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Germany Reports Biggest COVID-19 Tally In 3 Months As Outbreak Spreads “All Over The Country”: Live Updates

Germany Reports Biggest COVID-19 Tally In 3 Months As Outbreak Spreads "All Over The Country": Live Updates

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Germany Reports Biggest COVID-19 Tally In 3 Months As Outbreak Spreads "All Over The Country": Live Updates Tyler Durden Thu, 08/13/2020 - 07:55

Summary:

  • Germany sees new cases hit 3-month high
  • 6% of England has been infected
  • Rural Indians grow weary of wearing masks
  • Philippines joins Brazil, UAE etc in planning Russian vaccine trials
  • South Korea sees cases hit 1-month high
  • Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine produces "immune response" in test subjects

* * *

As schools reopen in Berlin and elsewhere, Germany has reported another day of 1,000+ COVID-19 cases and the biggest single-day reading in three months, with the health minister warning of outbreaks across the country, blaming the spread on partiers and holiday travelers.

In the country of 83 million, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed by 1,226 to 218,519, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute. That's the biggest daily increase since May 9. Meanwhile, the number of deaths remained relatively low, increasing by six to a total of 9,207.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state governments decided in May to start gradually easing coronavirus restrictions, a balancing act to allow public life and business activity to recover while trying to keep the infection rate low. Though the rate remains low relative to the US and other countries struggling with raging outbreaks, keeping cases at a manageable level requires a careful balancing act.

"This is, no doubt, very worrying," said Health Minister Jens Spahn during an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. He added that Germans must remain "very cautious" to avoid spread of the virus.

The fate of the European economy could very well hinge on a V-shaped rebound that economists say might be possible if another round of damaging lockdowns can be avoided. In Spain and the UK, local measures have been favored, like 'partial lockdowns' in parts of Manchester and in Catalonia, efforts that the WHO has applauded.

In other news out of Europe, the FT reports that roughly 6% of people in England have been infected already, which is roughly 1/10th of the minimum level of penetration experts believe would be necessary for 'herd immunity' to slow the virus.

About 6% of people in England had the virus by the end of June, equating to roughly 3.4 million, a study by Imperial College London found. London was found to have the highest rate of infection in the UK, at 13%, while the South West had the lowest, at 3%. The findings were part of the REACT study, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care.

That study incorporated antibody test results from more than 100,000 Britons. The data was roughly in line with surveillance data published by the ONS, which showed that 6.8% of people in England received antibody tests. In Black, Asian and minority ethnic people were 2-3x as likely to have had the virus than white people.

Early data from trials of three potential vaccines showed promise of fighting COVID-19 without serious side effects, while leaders in the United States and European Union pushed for massive stimulus to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic. Coronavirus cases in Spain have risen three-fold over the last three weeks as authorities struggle to contain a rash of fresh clusters. Sweden is changing its contact tracing guidelines to make more of the information gathered self-reported by the infected.

In India, where antibody testing run in the slums has, in at least a few instances, turned up positivity levels north of 50%, many in rural areas, where the virus has largely died out, are growing weary of social distancing requirements like wearing masks, creating a parallel to the mask debate in the US.

In two dozen small towns and villages visited by Reuters reporters in recent weeks, people have largely given up on social distancing and masks after months of sticking to the rules, believing the virus is not such a serious threat.

Here's more from Reuters:

Harmahan Deka doesn’t wear a mask anymore to avoid the novel coronavirus nor does he try to keep a safe distance from others.

For the 25 men and women he works with in his construction materials business near the small town of Baihata Chariali in India’s Assam state, life is more or less as it used to be, Deka says.

"The virus can’t attack me, it’s weakened,” the 50-year-old diabetic said. "I often hang out at a busy neighbourhood grocery store - without masks, nothing. Both the store owner and I are fine. Maybe we’ve had it already without symptoms."

In two dozen small towns and villages visited by Reuters reporters in recent weeks, people have largely given up on social distancing and masks after months of sticking to the rules, believing the virus is not such a serious threat.

Though incidence rates are low, the virus remains a threat, and the poor health infrastructure in the countryside makes following social distancing rules all the more critical, the public health officials said.

The change in behaviour in rural India - where two-thirds of its 1.3 billion people live, often with only the most basic health facilities - has come as infections in the countryside have surged.

Health officials are exasperated.

"Sometimes people take it too lightly, as if nothing will happen to them just because they’re breathing fresh air and eating fresh vegetables,” said Rajni Kant, a member of a rapid response team of the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) set up to fight the pandemic.

"Health infrastructure is poor in rural areas, that’s why they have to strictly follow social distancing norms, wear masks, avoid crowded areas and keep washing hands. Otherwise they’ll suffer."

As we reported earlier, the Philippines has joined a growing list of countries preparing to hold clinical trials for the Russia-approved COVID-19 vaccine developed by the world-renowned Gameleya Institute. As news about the Russian vaccine dominated headlines this week, the usual patter of updates from Western companies working on their own candidates has continued. Here's a rundown of some recent vax news courtesy of Reuters:

  • An experimental vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University against the new coronavirus produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials.
  • German biotech BioNTech and U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc said data from an early-stage trial of their experimental coronavirus vaccine showed that it prompted an immune response and was well-tolerated.
  • A vaccine developed by CanSino Biologics Inc and China’s military research unit has shown to be safe and induced immune responses in most of the recipients who got one shot.

Finally, moving east, China and Hong Kong have seen infection numbers continue to decline following flareups earlier this month, but in South Korea, health officials reported 47 new locally transmitted cases, a one-month high amid concerns about a new batch of potential clusters.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.

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Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 

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This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

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With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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