Connect with us

Government

Gonorrhea became more drug resistant while attention was on COVID-19 – a molecular biologist explains the sexually transmitted superbug

The US currently has only one antibiotic available to treat gonorrhea – and it’s becoming less effective.

Published

on

The _Neisseria gonorrhoeae_ bacterium causes gonorrhea by infecting mucous membranes. Design Cells/iStock Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

COVID-19 has rightfully dominated infectious disease news since 2020. However, that doesn’t mean other infectious diseases took a break. In fact, U.S. rates of infection by gonorrhea have risen during the pandemic.

Unlike COVID-19, which is a new virus, gonorrhea is an ancient disease. The first known reports of gonorrhea date from China in 2600 BC, and the disease has plagued humans ever since. Gonorrhea has long been one of the most commonly reported bacterial infections in the U.S.. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which can infect mucous membranes in the genitals, rectum, throat and eyes.

Gonorrhea is typically transmitted by sexual contact. It is sometimes referred to as “the clap.”

Prior to the pandemic, there were around 1.6 million new gonorrhea infections each year. Over 50% of those cases involved strains of gonorrhea that had become unresponsive to treatment with at least one antibiotic.

In 2020, gonorrhea infections initially went down 30%, most likely due to pandemic lockdowns and social distancing. However, by the end of 2020 – the last year for which data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available – reported infections were up 10% from 2019.

It is unclear why infections went up even though some social distancing measures were still in place. But the CDC notes that reduced access to health care may have led to longer infections and more opportunity to spread the disease, and sexual activity may have increased when initial shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

As a molecular biologist, I have been studying bacteria and working to develop new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant infections for 20 years. Over that time, I’ve seen the problem of antibiotic resistance take on new urgency.

Gonorrhea, in particular, is a major public health concern, but there are concrete steps that people can take to prevent it from getting worse, and new antibiotics and vaccines may improve care in the future.

How to recognize gonorrhea

Around half of gonorrhea infections are asymptomatic and can only be detected through screening. Infected people without symptoms can unknowingly spread gonorrhea to others.

Typical early signs of symptomatic gonorrhea include a painful or burning sensation when peeing, vaginal or penal discharge, or anal itching, bleeding or discharge. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause blindness and infertility. Antibiotic treatment can cure most cases of gonorrhea as long as the infection is susceptible to at least one antibiotic.

There is currently only one recommended treatment for gonorrhea in the U.S. – an antibiotic called ceftriaxone – because the bacteria have become resistant to other antibiotics that were formerly effective against it. Seven different families of antibiotics have been used to treat gonorrhea in the past, but many strains are now resistant to one or more of these drugs.

The CDC tracks the emergence and spread of drug-resistant gonorrhea strains.

Why gonorrhea is on the rise

A few factors have contributed to the increase in infections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, most U.S. labs capable of testing for gonorrhea switched to testing for COVID-19. These labs have also been contending with the same shortages of staff and supplies that affect medical facilities across the country.

Many people have avoided clinics and hospitals during the pandemic, which has decreased opportunities to identify and treat gonorrhea infections before they spread. In fact, because of decreased screening over the past two and a half years, health care experts don’t know exactly how much antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has spread.

Also, early in the pandemic, many doctors prescribed antibiotics to COVID-19 patients even though antibiotics do not work on viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Improper use of antibiotics can contribute to greater drug resistance, so it is reasonable to suspect that this has happened with gonorrhea.

Overuse of antibiotics

Even prior to the pandemic, resistance to antibiotic treatment for bacterial infections was a growing problem. In the U.S., antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea infections increased by over 70% from 2017-2019.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a specialist at picking up new genes from other pathogens and from “commensal,” or helpful, bacteria. These helpful bacteria can also become antibiotic-resistant, providing more opportunities for the gonorrhea bacterium to acquire resistant genes.

Strains resistant to ceftriaxone have been observed in other countries, including Japan, Thailand, Australia and the U.K., raising the possibility that some gonorrhea infections may soon be completely untreatable.

Steps toward prevention

Currently, changes in behavior are among the best ways to limit overall gonorrhea infections – particularly safer sexual behavior and condom use.

However, additional efforts are needed to delay or prevent an era of untreatable gonorrhea.

Scientists can create new antibiotics that are effective against resistant strains; however, decreased investment in this research and development over the past 30 years has slowed the introduction of new antibiotics to a trickle. No new drugs to treat gonorrhea have been introduced since 2019, although two are in the final stage of clinical trials.

Vaccination against gonorrhea isn’t possible presently, but it could be in the future. Vaccines effective against the meningitis bacterium, a close relative of gonorrhea, can sometimes also provide protection against gonorrhea. This suggests that a gonorrhea vaccine should be achievable.

The World Health Organization has begun an initiative to reduce gonorrhea worldwide by 90% before 2030. This initiative aims to promote safe sexual practices, increase access to high-quality health care for sexually transmitted diseases and expand testing so that asymptomatic infections can be treated before they spread. The initiative is also advocating for increased research into vaccines and new antibiotics to treat gonorrhea.

Setbacks in fighting drug-resistant gonorrhea during the COVID-19 pandemic make these actions even more urgent.

Kenneth Keiler receives funding from NIH.

Read More

Continue Reading

Government

EY Eyes Comeback for Biopharma M&A

EY noted that the total value of biopharma M&A in 2022 was $88 billion, down 15% from $104 billion in 2021. The $88 billion accounted for most of the…

Published

on

A recent trickle of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) announcements in the billion-dollar-and-up range suggests that biopharma may be ready to resume dealmaking this year—although the value and number of deals isn’t expected to return to the highs seen just before the pandemic.

2022 ended with a handful of 10- and 11-figure M&A deals, led by Amgen’s $27.8 billion buyout of Horizon Therapeutics, announced December 13. The dealmaking continued into January with three buyouts announced on the first day of the recent J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference: AstraZeneca agreed to acquire CinCor Pharma for up to $1.8 billion, while Chiesi Farmaceutici agreed to shell out up to $1.48 billion cash for Amryt, and Ipsen Group said it will purchase Albireo Pharma for $952 million-plus.

Biopharmas generated about $88 billion in M&A deals in 2022, down 15% from $104 billion in 2021. The $88 billion accounted for most of the $135 billion in 124 deals in the life sciences. The number of biopharma deals fell 17%, to 75 deals from 90. The other 49 deals totaling $47 million consisted of transactions in “medtech,” which includes diagnostics developers and companies specializing in “virtual health” such as telemedicine. [EY]
EY—the professional services firm originally known as Ernst & Young—recently noted that the total value of biopharma M&A in 2022 was $88 billion, down 15% from $104 billion in 2021 [See Chart]. The $88 billion accounted for most of the $135 billion in 124 deals in the life sciences. That $135 billion figure is less than half the record-high $313 billion recorded in 2019, including $261 billion in 70 biopharma deals.

The number of biopharma deals fell 17% to 75 deals from 90. EY’s numbers include only deals greater than $100 million. The other 49 deals totaling $47 million consisted of transactions in “medtech,” which includes diagnostics developers and companies specializing in “virtual health” such as telemedicine.

We expect this to be a more active year as the sentiment starts to normalize a little bit,” Subin Baral, EY Global Life Sciences Deals Leader, told GEN Edge.

Baral is not alone in foreseeing a comeback for biopharma M&A.

John Newman, PhD, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity, predicted last week in a research note that biopharma companies will pursue a growing number of smaller cash deals in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion this year. He said rising interest rates are discouraging companies from taking on larger blockbuster deals that require buyers to take on larger sums of debt.

“We look for narrowing credit spreads and lower interest rates to encourage larger M&A ($50 billion and more) deals. We do not anticipate many $50B+ deals that could move the XBI +5%,” Newman said. (XBI is the SPDR S&P Biotech Electronic Transfer Fund, one of several large ETFs whose fluctuations reflect investor enthusiasm for biopharma stock.)

Newman added: “We continue to expect a biotech swell in 2023 that may become an M&A wave if credit conditions improve.”

Foreseeing larger deals than Newman and Canaccord Genuity is PwC, which in a commentary this month predicted: “Biotech deals in the $5–15 billion range will be prevalent and will require a different set of strategies and market-leading capabilities across the M&A cycle.”

Those capabilities include leadership within a specific therapeutic category, for which companies will have to buy and sell assets: “Prepared management teams that divest businesses that are subscale while doubling down on areas where leadership position and the right to win is tangible, may be positioned to deliver superior returns,” Glenn Hunzinger, PwC’s U.S. Pharma & Life Science Leader, and colleagues asserted.

The Right deals

Rising interest and narrowing credit partially explain the drop-off in deals during 2022, EY’s Baral said. Another reason was sellers adjusting to the drop in deal valuations that resulted from the decline of the markets which started late in 2021.

Subin Baral, EY Global Life Sciences Deals Leader

“It took a little bit longer to realize the reality of the market conditions on the seller side. But on the buyer side, the deals that they were looking at were not just simply a valuation issue. They were looking at the quality of the assets. And you can see that the quality deals—the right deals, as we call them—are still getting done,” Baral said.

The right deals, according to Baral, are those in which buyers have found takeover targets with a strong, credible management team, solid clinical data, and a clear therapeutic focus.

“Rare disease and oncology assets are still dominating the deal making, particularly oncology because your addressable market continues to grow,” Baral said. “Unfortunately, what that means is the patient population is growing too, so there’s this increased unmet need for that portfolio of assets.”

Several of 2022’s largest M&A deals fit into that “right” category, Baral said—including Amgen-Horizon, Pfizer’s $11.6-billion purchase of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals and the $6.7-billion purchase of Arena Pharmaceuticals (completed in March 2022); and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $4.1-billion buyout of Turning Point Therapeutics.

“Quality companies are still getting funded one way or the other. So, while the valuation dropped, people were all expecting a flurry of deals because they are still companies with a shorter runway of cash that will be running to do deals. But that really didn’t happen from a buyer perspective,” Baral said. “The market moved a little bit from what was a seller’s market for a long time, to what we would like to think of as the pendulum swinging towards a buyers’ market.”

Most biopharma M&A deals, he said, will be “bolt-on” acquisitions in which a buyer aims to fill a gap in its clinical pipeline or portfolio of marketed drugs through purchases that account for less than 25% of a buyer’s market capitalization.

Baral noted that a growing number of biopharma buyers are acquiring companies with which they have partnered for several years on drug discovery and/or development collaborations. Pfizer acquired BioHaven six months after agreeing to pay the company up to $1.24 billion to commercialize rimegepant outside the U.S., where the migraine drug is marketed as Nurtec® ODT.

“There were already some kind of relationships there before these deals actually happened. But that also gives an indication that there are some insights to these targets ahead of time for these companies to feel increasingly comfortable, and pay the valuation that they’re paying for them,” Baral said.

$1.4 Trillion available

Baral sees several reasons for increased M&A activity in 2023. First, the 25 biopharma giants analyzed by EY had $1.427 trillion available as of November 30, 2022, for M&A in “firepower”—which EY defines as a company’s capacity to carry out M&A deals based on the strength of its balance sheet, specifically the amount of capital available for M&A deals from sources that include cash and equivalents, existing debt, and market cap.

That firepower is up 11% from 2021, and surpasses the previous record of $1.22 trillion in 2014, the first year that EY measured the available M&A capital of large biopharmas.

Unlike recent years, Baral said, biopharma giants are more likely to deploy that capital on M&A this year to close the “growth gap” expected to occur over the next five years as numerous blockbuster drugs lose patent exclusivity and face new competition from lower-cost generic drugs and biosimilars.

“There is not enough R&D in their pipeline to replenish a lot of their revenue. And this growth gap is coming between 2024 and 2026. So, they don’t have a long runway to watch and stay on the sidelines,” Baral said.

This explains buyers’ interest in replenishing pipelines with new and innovative treatments from smaller biopharmas, he continued. Many smaller biopharmas are open to being acquired because declining valuations and limited cash runways have increased investor pressure on them to exit via M&A. The decline of the capital markets has touched off dramatic slowdowns in two avenues through which biopharmas have gone public in recent years—initial public offerings (IPOs) and special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).

EY recorded just 17 IPOs being priced in the U.S. and Europe, down 89% from 158 a year earlier. The largest IPO of 2022 was Prime Medicine’s initial offering, which raised $180.3 million in net proceeds for the developer of a “search and replace” gene editing platform.

Another 12 biopharmas agreed to SPAC mergers with blank-check companies, according to EY, with the largest announced transaction (yet to close at deadline) being the planned $899 million merger of cancer drug developer Apollomics with Maxpro Capital Acquisition.

“For the smaller players, the target biotech companies, their alternate source of access to capital pathways such as IPOs and SPACs is shutting down on them. So how would the biotech companies continue to fund themselves? Those with quality assets are still getting funded through venture capital or other forms of capital,” Baral said. “But in general, there is not a lot of appetite for the biotech that is taking that risk.

Figures from EY show a 37% year-to-year decline in the total value of U.S. and European VC deals, to $16.88 billion in 2022 from $26.62 billion in 2021. Late-stage financing rounds accounted for just 31% of last year’s VC deals, down from 34% in 2021 and 58% in 2012. The number of VC deals in the U.S. and Europe fell 18%, to 761 last year from 930 in 2021.

The decline in VC financing helps explain why many smaller biopharmas are operating with cash “runways” of less than 12 months. “Depending on the robustness of their data, their therapeutic area, and their management, there will be a natural attrition. Some of these companies will just have to wind down,” Baral added.

M&A headwinds

Baral also acknowledged some headwinds that are likely to dampen the pace of M&A activity. In addition to rising interest rates and inflation increasing the cost of capital, valuations remain high for the most sought-after drugs, platforms, and other assets—a result of growing and continuing innovation.

Another headwind is growing regulatory scrutiny of the largest deals. Illumina’s $8 billion purchase of cancer blood test developer Grail has faced more than two years of challenges from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and especially the European Commission—while Congress acted last year to begin curbing the price of prescription drugs and insulin through the “Inflation Reduction Act.”

Those headwinds may prompt many companies to place greater strategic priority on collaborations and partnerships instead of M&A, Baral predicted, since they offer buyers early access to newer technologies before deciding whether to invest more capital through a merger or acquisition.

“Early-stage collaboration, early minority-stake investment becomes increasingly important, and it has been a cornerstone for early access to these technologies for the industry for a long, long time, and that is not changing any time soon,” Baral said. “On the other hand, even on the therapeutic area side, early-stage development is still expensive to do in-house for the large biopharma companies because of their cost structure.

“So, it is efficient cost-wise and speed-wise to buy these assets when they reach a certain point, which is probably at Phase II onward, and then you can pull the trigger on acquisitions if needed,” he added.

The post EY Eyes Comeback for Biopharma M&A appeared first on GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

Read More

Continue Reading

Government

Pfizer’s Albert Bourla spells out ‘transition year’ for Covid products, with sales expected to reach a low point

On the heels of a record sales year, Pfizer is bracing for impact as it expects Covid-19 revenue to bottom out in 2023.
That’s due to lower compliance…

Published

on

On the heels of a record sales year, Pfizer is bracing for impact as it expects Covid-19 revenue to bottom out in 2023.

That’s due to lower compliance with vaccine recommendations, fewer primary vaccines being administered, and a “significant” government supply that’s expected to last throughout early this year, execs said Tuesday on the company’s Q4 earnings call.

CEO Albert Bourla anticipates $13.5 billion in Comirnaty sales this year, down 64% from 2022, and just $8 billion in Paxlovid revenue, down 58% from 2022.

“We expect 2023 to be a transition year in the US,” he said on the call, adding that the company sold more vaccine and treatment doses this year than were actually used. “This resulted in a government inventory build that we expect to be absorbed sometime in 2023 — probably the second half of the year. Around that time, we expect to start selling Comirnaty through commercial channels at commercial prices.”

Just 15.5% of eligible Americans have received bivalent booster doses, compared to 69.2% who completed their primary series, according to the CDC’s latest data. Last week, the FDA’s vaccines advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all new vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent shot, regardless of whether they’ve received the primary series.

Even so, only 31% of people in the US received a Covid vaccine this year, and Pfizer expects that number to dip to about 24% in 2023.

David Denton

Bourla’s expecting a similar slump in Paxlovid sales, due to existing unused government supply. According to data from ASPR updated last week, states have about 4 million unused Paxlovid courses.

The antiviral significantly underperformed this year, missing Bourla’s prior full-year projections by just over $3 billion. Comirnaty seemed to pick up the slack, however, raking in roughly $37.8 billion in global sales, or about $3.8 billion more than Bourla predicted at the end of the third quarter.

“While patient demand for our Covid products is expected to remain strong throughout 2023, much of that demand is expected to be fulfilled by products that were delivered to governments in 2022 and recorded as revenues last year,” CFO David Denton said on the call.

Angela Hwang

Commercial pricing for both Comirnaty and Paxlovid will likely kick in around the second half of this year, according to Bourla. While the pharma giant previously said it expects to charge between $110 and $130 for the BioNTech-partnered shot (almost quadrupling the price), chief commercial officer Angela Hwang said the team is still “preparing what those pricing scenarios could look like” for Paxlovid and will “share more at the right time.”

The Pfizer team is expecting Covid sales to pick back up in the next couple years — and if all goes according to plan, a successful combination shot for flu and Covid-19 would “bring the percentage of Americans receiving the Covid-19 vaccine closer to the portion of people getting flu shots, which is currently about 50%,” Bourla said. The company launched a Phase I study for an mRNA-based combo vaccine back in November.

Lower projected Covid sales led Bourla to set his full-year sales expectations in 2023 at $67 billion to $71 billion, down roughly 30% from 2022, which let down some analysts.

“PFE guidance for 2023 provided with 4Q22 results was disappointing despite the company talking down financial prospects in recent weeks,” SVB Securities analysts wrote in a note to investors on Tuesday.

However, when it comes to R&D investment, Bourla’s keeping his foot on the gas. As the CEO said back in November, “It’s all about what’s next.”

That’s why he’s earmarking around $12.4 billion to $13.4 billion for R&D this year, up nearly 9% from last year. It’s all part of his effort to make up for an expected $17 billion loss due to patent expiries between 2025 and 2030.

Last quarter, he spelled out ambitious plans to bring 19 new products or indications to market over the next year and a half. The chief executive highlighted a few of those programs on Tuesday, including potential combo shots for flu, Covid-19 and RSV, an oral GLP-1 candidate for diabetes and obesity, and potential vaccines for Lyme disease and shingles.

Other programs, however, didn’t make the cut. Pfizer also disclosed on Tuesday that it cut eight programs, including recifercept, an achondroplasia drug that was the centerpiece of Pfizer’s Therachon buyout in 2019, and two Paxlovid indications that failed their respective Phase III trials.

Read More

Continue Reading

International

IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast As Inflation Cools

IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast As Inflation Cools

The International Monetary Fund published its latest World Economic Outlook on Monday,…

Published

on

IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast As Inflation Cools

The International Monetary Fund published its latest World Economic Outlook on Monday, painting a slightly less gloomy picture than three and a half months ago, as inflation appears to have peaked in 2022, consumer spending remains robust and the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been less severe than initially feared.

But, as Statista's Felix Richter notes, that’s not to say the outlook is rosy, as the global economy still faces major headwinds.

However, the IMF predicts the slowdown to be less pronounced than previously anticipated.

Global growth is now expected to fall from 3.4 percent in 2022 to 2.9 percent this year, before rebounding to 3.1 percent in 2024.

The 2023 growth projection is up from an October estimate of 2.7 percent, as the IMF sees far fewer countries facing recession this year and does no longer anticipates a global downturn.

Infographic: IMF Upgrades Global Growth Forecast as Inflation Cools | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

One of the reasons behind the cautiously optimistic outlook is the latest downward trend in inflation, which suggests that inflation may have peaked in 2022.

The IMF predicts global inflation to cool to 6.6 percent in 2023 and 4.3 percent in 2024, which is still above pre-pandemic levels of about 3.5 percent, but significantly lower than the 8.8 percent observed in 2022.

“Economic growth proved surprisingly resilient in the third quarter of last year, with strong labor markets, robust household consumption and business investment, and better-than-expected adaptation to the energy crisis in Europe,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the IMF’s chief economist, wrote in a blog post released along with the report.

“Inflation, too, showed improvement, with overall measures now decreasing in most countries—even if core inflation, which excludes more volatile energy and food prices, has yet to peak in many countries.”

The risks to the latest outlook remain tilted to the downside, the IMF notes, as the war in Ukraine could further escalate, inflation continues to require tight monetary policies and China’s recovery from Covid-19 disruptions remains fragile. On the plus side, strong labor markets and solid wage growth could bolster consumer demand, while easing supply chain disruptions could help cool inflation and limit the need for more monetary tightening.

In conclusion, Gourinchas calls for multilateral cooperation to counter “the forces of geoeconomic fragmentation”.

“This time around, the global economic outlook hasn’t worsened,” he writes. “That’s good news, but not enough. The road back to a full recovery, with sustainable growth, stable prices, and progress for all, is only starting.”

However, just because the 'trend' has shifted doesn't mean it's mission accomplished...

That looks an awful lot like Central Bankers' nemesis remains - global stagflation curb stomps the dovish hopes.

Tyler Durden Tue, 01/31/2023 - 14:45

Read More

Continue Reading

Trending