April 20, 2021
FasterCures Smartbrief
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The US will allocate $1.7 billion from the latest COVID-19 relief package to the CDC, state health departments and six university-affiliated centers of excellence as well as to set up a national system to detect, monitor, analyze and share data on emerging disease threats, including coronavirus mutations. "In order for us to even have the possibility of getting back to normal by the fall we need to massively scale up our genomic surveillance," said FasterCures Executive Director Esther Krofah, adding that the national pathogen surveillance network is "not just for COVID, but going forward for other pathogens of concern."
Full Story: The Associated Press (4/16) 
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News from FasterCures
LUNGevity Creates COVID-19 Vaccine Resource for Cancer Patients
Access to information about COVID-19 and the vaccine is a clear challenge across the US health care system. It's especially difficult among vulnerable populations, where language barriers and concerns regarding cultural competence are more prevalent. LUNGevity is pleased to share their recently published, health literate FAQs about what cancer patients want to know about the COVID-19 vaccine. The information provided in the FAQs is informed by trusted, medically-vetted, reliable sources, which are referenced. The FAQs incorporate patient insights and apply national standards for health literacy, cultural competency, numeracy, and linguistically appropriate materials as translated by their health literacy partner, Health Literacy Media.
The FAQs are available in English and Spanish. You can access the FAQs in English and in Spanish.
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Patient Engagement
Race is a social construct, but there are inherited genetic variations among different ethnic groups that affect drug response and reactions and understanding those genetic differences could lead to more effective treatments and improvements in clinical care, thus reducing race-based health disparities, writes Dr. Saba Sile, executive director of clinical development at Horizon Therapeutics. Sile calls for an industry-wide commitment to improving racial diversity in clinical trials that reflect the racial distribution of the disease in question, inclusion of historically black universities in research, investment in education, and more research on racial differences in health and disease.
Full Story: Scientific American (tiered subscription model) (4/2021) 
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Science and Technology
Christopher Austin has led the NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences since 2012, and despite a small budget and a chorus of critics, NCATS researchers have made remarkable advances in tissue chips, drug repurposing and COVID-19 clinical trials, among other successes. "One thing COVID has shown us is that we need stable, expert, disease-agnostic clinical trial capacity in this country," which the NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards provide, Austin says.
Full Story: Chemical & Engineering News (tiered subscription model) (4/13) 
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Research on pancoronavirus vaccines that protect against an array of beta coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, is being funded by the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and others. Research teams are taking different approaches to a similar model that involves combining components from multiple forms of the pathogen, which has proven successful in vaccines for poliovirus, human papillomavirus and pneumococcal disease, but hurdles include biosecurity concerns and difficulties testing vaccines against hypothetical virus strains.
Full Story: Science (tiered subscription model) (4/15) 
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Research on pills, nasal sprays, sublingual tablets and other delivery systems for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that don't require special handling or administration is "encouraging," especially from a global perspective, says FasterCures Executive Director Esther Krofah. Five companies are working on oral vaccines, two of which are in Phase 1 testing, and 13 companies are working on nasal vaccines, five of which are in clinical trials, but the difficulty of developing a vaccine that doesn't require injection shouldn't be underestimated, Krofah says.
Full Story: Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model) (4/16) 
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Finance and Economics
Tectonic Therapeutic raised $80 million in a Series A round to develop biologic drugs that target G-protein-coupled receptors using a proprietary platform. The cell surface receptors bind to different signaling molecules and are involved in various biological processes, and up to a third of small-molecule drugs target them, but Tectonic's founders believe small-molecule drugs aren't specific enough for some targets, says CEO Alise Reicin.
Full Story: FierceBiotech (4/15) 
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Eli Lilly and Co. was one of the supporters that helped raise $139 million for Jaguar Gene Therapy in a Series B funding round. Jaguar is developing preclinical gene therapies that target galactosemia, type 1 diabetes and gene-linked autism.
Full Story: BioPharma Dive (4/13) 
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A pair of pancreatic cancer research projects at UCLA have received grants of approximately $3 million each from the NIH. One project focuses on creating treatments aimed at mutations of the KRAS gene, which drive most pancreatic cancer cases, while the second study examines STING -- stimulator of interferon genes -- molecules, which might help treat pancreatic cancer when activated.
Full Story: Daily Bruin (University of California, Los Angeles) (4/15) 
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Adagio, which was spun out of Adimab last July, raised $336 million in a Series C round to develop engineered human antibodies that neutralize coronaviruses, including a candidate that is already in clinical trials for SARS-CoV-2. Antibodies have several advantages over injectable vaccines, including suitability for children and immunocompromised patients, and they can be used therapeutically or in combination with vaccines, says Chief Medical Officer Lynn Connolly.
Full Story: Forbes (tiered subscription model) (4/19) 
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Policy and Regulation
The FDA's Unapproved Drugs Initiative was supposed to get unsafe legacy drugs off the market and ensure those that remained complied with FDA safety standards, but the program had the unintended consequence of driving up prices of once-cheap drugs, and it was suspended in November. Policy experts are considering options for achieving the program's goal for the remaining 1,500 old, unapproved drugs on the market without causing price spikes.
Full Story: Kaiser Health News (4/15) 
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FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute, is driven by a singular goal: to save lives by speeding up and improving the medical research system. The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, non-partisan think tank determined to increase global prosperity by advancing collaborative solutions that widen access to capital, create jobs, and improve health.
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