential future use.
• Eli Lilly becomes the first Big Pharma company to announce its clinical trials are being adversely affected by coronavirus. The firm says it is delaying most new study starts and pausing enrollment of new patients or volunteers “to ease the burden on participating healthcare facilities.”
• The US Food and Drug Administration issues new guidance saying it won’t take action against sponsors and others for the duration of the coronavirus emergency for failing to adhere to Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy requirements for certain laboratory testing or imaging studies.
• Eli Lilly says it is expanding its partnership with the Indiana State Department of Health to offer free drive-through coronavirus testing to Indianapolis area healthcare workers starting 23 March.
• Merck & Co. says it has delivered 500,000 personal protective masks to New York City Emergency Management to help fight the outbreak in New York. As of 21 March, New York State has more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
• Gilead says it is no longer accepting requests for emergency access to its antiviral remdesivir due to an “exponential increase” in such requests and “overwhelming demand.” The experimental drug is being tested as a treatment for patients with COVID-19.
• The Indian government approves a USD1.8 billion scheme to boost production of APIs and medical devices. The plan involves development of three mega API drug parks in partnership with states and financial incentives to manufacturers of 53 identified critical APIs on incremental sales for the next six years.
• In a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange, Ipca Laboratories says the US FDA has lifted an import alert on its hydroxychloroquine sulphate and chloroquine phosphate APls and hydroxychloroquine sulphate tablets due to the shortage implications of coronavirus.
• Bristol Myers Squibb says it has now implemented a mandatory work from home policy for its workforce. “All employees, contingent workers and contractors who can do their jobs from home must do so,” it says.
• Bristol Myers Squibb says it will not initiate or activate any sites globally for new clinical trials until April 13 and warns the timeframe could extend beyond this date.
• Following similar moves by Mylan and Teva to increase availability of hydroxychloroquine, Novartis promises to donate up to 130 million doses by the end of May – pending regulatory approval -- to support the global COVID-19 response. The company is also exploring further scaling of capacity to increase supply.
• The US Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers of devices that measure vital signs such as body temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure to expand their use so that health care providers can use them to monitor patients remotely. “Such devices include technologies capable of enabling remote interactions to provide crucial information to be used as an adjunctive when health care providers diagnose or treat COVID-19,” the regulator says.
• US industry bodies, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) say the country’s biopharmaceutical companies “are working around the clock” to increase COVID-19 testing capability and capacity, screen medicines libraries to identify potential treatments and initiate clinical trials, research and develop new therapies and treatments and use investments in new technologies to speed vaccines development.
• Teva says it is donating more than 6 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets through wholesalers to US hospitals by March 31 to treat COVID-19. Additional production of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets is being assessed and Teva is aiming to ship more than 10 million within a month.
• To reduce Indian reliance on API imports, the Confederation of Indian Industry asks the Indian Government to declare API as a strategic sector and suggests that firms with 40% capacity utilization should be allowed to manufacture APIs which are being imported. It also proposes the creation of large API parks with fiscal benefits for existing API and intermediates plants and boosting drug formulations from indigenous APIs and their intermediates.
• The US Food and Drug Administration grants Bellerophon Therapeutics emergency expanded access for its proprietary inhaled nitric oxide delivery system, INOpulse, to be used for the treatment of COVID-19.
• The number of deaths in Italy from COVID-19 increases to 3,405 exceeding that of China. For the first time, China reports no new domestic cases.
• Australian biotech CSL donates its proprietary adjuvant technology, MF59, to the University of Queensland’s pre-clinical COVID-19 vaccine development program.
• Bayer donates 3 million tablets of its malaria drug Resochin to the US government, saying limited clinical research in China has shown its potential in treating patients with COVID-19. It says it is working on an Emergency Use Authorization for the drug’s use in the US.
• Mylan says it has restarted production of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets at its West Virginia manufacturing facility as the malaria and arthritis drug shows potential in treating COVID-19. The generics firm says it expects to start supplying product by mid-April, and based on current API stocks, will be able to ramp up manufacturing to 50 million tablets.
• Merck KGaA says it has donated a supply of its MS drug Rebif to the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale for use in a clinical trial for patients with COVID-19.
• The US Food and Drug Administration issues guidance for pharma companies, investigators and institutional review boards facing challenges conducting clinical trials during the coronavirus pandemic. It recommends sponsors evaluate alternative methods for assessments such as phone contacts or virtual visits and offer additional safety monitoring for trial participants without access to investigational products or the investigational site.
• CDMO Oxford Biomedica implements a daily senior management working group to monitor current COVID-19 developments and UK government guidance to risk assess its supply chain and to direct its phased response. OXB says it “has not experienced any and does not currently expect to experience significant supply issues or any changes in customer demand.”
• Eli Lilly partners with the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) in a US Food and Drug Administration-supported scheme to accelerate testing in Indiana for coronavirus. Lilly will use its laboratories to analyse samples taken in Indiana healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and emergency rooms.
• In a letter to customers, CDMO Bora Pharmaceuticals says “to manage the risk to production and supplies, we are continuing to monitor our supply chains to assess stock levels.” It adds that although the situation is currently under control, “we will maintain certain stocks and ensure the stability of our supply chain remains intact.”
• Catalent says it has established a senior, multi-disciplinary coronavirus response team to monitor the global situation and execute mitigation activities. The CDMO says it has not identified any significant risk that threatens delivery of products or clinical trial supplies and it has “adopted specific procedures to minimize and manage any future disruption to our ongoing operations.” These include expanded safety stocks of raw materials and personal protective equipment, as well as ongoing monitoring of suppliers’ stock levels to assure future deliveries.
• AbbVie and Allergan’s USD63 billion merger could be delayed after the US Department of Justice's antitrust division warned it may struggle to complete merger reviews in time due to COVID-19.
• In an update, Sanofi says its global network of manufacturing plants is operational and the diversity of its global sourcing is helping ensure business continuity across all product lines. “At this time, Sanofi does not anticipate shortages for patients resulting from the COVID-19 situation,” the French pharma firm says.
• The World Health Organization says South-East Asian countries need to urgently scale-up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as confirmed cases cross 480. “The situation is evolving rapidly. We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people,” says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
• Medicines for Europe says blocks at Italy’s borders with Austria and Switzerland are delaying trucks carrying supplies for medicines production and finished medicines that, if unsolved, puts Europe at risk. “These blockages are caused by different rules being applied by Interior Ministries and Transport ministries in the same country!” the generics industry body says.
• Novartis announces measures to support the global response to COVID-19, including the creation of a global fund to support communities impacted by the pandemic as well as its decision to join two cross-industry R&D initiatives.
The Novartis COVID-19 Response Fund will provide USD 20 million in grants to support public health initiatives designed to help communities manage challenges posed by the pandemic. An accelerated global review process will approve individual grants of up to USD 1 million.
Novartis says it has joined the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, coordinated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard, as well as a COVID-19 directed partnership organized by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).
• Pfizer and BioNTech sign letter of intent to co-develop and distribute the latter’s potential COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162, globally (excluding China). The collaboration aims to accelerate development of the vaccine programme, which should enter clinical testing by the end of April.
• Merck KGaA postpones its Annual General Meeting scheduled for April 24 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to a later date due to the coronavirus pandemic.
• Johnson & Johnson says there is lack of evidence to suggest its HIV drug darunavir (DRV) can effectively treat COVID-19, citing “anecdotal, unsubstantiated reports” to the contrary.
• Biotech firm Moderna says the first patient has been dosed in a Phase I clinical trial of its mRNA vaccine against coronavirus at the US National Institutes of Health.
• Sanofi and Regeneron announce they are ready to start a multi-centre, double-blind, Phase 2/3 trial of their novel interleukin (IL)-6 receptor inhibitor Kevzara in patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19. The first part will recruit patients with severe COVID-19 infection across around 16 US sites and will evaluate the impact of Kevzara on fever and patients' need for supplemental oxygen. The second, larger part of the trial will evaluate the improvement in longer-term outcomes including preventing death and reducing the need for ventilation, supplemental oxygen and/or hospitalization.
• Armas Pharmaceuticals says it does not expect any COVID-19-related product disruptions. The generics firm says it is closely monitoring stock levels at its logistics provider and is in contact with supply chain partners, group purchasing organizations, wholesalers and distributors to oversee where it can assist in ensuring supply of its products.
• BioNTech says it has partnered with Fosun Pharma to develop the former’s potential COVID-19 vaccine BNT162 in China. Fosun Pharma will commercialize the vaccine in China upon regulatory approval, with BioNTech retaining full rights to develop and commercialize the vaccine in the rest of the world.
• Biopharma firm Amarin says it has suspended all of its sales force's face-to-face activities for its lead product, Vascepa, until 30 March to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
• The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers of mass gatherings of 50 people or more cancel or postpone them.
• Medicines for Europe calls for “maximum, pan-European collaboration and coordination to succeed and limit the pandemic” and warns that the crisis “cannot hinge on national protectionism which could block the circulation of essential medicines.”
The generics industry association highlights three urgent actions to ensure Europe-wide supply of medicines:
1) All available Europe pharmaceutical manufacturing should be open and running at all times, avoidance of export restrictions on manufacturers of medicines or APIS and the creation of green lanes for the flow of medicines and ingredients across national borders.
2) Clear regulatory guidance to counter the stress on global supply chain made by production and logistics problems.
3) Analysis of the scenarios of the possible future spread of coronavirus to plan for possible future surges in demand.
• Thermo Fisher Scientific says the US Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for its diagnostic test that can be used immediately by CLIA high-complexity laboratories in the US to detect nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
• Novartis requests all employees in Europe, the US and Canada to work from home for the next three weeks effective Monday, 16 March, except for those working in laboratories, manufacturing sites and in the field.
• Pfizer promises to make available its manufacturing capabilities for approved therapies or vaccines for COVID-19 that need to be rapidly scaled and deployed. “As one of the largest manufacturers of vaccines and therapeutics, Pfizer is committed to using any excess manufacturing capacity and to potentially shifting production to support others in rapidly getting these life-saving breakthroughs into the hands of patients as quickly as possible,” the pharma company says.
• Describing its medicines supply chain as “robust,” AstraZeneca says it has implemented temporary measures to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. “These include leveraging digital technology to support working-from-home, as well as restricting business travel, off-site meetings and external visitors to AstraZeneca sites,” it says.
On the research side, AstraZeneca says it has rapidly mobilised research efforts to discovering novel coronavirus-neutralising antibodies as a treatment to prevent COVID-19: “Our teams are now focused on identifying monoclonal antibodies to progress into clinical trial evaluation.”
• The US Food and Drug Administration says it has granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Roche’s cobas SARS-CoV-2 Test within 24 hours of receiving the application. The EUA is the third granted for a diagnostic test during the COVID-19 outbreak.
• AbCellera and Eli Lilly agree to co-develop antibody products derived from blood samples from one of the first US patients who recovered from COVID-19, for the treatment and prevention of the disease.
• CDMO Catalent says it has not identified any significant COVID-19-related risk to its supply chain that may have a substantial effect on delivery of any product or clinical trial supplies. It says all sites are fully operational and it has established a dedicated senior leadership team and specific procedures “to assure that we minimize and manage any future disruption to our ongoing operations for the continued supply of clinical and commercial materials, products, and services.”
• Indian pharmaceutical supply chain disruption could be far greater than the China environmental regulation-induced shortfall of 2017 If the COVID-19 outbreak is not contained within the next three months, says credit ratings agency India Ratings and Research.
• The COVID-19 death toll in Italy surpasses 1,000, with 189 new fatalities in just over two weeks, the Italian government announces.
• Informa announces CPhI North America 2020, originally scheduled on 5-7 May, has been postponed to 9-11 September. The exhibition will still take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
• The Asian Development Bank says it will make available USD 200 million through its supply chain finance program for companies manufacturing and distributing medicines and other items to combat COVID-19.
• Bristol Myers Squibb says it is strongly encouraging its global workforce, including employees, contingent workers and contractors, to work remotely if they can, effective 13 March. The pharma company has also expanded restrictions on visitors to its sites and in-person meetings.
• Vir Biotechnology and Biogen sign a letter of intent for the development and manufacturing of human monoclonal antibodies for the potential treatment of COVID-19. Because of the urgency of the situation, the companies say they have begun work while a definitive agreement is being negotiated. Biogen would continue cell line development, process development, and clinical manufacturing activities in order to advance the development of Vir’s proprietary antibodies.
• Genentech says two people who were at its South San Francisco campus on 2 March have since tested positive for COVID-19. The biotech firm says it is encouraging employees to work from home where possible, restricting global and domestic company air travel and cancelling or postponing large meetings.
• India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change says to ensure drug availability to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, it will expedite environmental clearances for bulk drug projects -- including API and intermediate production -- within the country.
• In a COVID-19 update, GE Healthcare Life Sciences says it is experiencing “limited disruptions from suppliers and transport is becoming increasingly challenging.” The CDMO says it is holding daily cross-functional call with its logistics, customer service and sales & operations planning to review shipments. It says it is moving materials to regional warehouses 10-14 days earlier than normal to mitigate potential delays caused by flight cancellations. “At this time, we are not experiencing delays or impact to our manufacturing capabilities,” it says.
• CDMO WuXi AppTec says its Wuhan site has resumed operations, in compliance with local regulations and global COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Operations at the facility, which provides discovery chemistry services, will ramp up over the coming days and weeks.
• US President Donald Trump announces travel restrictions from Europe to the US on foreign nationals who have travelled to any of the 26 European countries in the Schengen Area in the past 14 days before coming to the US, effective midnight 13 March.
• Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte announces a closure of all ‘non-essential’ shops except supermarkets and pharmacies as reported cases of COVID-19 in the country top 12,000.
• Lilly confirms that an employee in Indianapolis has tested positive for COVID-19.
• Declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, the World Health Organisation is “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” says director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.
• Biotech firm Tiziana Life Sciences says it is expediting development of its anti-interleukin-6-receptor mAb, TZLS-501, for treatment of patients infected with COVID-19. An excessive production of IL-6 is regarded as a key driver of chronic inflammation and is believed to be associated with severe lung damage observed with COVID-19 infections and acute respiratory illness, it says.
• Novartis is the latest pharma company to say it does not anticipate supply chain disruption at the present time. “Where required, we have enacted mitigation plans to ensure ongoing drug supply to depots for our clinical studies, and we are working closely with the authorities on dispensing to trial participants,” it says.
The Swiss firm says that as well as evaluating existing products to see if any could be repurposed, it will make available from its libraries a set of compounds that it considers suitable for in vitro antiviral testing, in response to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Association’s urgent call for R&D on coronavirus.
• The number of reported COVID-19 cases in the US rises to 1,312, with 38 deaths.
• Several bodies representing Italy’s pharmaceutical supply chain, including industry associations Farmindustria and Federfarma say “the seriousness of the [COVID-19] situation requires us to guarantee, as always, our maximum commitment in the production and distribution of medicines to the nation.”
• The US Food and Drug Administration postpones “most foreign inspections” through April in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Inspections outside the US deemed mission-critical will be considered on a case-by-case basis, it says. The regulator had already suspended on-the-ground inspections in China, the source of the outbreak, but the new restrictions will include India, a key supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and generic medicines.
• Generics firm Teva says it is taking measures to ensure the reliability of its global supply chain and identifying opportunities for its pharma and API businesses to address potential shortages in affected markets. It says the only impact so far on its API network is the closure of one small API site in China, with preparations for restart progressing.
• Roche asks all of its 1,200 Spanish employees to work remotely as of Wednesday amid the COVID-19 outbreak. “The company will maintain its normal activity and will guarantee, as until now, the supply of medicines to hospitals,” the Swiss firm says. The number of reported cases in Spain has risen to 1,646 as of Tuesday, with 28 deaths.
• The European Medicines Agency says it is closely monitoring the potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on pharmaceutical supply chains into the EU. While no shortages or supply disruptions of medicines marketed in the EU due to COVID-19 have been reported, it says that as the public health emergency develops, shortages or disruptions “cannot be excluded.”
Along with the European Commission and member state national competent authorities, the EMA has organised the first meeting of the EU Executive Steering Group on medicine shortages caused by major events to discuss measures aimed at addressing the impact of COVID-19 on EU medicines supply.
The group will identify and coordinate EU-wide actions when medicines are at risk of supply shortage due to a temporary lockdown of manufacturing sites in areas affected by COVID-19 or travel restrictions impacting shipment.
The EMA also highlights “the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies to ensure the continuity of supply of their medicines,” with manufacturers expected to put in place appropriate resilience measures such as the increase of stocks or dual sourcing of products and materials.
• The Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance and the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association write to the Indian government, asking it to reverse restrictions on API exports, claiming they have surplus stock to deal with any shortages.
• As Italy’s reported cases of COVID-19 top 10,000 and the death toll rises from 366 to 463 Monday, the government extends emergency measures – including travel restrictions and bans on public gatherings – to the entire country.
• Vertex Pharmaceuticals says the coronavirus outbreak has not had any impact on its supply chain. “We are well-prepared from a business continuity perspective, with ample supply to meet commercial needs well into the future,” says CEO Jeffrey Leiden.
• The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and charities Wellcome Trust and Mastercard Impact fund pledge up to USD 125 million on an initiative to help development of treatments for coronavirus. The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator will first focus on testing antiviral drugs that have already gone through preclinical development.
• In an internal memo, Lilly asks US employees to work from home if possible, to reduce the risk of transmission to workers using specialised equipment in manufacturing facilities and R&D labs who do not have the option of working from home.
•Swedish CDMO Recipharm says it expects some of its facilities in the restricted zone of northern Italy to operate at a lower capacity than normal over the coming days but stresses that currently, they continue to “receive materials, manufacture and deliver routinely.”
• Innovation Pharmaceuticals says its defensin mimetic candidate, Brilacidin, has been shipped to one of the US’s regional biocontainment labs for testing against coronavirus.
• As the global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surpasses 100,000, the WHO says the spread of the virus can be significantly slowed or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities such as identifying sick people, bringing them to care following up on contacts, preparing hospitals to manage a surge in patients, and training health workers.
• The South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety approves phase II clinical trial of Gilead’s remdesivir on 100 hospitalised COVID-19 patients.
• Biogen says all attendees of a recent employee meeting in Boston have been directed to work from home for two weeks after three of them tested positive for COVID-19. The biotech firm said it is also restricting business travel through the end of March.
• Amgen says it has suspended international business travel and attendance at medical congresses, conferences and other large events until 17 April. Based on current inventory levels, the firm says it does not anticipate a shortage of its medicines.
• South Korean CDMO Samsung Biologics confirms that to date, no employees at its Songdo facility have been diagnosed with COVID-19. It says it is conducting daily assessments of the potential impact on its supply chain and business activities.
• India’s Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, DV Sadananda Gowda says API stocks are sufficient for another three months of manufacturing. Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Mansukh Mandaviya is leading a task force to look at increasing Indian API production.
• Mairead McGuinness, first vice-president of the European Parliament says MEPs will debate the potential shortage of medicines in Europe on 11 March, given the increasing strain on global public health services and pharmaceutical supply chains due to the spread of coronavirus.
• Quest Diagnostics says it will be in a position to receive specimens and start conducting a test for coronavirus for US patients by next Monday (9 March), pending review by the FDA under emergency use authorization.
• Merck KGaA says it is difficult to determine the potential impact of coronavirus on general economic developments and its own business and it has developed various scenarios. “According to the scenario being applied right now, the epidemic will reach its high point in the first quarter and subside in the course of the second quarter,” before normalizing in H2, the company says, adding that based on these assumptions, it would expect a negative effect of -1% on 2020 net sales. “Should the crisis grow or trigger a global recession, the company would adapt its business forecast,” Merck KGaA concludes.
• Xinhua News, China’s official state-run news agency, posts an article saying that if China bans exports of pharmaceutical products to the US, the US will be “plunged into the mighty sea of coronavirus.”
• Dr. Julie Gerberding, executive vice president at Merck & Co. and former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions people “not to overpromise on the timeline of the vaccine availability” citing longer clinical development and more difficult manufacturing.
• Vir Biotechnology and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals expand their existing collaboration to include the development and commercialisation of RNAi (RNA interference) therapeutics targeting SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
• China’s National Health Commission updates treatments guidelines saying Roche’s rheumatoid arthritis drug, Actemra (tocilizumab) can be used to treat some coronavirus patients with serious lung damage from uncontrolled immune response.
• Japan’s Takeda Pharma says it is developing a plasma-derived hyperimmune globulin therapy (TAK-888) to treat high-risk patients with COVID-19 and will share its plans with US Congress members. It is also exploring whether its currently marketed and pipeline products could be viable candidates for the treatment of COVID-19.
• Total reported cases of COVID-19: 92,943 and 3,160 deaths: WHO.
• Inovio Pharmaceuticals announces an accelerated timeline for developing its DNA vaccine INO-4800 to address COVID-19. The company plans to begin human clinical trials in the US in April and then in China and South Korea. It plans to deliver one million doses by year-end based on existing resources and capacity.
• Amid concern about the impact of coronavirus, major drug maker Lilly says it does not anticipate shortages for any of its products, including all forms of insulin. It says it does not source APIs for any of its approved medicines from China, while its insulin manufacturing sites in the US and Europe have not been affected by coronavirus.
• India restricts exports of 26 APIs including antibiotics, vitamins and hormones with immediate effect, according to a Directorate General of Foreign Trade notification. The move is understood to ensure no shortages of drugs as a result of China’s current lockdown.
• World Health Organisation director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus says containment of COVID-19 is “feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.”
• China reports 206 cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours, the lowest since 22 January, according to the WHO.
• Outside China, 8,739 cases reported from 61 countries, with 127 deaths: WHO.
• US President Donald Trump meets with pharmaceutical executives at the White House, wanting to hear about progress on therapies and vaccines for COVID-19. According to latest estimates, a vaccine is 12-18 months away, while a therapeutic treatment could be developed within months.
• Sun Pharma says there is a shortage of APIs for its generic hypertension drug, pindolol, brand name Visken, in the US but that it was not due to the Chinese situation.
• Bristol Myers Squibb says it has restricted employee business travel globally and is monitoring manufacturing and supply facilities across the globe. “At this time we do not anticipate disruptions to the supply of our medicines for patients due to COVID-19,” it says.
• China reports 329 cases in last 24 hours – the lowest in more than a month, according to the WHO.
• China reported cases: 78,959 cases and 2,791 deaths: WHO.
• Outside China, 4,351 cases in 49 countries, and 67 deaths: WHO.
• The US Food and Drug Administration reports the first case of a pharmaceutical drug shortage directly related to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. In a supply chain update, the agency’s commissioner of food and drugs, Stephen Hahn says a manufacturer has alerted the FDA to an unnamed human drug that has recently been added to the drugs shortages list due to an API shortage caused by a site affected by coronavirus.
• In an earnings call, Mylan president Rajiv Malik says the firm has alternative arrangements for API supply and does not see any immediate coronavirus impact, unless the situation persists for another few months.
• Sandoz commits to keep prices stable of certain essential medicines it markets that may help in the treatment of COVID-19 cases “despite current uncertainties about how the supply situation will evolve.” Novartis’ generics subsidiary singles out antivirals to reduce the impact of coronavirus and antibiotics to combat pneumonia.
• In an SEC filing, Merck & Co warns that “the outbreak of the virus has caused material disruptions to the Chinese economy, including its health care system, which will have a negative effect on the company’s first quarter 2020 results which, at this time, is not expected to be material." Merck adds that the outbreak of COVID-19 has so far had a limited effect on its supply chain of drugs into and raw materials out of China.