In this week’s roundup we look at two important developments in the ongoing response to the pandemic. The first is the likelihood that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine could be approved under an emergency use authorization (EUA) as early as this weekend. The second is a major new effort by the U.S. government to expand genomic sequencing to track new COVID-19 variants.
We also look at the $12 billion merger of two titans of the clinical research organization (CRO) industry, the ongoing market for special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) focused on life sciences, and the development of a new health monitoring skin patch that would have sounded like science fiction not long ago.
Each week, we highlight five things you need to know about in the life sciences industry. Here’s the latest.
The best route to ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available is for there to be as many of them approved as possible. This week, J&J is on the verge of being the third company to have a vaccine approved under an EUA after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of experts recommended it be given the nod. The EUA could come as soon as this weekend and distribution in the United States would follow shortly after.
This vaccine also offers two additional benefits compared to the other vaccines already approved in the United States – it is easier to store because it doesn’t require super-cold temperatures and it only requires a single dose. These traits will make it critically important both in the United States and globally. Read the New York Times article linked above to learn more.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to massively scale up its genomic sequencing efforts related to monitoring the pandemic, this Politico article explains. As variants that first appeared overseas are starting to be identified in the United States, the need for monitoring and understanding the spread of these variants has become more critical to U.S. efforts to bring the pandemic under control.
With $1.75 billion in proposed funding, the government’s pandemic response aims to move from sequencing 4,500 coronavirus samples each week – which is “less than 1% of all positive samples identified through testing nationwide” – to sequencing as many as 15% of all positive COVID-19 samples.
SPAC activity in the biotech sector continues, as this Fierce Biotech article reports: “This week alone, Foresite Capital’s second special purpose acquisition company raised $175 million in its IPO, while two other biotech SPACs—European Biotech Acquisition and Frontier Acquisition—filed to raise a total of $300 million in their Nasdaq debuts.”
SPACs are shell companies that raise money and go public with the intention of acquiring or merging with another company. This route allows private companies to go public quicker and at a predetermined valuation. While SPACs have been around for more than 20 years, their popularity over the last 12 months has grown exponentially.
According to Evaluate Vantage, 36 new SPACs with a disclosed interest in the health care sector formed in 2020. Another 11 had their public debut in January. Typically, SPACs have a runway of about two years to invest their capital. With so many new funds being created, competition among funds to attract good investments will be strong. This will help further fuel the already favorable market conditions for biotech companies looking to go public.
Dublin-based CRO Icon has announced it is in the process of making a $12 billion acquisition of PRA Health. Although acquisitions of small and midsize CROs are common, mergers between the major industry players have been rare in recent years. The merged company will be the second-largest CRO in the industry after IQVIA, according to this article by Fierce Biotech. The merger promises to allow the companies to leverage the work each is doing on decentralized and hybrid clinical trials, and share technology and site networks.
University of California San Diego engineers have developed a soft, stretchy skin patch that could be a game changer in the realm of wearable health monitors, according to this article from the UC San Diego News Center.
This patch “can be worn on the neck to continuously track blood pressure and heart rate while measuring the wearer’s levels of glucose as well as lactate, alcohol or caffeine,” and is “the first wearable device that monitors cardiovascular signals and multiple biochemical levels in the human body at the same time.”
While the current prototype has to be connected to cables to work, the goal is to eventually develop a wireless version. An all-in-one wireless health monitoring device would help people proactively monitor their health and give researchers the ability to monitor biomarkers associated with various diseases.