Life Science News: COVID-19 pulled clinical data, Bill Gates on preventing next pandemic

A COVID-19 vaccine designed and developed by Univ. from Washington researchers is studded with a key part of a COVID-19 viral protein (in red). (UW Institute for Protein Design / Ian Haydon)

Life Sciences Week in the Pacific Northwest began with disappointing data for Eliem Therapeutics. Its lead compound failed to show benefit in a clinical trial for diabetic neuropathic pain, sending its stock plummeting.

But the Seattle-based company has other contenders behind the scenes. “We continue to be excited about the potential of our pipeline of drug candidates in multiple neuronal excitability disorders,” CEO Bob Azelby said in a statement.

The week ended with positive Phase 3 clinical data for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Washington, about to be distributed in South Korea. Read on for this and other Pacific Northwest news.

Eliem Therapeutics shares fall more than 50% after lead program fails to show clinical benefit

Studies on respiratory infections, type 1 diabetes, doped with 17 million dollars at the Benaroya Research Institute

Investment firm offers to buy Zymeworks, a biotech company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, for $733 million in cash

New members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, left to right: Harmit Malik, Fred Hutch; Caroline (Carrie) Harwood, UW; Rachel Klevit, UW; Steven Henikoff, Fred Hutch. (Photos UW and Fred Hutch)

YOUR COVID-19 vaccine:

  • The results come from a phase 3 trial of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by UW researchers. South Korea-based SK Bioscience, which led the trial, reported the vaccine was safe and produced a stronger antibody response than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine; T cell responses were similar or greater. The South Korean government intends to purchase 10 million doses, pending regulatory approval in that country. The shot is simple to manufacture and stable without freezing, making it suitable for wide distribution. The UW is licensing the technology royalty-free during the pandemic.

Health and digital devices:

  • Digital Square, a group with Seattle nonprofit PATH, awarded $800,000 to 12 projects “to improve health outcomes and help close the health equity gap around the world.” Winners include the UW Clinical Informatics Group and funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Amazon Web Services will provide cloud computing credits as part of its $40 million program to reduce inequities in healthcare.
  • Kestra Medical Technologies has released findings on its wearable defibrillator to reduce sudden cardiac arrest. The device, which won FDA approval last summer, showed a low rate of false alarms in the study, led by UW Medicine physician Jeanne Poole. The Kirkland, Wash., startup also won third place in an annual medical device trade group competition, in the cardiovascular category.

Studies:

  • Fred Hutch researchers conducted a study showing that certain genetic changes in esophageal cells are associated with progression to cancer years later. The changes involve disruption of both chromosomal copies of a classic cancer-associated gene, TP53. The results could lead to tests to help classify a patient’s risk.
  • A new study on electronic health records assesses which factors can predict severe illness in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Laboratory tests, vital signs and the need for supplemental oxygen were more important than factors such as chronic disease or body mass index, challenging current thinking. The research was led by the Institute for Systems Biology and included researchers from Swedish Providence and other institutions.
  • A model of COVID-19 transmission in prisons assesses the effects of various interventions on inmates and the wider community. “Operating business as usual results in significant, rapid, and continuous loss of life,” the study concluded. The first author is epidemiologist Eric Lofgren from Washington State University.

TED Trends and Talks:

  • Bill Gates wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining how to prevent the next pandemic, following a recent TED talk on the subject. He suggests building a “Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization” team, also a topic in his next book.
  • Seattle biotech researcher Jocelynn Pearl’s essay, “A Guide to Decentralized Biotechnology,” examines trends such as remote working and the growth of startups with operations in more than one location.

Technical moves:

Real estate:

  • Biotech-focused developer BioMed Realty has purchased a 156,000 square foot building, currently leased by Meta, in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The building is “laboratory-capable”, according to a press release from the developer, which did not provide information on its plans. The acquisition follows a nearby 1.65 acre purchase by the company and brings its total office and lab space in the city to 1.4 million square feet.

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