Moderna Works Toward Variant Vaccine Set

As the mutated Omicron variant raises concerns worldwide, Moderna announces that it is readying not only a vaccine booster for this COVID-19 variant, but a series of vaccines for an entire subset of variants. WHO has determined Omicron to be a variant of concern due to its numerous mutations, raising the risk of reinfection as compared to other variants.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO, stated that “the mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant.” The company has been able to advance strain-specific vaccines to clinical trials in 60-90 days, as it did for the Beta and Delta variants. Omicron is of particular concern because its numerous mutations make the immune response from the existing Moderna vaccine insufficient. While Moderna is currently testing a higher dose of the existing vaccine on Omicron, it is also testing two multi-variant boosters already created in anticipation of future variants. Data for the efficacy of these two vaccines on Omicron should be available by the start of 2022.

Pfizer and BioNTech have also prepared for the possibilities of variants with plans to adapt their mRNA vaccine within six weeks for a new variant. Laboratory data for the efficacy of their booster shot on Omicron is expected by the end of December 2021.

J&J Applies AI Tech to Potential Cancer Drugs

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen has been working with molecular data company Tempus for a year to tackle novel cancer therapies. They will now be focusing efforts on using Tempus’ AI technology and real-world databases to identify new drug targets. The AI will help build algorithms to search through clinical, genomic, and trial data to identify similar biomarkers and molecular-level traits in cancer patients. The massive amount of data will come from Tempus’ data library and genomic sequencing technology as well as the TIME Trial Network of healthcare providers and its accompanying clinical trial matching software.

“We’re excited to expand our collaboration to apply the Tempus AI platform,” Ryan Fukushima, Tempus COO, said in a statement. “We will explore leveraging our data to develop and co-develop novel AI applications to identify the best treatment options for patients in need and ultimately accelerate the drug development process, bringing novel medicines to patients in a fraction of the time.”

Tempus and Janssen had initially partnered to streamline clinical trial recruitment to help oncology clinical development grow. Having joined the TIME Trial Network, Janssen looked for another angle for accelerating oncology therapy development by improving biomarker-specific patient matching for Janssen’s clinical trials. Now, Tempus’ same expertise will help Janssen find patients with specific tumor features suited to novel drugs in development.

Calcium Grows with NexPhase Partnership

The growing healthcare marketing agency announced a financial relationship with NexPhase Capital, a private equity firm that invests in lower middle market growth-oriented companies within the consumer, healthcare, and software sectors. Calcium Founder and Chairman of the Board, Steven Michaelson, calls NexPhase “exactly the kind of financial partner we were searching for: one that recognizes our unique strengths and wants to build upon them. Calcium remains independent but now has the financial backing of our partner, NexPhase Capital.”

With over 125 employees and offices in Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, Calcium is structured to deliver an even greater impact and value for a

wider range of clients as it grows year over year with existing and new clients. NexPhase is ready to support their strategic growth plans as the agency focuses on building core strategic, creative, and digital strengths to further aid clients in competing even more effectively in the highly dynamic healthcare environment.

Andy Kieffer, Partner at NexPhase Capital, stated, “We like to partner with a great management team that has built a tremendous company and participate where we believe we can add meaningful value to continue the company’s growth. We found that with Calcium.”

GSK Highlights How Many Americans Work While Sick

GlaxoSmithKline’s newest survey of 2,000 working Americans found that 70% go to work while sick, most often because they couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Furthermore, Black and Latina women are 10% more likely to clock in while sick than white women, who do so more than white men.

GSK’s Consumer Healthcare, a leader in the OTC cold and flu remedy space, has launched an awareness campaign in tandem with a microgrant program for those who may not be able to afford a sick day. GSK’s Theraflu partnered with the nonprofit Good+Foundation, to help Americans pay for things such as groceries while recovering from mild illness. The plan is to award $150 grants to 1,000 parents, particularly Black and Latina moms. The amount represents the average income lost in one work day.

Sameer Rabbani, GSK Consumer Healthcare’s Marketing Lead for Respiratory Health, states that the online and social media campaigns are designed to remind us all that “rest and recovery are a right and not a privilege.” The campaign message includes those working from home since the pandemic as well. GSK’s survey found 68% of remote workers felt obligated to log on when sick and could only justify a sick day if sick with COVID-19. “I think the pandemic has actually heightened the issue,” Rabbani said. “We want to make sure that this lack of access to sick time is something we as a society can start talking about.”

Novartis and UCB Partner Against Parkinson’s

Novartis signed a deal to jointly develop UCB’s experimental Parkinson’s disease drug, UCB0599, worth approximately $1.5 billion. The companies will jointly develop and fund further global development of UCB0599, which is currently being tested in Phase II trials. The companies hope to see results showing the drug’s efficacy slowing Parkinson’s disease and gain FDA approval, after which they will split commercial responsibilities, with UCB taking the lead in Europe and Japan, and Novartis in the U.S. and all other markets.

Charl van Zyl, Executive VP of Neurology at UCB, commented, “it is our long-term ambition to transform the Parkinson’s treatment landscape from the management of symptoms, to treatments that can slow or stop the progression of disease.” The partners foresee significant sales potential by 2026.

Siemens and Freenome Seek to Improve Breast Cancer Tests

Medtech giant Siemens Healthineers and liquid biopsy developer Freenome will identify potential targets for a blood test that could ultimately be administered along with mammograms and other diagnostic imaging to improve early detection of breast cancer. The goal is to identify biomarkers present in any general blood draw before symptoms progress.

The partnership will utilize Siemens’ diagnostic technology and Freemon’s artificial intelligence and machine learning platform for analyzing genomic and immunologic data to select biomarkers linked to breast cancer. By connecting imaging and clinical data with molecular data, the two companies hope to identify new suitable markers of breast cancer that are complementary to those identified using current imaging and could maximize clinical accuracy for future screening tests.

If successful, this liquid biopsy would augment regular mammograms to develop a new patient-centric pathway to diagnose early-stage breast cancer.

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