Pharmalittle: Pfizer vaccine seems less potent against Covid-19 variant in lab test; WTO urges end to vaccine export restrictions

Hello, everyone, and how are you today? We are doing just dandy, despite another blanket of snow descending on the Pharmalot campus. A picturesque winter scene can be relaxing, yes? But there is some shoveling in our future. So we are fortifying ourselves with another cup of stimulation — our choice this morning is mountain blueberry — as we also prepare for a panel we will moderate at 1 p.m. ET today on antibiotic resistance. Meanwhile, here are a few items of interest we have gathered. Hope your day goes well and you stay safe. …

A laboratory test suggests the Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) loses some potency against the coronavirus variant that first appeared in South Africa, STAT writes. What the findings mean for how well the vaccine will protect real people from the variant, called B.1.351, is hard to tell. But clinical data for vaccines made by AstraZeneca (AZN), Novavax (NVAX), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) have already shown they are not as powerful at blocking symptomatic Covid-19 cases caused by B.1.351 as by other forms of the virus.

World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged the European Union and all other WTO members to end export restrictions on vaccines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, Bloomberg News says. Last month, the EU announced plans to require drug makers to obtain prior authorization before sending shots made in the EU to other countries. The move was aimed at addressing the slow rollout of vaccines across Europe, but was condemned by the World Health Organization and EU trading partners that fear protectionism.

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An ambitious pharmaceutical industry venture to tackle antibiotic resistance has hired its first chief executive officer and received $140 million in additional funding commitments, STAT reports. The AMR Action Fund, which was organized with $1 billion in pledged funds from nearly two dozen drug makers, tapped Henry Skinner, a venture capitalist and a former head of Novartis (NVS) Venture Funds, to pilot the project. The goal is to acquire or invest in small companies that can develop two to four novel antibiotics by 2030.

For years, former President Trump threatened to use foreign prices as a cap for what Americans should pay for drugs. Now that he’s left office without implementing the controversial proposal, states are picking up where his administration left off, STAT says. An array of lawmakers in Hawaii, North Dakota, Maine, Oklahoma, and other states are hoping they can make a version of the Trump administration plan, which focused on Medicare prices, work at the state level. And several of the state efforts could potentially become law in 2021.

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An Indiana Senate panel approved a bill that would pass along discounts to consumers at the pharmacy checkout from drug rebates negotiated between pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, The Indianapolis Business Journal tells us. The bill would pass along at least 85% of all rebates received by insurers or health maintenance organizations to consumers at the pharmacy counter. Currently, insurers or pharmacy benefits managers are not required to pass along any rebates, and many of the rebates are kept secret.

The pandemic grounded tens of thousands of pharmaceutical reps who usually roam the country urging doctors to prescribe certain drugs — a shift that has opened the door for tech companies, which are pitching digital platforms on the promise that oceans of data can make pharma marketing better, STAT explains. After in-person sales activity plummeted last March, this has bounced back somewhat in digital form. Today, activity sits at about 35% of pre-Covid levels. Of this activity, 60% is happening virtually versus less than 2% before the pandemic.

A U.S. appeals court judge issued an emergency stay of a recent ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission that imports of a rival to the Botox wrinkle treatment must be halted for 21 months. That ruling came in response to a complaint filed last year by Allergan, which AbbVie (ABBV) has since acquired, alleging that a pair of rival companies — Evolus (ELOS) and Daewoong Pharmaceuticals — stole trade secrets that were used to develop a new wrinkle-smoothing product called Jeuveau.

Eli Lilly (LLY) will gain exclusive worldwide license to a Rigel Pharmaceuticals (RIGL) autoimmune and inflammatory diseases treatment, including its lead candidate, R552, for potentially up to $960 million, Reuters notes. R552 belongs to a class of drugs called RIPK1 inhibitors, which target a critical signaling protein that regulates inflammation and cell death in tissues. It is a new approach to treat various autoimmune, inflammatory, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Source: STAT