Pharmaceutical company BioNTech said Monday that it wants to use the mRNA technology behind its coronavirus vaccine to target malaria.
The Germany-based company, which developed the first widely approved coronavirus shot together with U.S. partner Pfizer, aims to begin clinical trials for a “safe and highly effective malaria vaccine” by the end of next year.
“We are already working on HIV and and tuberculosis, and malaria is the third big indication (disease) with a high unmet medical need,” BioNTech’s chief executive, Ugur Sahin, told The Associated Press. “It has an incredible high number of people being infected every year, a high number of patients dying, a particularly severe disease and high mortality in small children.”
According to the World Health Organization, there were about 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019. The global body estimates that 409,000 people died from malaria that year, with children under the age of 5 accounting for 67% of deaths.
Africa has by far the highest burden of the mosquito-borne disease worldwide, WHO says.
Sahin acknowledged that the effort is at a very early stage and there’s no guarantee of success. But he said the company believes it’s “the perfect time to address this challenge” because of the insights it has gained from developing an mRNA vaccine against the coronavirus and a growing understanding of how malaria works.
Experts say developing a vaccine to prime the immune system against malaria will be tricky, however.
“The genome of Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, is more complex than viruses,” said Prakash Srinivasan, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
A malaria vaccine made by drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline already being trialed in three African countries has shown that inducing strong, long-lasting antibody levels is challenging, he said.
Existing and future variants of the parasite could also pose a challenge to developing an effective vaccine, said Srinivasan, whose lab is also working to develop a shot against malaria.
But Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, said the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic showed mRNA technology could be used to quickly adapt vaccines to work against new variants.
“The mRNA platform is going to be applicable to many different pathogens,” he said.
Sahin said early-stage development and testing of vaccines normally costs about $30-80 million.
The project, which is a collaboration with the World Health Organization, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “has no budget limits at the moment,” he added.
BioNTech said it is also seeking to establish an mRNA vaccine production facility in Africa, which is among the regions that have struggled to get sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The company said it is working with partners to “evaluate how to establish sustainable mRNA manufacturing capabilities on the African continent to supply African countries with vaccines.” Once built, such a facility would be able to make various mRNA-based vaccines.
BioNTech and Pfizer have said they will deliver 1 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to middle- and low-income countries this year, and another billion doses in 2022.
Last week, the two companies announced that a South African firm, the Biovac Institute, will become the first on the continent to start producing their coronavirus vaccine.
BioNTech has previously said it is working on a vaccine candidate for tuberculosis, with clinical trials aimed for 2022, and therapies for several forms of cancer.
Vista Equity invests $300 million in telehealth software firm TigerConnect- sources
Healthcare communications software provider TigerConnect has raised $300 million in growth investment from private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.
The valuation of TigerConnect wasn’t known. It last raised $45 million at a valuation of $370 million in September 2020, according to PitchBook data, counting HealthQuest Capital and New Leaf Ventures as its backers. Some of the early investors have exited through Vista’s investment, one of the sources said.
Santa Monica, California-based TigerConnect delivers cloud-based clinical communication and collaboration solutions, including telehealth, to over 7,000 healthcare organizations and 700,000 caregivers.
In an interview, Brad Brooks, TigerConnect’s co-founder and chief executive confirmed the partnership with Vista, but declined to comment on the amount or valuation.
He said the company plans to use the proceeds to invest in its product to meet the growing need for clinical collaborations, as well as looking for acquisition opportunities.
The number of users on TigerConnect’s platform more than doubled during the past year as hospitals try to improve efficiency and the experience for patients during the pandemic, Brooks added.
“There had really been a dramatic lack of efforts around clinical workflow communication. We’re almost like a Slack for healthcare, putting in a common communication network so that everyone can reach everyone,” said Brooks.
The company, founded in 2010, sells subscription-based software solutions, including collaboration, communication, scheduling and patient engagement. It also plans to utilize AI and machine learning technology to provide smart solutions based on the platform data.
Vista has over $86 billion in assets under management and specializes in investing in enterprise software, data and technology companies. Last week, it invested an undisclosed amount in BlueConic, a Boston-based customer data platform.
AstraZeneca booster shot is effective against Omicron variant
A study from an Oxford University lab published on Thursday revealed that a three-dose course of AstraZeneca booster shot is efficient in controlling the fast spread of the Omicron variant.
The Pharmaceutical company said in its statement that the results – while they have yet to be released in a peer-reviewed medical journal – are relatively identical to those of its rivals, including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. They also uncovered that their booster vaccines effectively fight the latest Coronavirus variant.
After receiving the third dose of AstraZeneca, the study highlighted that the shot had a neutralizing effect against the virus, which had an almost identical result to the two shots against its previous variant, Delta.
“As we better understand Omicron, we believe we will find T-cell response provides durable protection against severe disease and hospitalizations,” the head of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceutical R&D, Mene Pangalos, said when referring to a significant element of the immune system that fights infection.
After taking the Vaxzervria – the third booster shot – antibody levels marked a much higher rate than antibodies in patients who had already caught the virus and naturally regained health, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said.
On Tuesday, the pharmaceutical firm announced that it is already working with its partner, Oxford University, to develop a vaccine exclusively directed towards fighting the Omicron variant, mirroring other MedTech companies’ attempts.
The university’s study incorporated 41 samples from individuals who had already taken the first two shots of AstraZeneca and others who took the booster one. The lab examined and analyzed blood samples from people infected with the virus and others vaccinated with the two dozes, the third booster shot, and finally, those who had already caught one of the coronavirus variants.
It is worth mentioning that AstraZeneca stated that while the Oxford University lab results support its booster shot, the study was completely independent of researchers who had previously joint efforts with the London-based firm on the vaccine.
The world is looking to halt back from the detrimental effect the pandemic is spreading, with governments and scientists seeking to heighten fortifications in their health sectors against the Omicron.
Even since its emergence on the scene, the latest COVID-19 variant proved to be one of the most dominant variants to date. Governments are worried it might become globally spread after the holidays if they fail to curb the infections rate.
Earlier this month, the UK endorsed third shots after discovering that boosters have a vital role in restoring protection against other diseases triggered by the Omicron.
Moderna, unfazed by Omicron, prepares for 2022 vaccination campaign
Covid-19 vaccine-making veteran Moderna seems unfazed by the emergence of the Omicron variant, saying that they can begin work on developing a booster short within a couple of weeks, according to Chief Executive Stephane Bancel.
“It only needs minor adjustments for Omicron, I don’t expect any problems,” said Bancel in an interview with the Swiss newspaper TagesAnzeiger.
Though hoping to begin clinical trials in early 2022, for the time being, they will be relying on the booster dose of their mRNA-1273 vaccine to counter the fast-spreading coronavirus variant.
The company is now awaiting vital information on the new variant to begin vaccine development, which could take up to one or two weeks.
Bancel says that it will take another few months to produce 500 million doses after all the regulatory requirements have been met, citing that their capabilities and experience as a company today have increased compared to one year ago.
In 2021, Moderna managed to create around 700 million to 800 million vaccine doses. In 2022, they expect to escalate production capacity from 100 million doses per month to 150 million per month.
Deals were also made with Swiss-based drug manufacturer Lonza to boost production further and plan to fire up their factory lines in the first quarter of 2022.
The company is currently discussing a future ‘vaccine subscription’ service with Switzerland that works to ensure a steady supply. This move helps improve ties with the country, which Moderna is keen to proceed with after signing parliamentary agreements with Canada and Australia.
“We have a number of new vaccines in development, for example against influenza or against the RS virus, which causes a respiratory disease that is fatal in the elderly and young children,” Bancel added.
“We can combine these three mRNA vaccines into one dose and propose to governments to secure supplies for a certain amount for several years and then invest in a production facility in that country,” he added.
With this, the company can designate certain countries as having priority should another pandemic occur in the future.
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