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Newsletter reading: Moderna, Vertex, Otsuka, Vera




Newsletter reading: Moderna, Vertex, Otsuka, Vera

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Hello everyone. Damian here with what is my final edition of The Readout on my last day at STAT. I’ve had a great time writing about biotechnology here over the past eight years, and that’s in no small part a testament to the smart and committed readers of this newsletter. Meghana Keshavan isn’t going anywhere and soon you’ll read a new voice in your inbox. Thanks for reading, and have a nice weekend.

The must-know this morning

  • European regulators find no evidence of a link between new anti-obesity drugs and suicidal thoughts.

Is biotechnology getting old?

How would you spend $13 billion in cash? And remember Dendreon?

We discuss that and more this week in “The Readout LOUD”, STAT’s biotech podcast. We discuss a multi-billion dollar deal from Vertex Pharmaceuticals with far-reaching consequences and a long backstory. We also explain why gas prices are weighing on biotechnology, and make a surprising announcement.


Moderna’s African plans have stalled

Moderna has halted an ambitious plan to invest about $200 million in a manufacturing site in Kenya that would produce mRNA vaccines for the entire African continent, citing insufficient demand.

The news, first reported by the Financial Timesfollows a high-profile profile 2023 Agreement between Moderna and the Kenyan government to build a factory that could produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines annually. Moderna never purchased a plot for the proposed facility, according to the FT and the company said in a statement that pausing the process would “better align infrastructure investments with changing healthcare needs and vaccine demand in Africa.” Moderna said the lack of demand for vaccine doses in Africa has led to more than $1 billion in losses and write-offs.

The halted project is yet another example of how things haven’t turned out quite as Moderna had hoped in the years since the peak of the early pandemic. The company has lost about 50% of its value since late 2022 as demand for doses of its Covid-19 vaccine fell precipitously.

What about the company Vertex it didn’t to buy?

Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ decision to pay $4.9 billion for Alpine Immune Sciences put the spotlight on the serious kidney disease IgA nephropathy — and, by extension, a company called Vera Therapeutics.

Vera has a similar treatment for the same disease, a weekly drug called atacicept, which is about a year ahead of Alpine’s, with Phase 3 data expected next year. Novartis and Otsuka have competing drugs in development, but Vera is the only other independent biotech company in the sector.

That suggests someone might want to buy it, and Vera’s share price is up about 30% since yesterday.

Pascal Soriot got his serve

Compensation has been a controversial issue for AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, who is paid more than any other head of a listed company in Britain but less than most of his pharmaceutical peers in the US.

That’s going to change. AstraZeneca’s shareholders a policy approved that will increase his maximum possible reward by about 13% to $24 million. That will put him roughly in line with what the CEOs of Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson earned in total compensation last year. This is despite the recommendations of ISS and Glass Lewis, the two most influential shareholder advisory services.

The focus on Soriot’s pay package, which was almost voted down in 2021, highlights a major cultural difference between Britain and the US, where pharmaceutical paychecks make headlines but rarely draw the ire of shareholders. AstraZeneca has nearly tripled in value since Soriot got the job, surpassing all but a few competitors, most of whom make more money.

Read more

  • The inside story of Enhertu’s pan-tumor approval, STAT
  • Drugmakers rush to find alternative suppliers as US cracks down on Chinese biotech Financial times
  • When a cancer drug fails, oncologists often fly blind. A precision technique could show the way, STAT