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U.S. vaccine campaign grows as COVID-19 kills 3,000-plus Americans daily

Daily U.S. deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 3,000 for the third time in a week as the country expanded its vaccination program and Congress progressed toward approving financial relief for pandemic-stricken America.

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Daily U.S. COVID-19 deaths again top 3,000 as officials scurry to distribute vaccine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday widened its network for administering COVID-19 vaccines to doctors and nurses on the frontlines of a pandemic killing more than 3,000 Americans a day, even as a major storm threatened to slow progress on the East Coast.

While medical professionals at a growing number of hospitals rolled up their sleeves, lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they were nearing a long-elusive bipartisan deal on $900 billion in economic relief to pandemic-hit U.S. workers and businesses.

The aid package, to be attached to a massive spending bill that must pass by Friday to avert a federal shutdown, was not expected to include COVID-relief funds for state and local governments, as Democrats wanted, or protections for companies from pandemic-related lawsuits, as sought by Republicans.

Rollout of the first tranche of 2.9 million doses of a newly authorized vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE was in its third full day, with shipments headed to 66 more distribution hubs nationwide.

A second vaccine from Moderna Inc could win emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week.

Express delivery companies FedEx and United Parcel Service, sharing a leading role in vaccine shipments, said they were monitoring potential impacts of heavy ice and snow that began to disrupt transport along the Eastern Seaboard.

U.S. Army General Gustave Perna, overseeing the government’s Operation Warp Speed campaign, said FedEx and UPS have developed contingency plans to keep any delayed vaccine shipments secure until they can be “delivered the next day.”

“We are on track with all the deliveries we said we were doing,” Perna told reporters at a briefing. He cited a minor glitch involving four trays of vaccine – two sent to California and two to Alabama – that arrived at temperatures lower than prescribed. The trays in question were shipped back to Pfizer and later replaced, Perna said.

Some 570 other vaccine distribution centers received the bulk of the initial batch of shipments on Monday and Tuesday, and an even larger wave was due for delivery to 886 additional locations on Friday, Perna said.

From each distribution site, vaccine doses were divided up among area hospitals and administered to healthcare workers, designated as first in line to be immunized. Some were also going to residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Later vaccine rounds will go to other essential workers, senior citizens and people with chronic health conditions.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he would get the vaccine publicly to help instill confidence in its safety, is expected to receive his first injection as soon as next week, according to his transition team.

Biden, 78, is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus due to his age.

It will take several months before vaccines are widely available to the public on demand, and opinion polls have found many Americans hesitant about getting inoculated.

Political leaders and medical authorities in the meantime have launched a media blitz assuring Americans that the vaccines are safe while urging them to avoid growing weary of social distancing and mask-wearing while the pandemic rages on.

“It is not over yet,” Dr Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CBS News. “Public health measures are the bridge to get to the vaccine, which is going to get us out of this.”

Data shows surging infections and hospitalizations are driving healthcare systems to the breaking point across much of the country, with many intensive care units at or near capacity.

FILE PHOTO: Sammie Michael Dent, Jr., the grandson of Florence Bolton, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient that died on November 2nd at Roseland Community Hospital, looks at her casket at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., December 9, 2020. Picture taken December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The United States reported at least 3,459 additional coronavirus deaths on Wednesday alone, a record that marks the fourth time in a week the daily toll has surpassed 3,000, according to a Reuters tally. The seven-day average has topped 2,500 lives lost every 24 hours for the first time this week.

To date, COVID-19 deaths total more than 304,000 nationally, while the mounting case load of 16.7 million known infections represents roughly 5% of the U.S. population.

With hospitalizations setting a record for the 19th day in a row – nearly 113,000 patients under treatment on Wednesday – health experts warn that fatalities will rise higher still in the weeks ahead, even as the vaccine campaign steadily expands.

Another 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 5.9 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine could be allocated next week, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar told a conference call. Both require two doses, given three or four weeks apart, for each person inoculated.

In all, the United States has options to buy up to 300 million doses of those vaccines, Azar said, plus hundreds of millions more doses of vaccines yet to receive approval, including some single-dose drugs.

The United States could have a surplus supply of vaccines in the future, if all the vaccines it has secured are authorized for use, Azar said, which could eventually benefit other countries.

The Trump administration was also in talks to secure additional antibody treatment doses from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc and Eli Lilly and Co, Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui told the same conference call.

 

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Manas Mishra, Anurag Maan, Lisa Shumaker and, Richard Cowan; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Aurora Ellis and Grant McCool

 

Reuters source:

 

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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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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