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Moderna times & China’s future: a BioCentury podcast

Nov 17, 2020 | 2:36 AM GMT

Now that Moderna and partners BioNTech and Pfizer have set the bar for efficacy in COVID-19 vaccines, what’s next for the rest of players in the hunt? On the latest edition of the BioCentury This Week podcast, BioCentury editors discuss what the data mean, what the likely timelines are, and what the read throughs could be to other vaccines. They also discuss “China speed” and other takeaways from a survey of Chinese biopharmas conducted by BioCentury and BayHelix and discussions by panelists at the BioCentury-BayHelix seventh annual China Healthcare Summit.

Washington Editor Steve Usdin, who covered the data and its implications for Monday’s issue of BioCentury, argued that as Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) and BioNTech SE (NASDAQ:BNTX) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) gear up to seek emergency use authorization for their respective vaccines, new data about temperature stability give Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine a “huge advantage” over BNT162b2.

Usdin and Executive Editor Selina Koch discuss the impact that the trials may have on other vaccine trials: Will companies be able to persuade people to enroll in these studies when they know that there are highly effective vaccines that could soon be authorized, or will they be compelled to study their vaccines in South America and other countries outside the U.S. and Europe?

Editor in Chief C. Simone Fishburn notes that one of the things she heard repeatedly last week from industry is that the BioNTech-Pfizer readout elicited “a huge collective sigh of relief.”

“I’m not actually sure that the public really realized that industry wasn’t even sure it could make a vaccine; there’s never been one against coronavirus before,” she said.

Fishburn says that the biopharma community is in broad agreement that “if these vaccines work the others will because it’s the same science behind it.”

That allows companies to think tactically, she says, for example, by trying to differentiate based on side effects, logistics, subpopulations, and/or dosing. 

“Companies can now start to think in terms of does it prevent transmission? Can they improve with one dose versus two? Can they go into subpopulations?” Fishburn says, adding that “in all cases, you need to be providing something in the next vaccine class that is not just efficacious for 90%.”

Koch adds: “I think these differentiation factors you're both pointing out will become more important over time.”

Turning to the China survey, Fishburn says a key takeaway is that China is not waiting around for the West to “get comfortable with the idea that China is going to be a big player in biopharma.” Chinese biopharmas believe that they will be able to lean on China’s investors for the cash they need to fund their growth; however, the companies are likely going to continue to kick start their pipelines via in-licensing assets from West as their homegrown products mature.

“A year in Europe is like a month in China,” Sofinnova Partners’ Antoine Papiernik said on a China Healthcare Summit panel to discuss the BioCentury-BayHelix survey. As a result, the rate at which the U.S. and European biotech ecosystems developed may not translate to China, where the flood of money from private and public markets has given innovators the firepower they need to rapidly build pipelines and take products to market.

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