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Inovio To Start Phase 2/3 Study Of Covid-19 Candidate In Sept.; Shares Drop 8%

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Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. plans to initiate Phase 2/3 study trials of INO-4800, its experimental vaccine candidate against the novel coronavirus, in September and produce at least 1 million doses this year.The company said that it is in the process of finalizing additional manufacturing partnerships in the US and in Europe to meet the target of providing 100 million doses of its DNA vaccine in 2021. Shares, however dropped 8.3% in Tuesday’s pre-market trading after declining 6.1% at the close on Monday, as investors had expected Inovio (INO) to start mid-late trials before September.INO-4800 targets the major antigen Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease. Based on what Inovio called “promising” clinical data, the company states that INO-4800 is a COVID-19 vaccine candidate with a unique and highly favorable safety profile, which produces well-balanced immune responses consisting of both neutralizing antibodies and T cells.“We are very encouraged by the immune responses of our DNA vaccine candidate, INO-4800, and we look forward to beginning our planned Phase 2/3 trials in September upon FDA concurrence,” Inovio CEO Joseph Kim said. “Inovio is razor-focused on achieving additional external funding for scale-up and manufacturing of vaccine doses.”The US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded Inovio $71 million to support large-scale manufacturing of the company's proprietary Cellectra and the procurement of other devices that are used to deliver INO-4800 intradermally. The DoD also awarded Ology Bioservices $11.9 million to work with Inovio to manufacture INO-4800 DNA plasmids.Inovio added that INO-4800 Phase 1 clinical results are now undergoing peer review for publication at a top medical journal.The value of the stock has this year already ballooned 476% with the majority of analysts staying sidelined on the stock. The Hold consensus shows 5 Holds, 1 Sell and 2 Buys. (See Inovio stock analysis on TipRanks).Maxim analyst Jason McCarthy last month downgraded the stock to Hold from Buy, citing valuation following the share’s rally.McCarthy notes that although Phase 1 clinical study data of Inovio’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate has demonstrated to be "positive", he believes the stock’s stellar year-to-date performance and the potential success of INO-4800 are priced into the shares.Even as the share price spiked so fast this year, the $22 average analyst price target still indicates 16% upside potential from current levels.Related News: Pfizer Inks Deal To Manufacture Gilead’s Covid-19 Remdesivir Treatment AstraZeneca Strikes First China Manufacturing Deal For Covid-19 Candidate Novavax Rises 5% On Earnings; $2B Covid-19 Vaccine Funding More recent articles from Smarter Analyst: * Occidental Petroleum Posts $8.4 Billion Loss in 2Q Amid Oil Price Crisis * Royal Caribbean Rises In Pre-Market On Higher Demand For 2021 Cruises * Pfenex Pops 59% On Ligand $513M Buy-Out Deal; Analyst Sees 93% Upside * American Airlines Shares Lifted By Air Travel Demand Data



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This is why COVID-19 could be life-threatening for some patients

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When two brothers fell critically ill with COVID-19 around the same time in March, their doctors were baffled. Both were young—29 and 31 years old—and healthy. Yet within days, they couldn’t breathe on their own and, tragically, one of them died.

Two weeks later, when a second pair of COVID-stricken brothers, both in their 20s, also appeared in the Netherlands, geneticists were called in to investigate. What they uncovered was a path leading from severe cases, genetic variations, and gender differences to a loss of immune function that may ultimately yield a new approach to treating thousands of coronavirus patients.

The common thread in the research is the lack of a substance called interferon that helps orchestrate the body’s defense against viral pathogens and can be infused to treat conditions such as infectious hepatitis. Now, increasing evidence suggests that some COVID-19 patients get very ill because of an impaired interferon response. Landmark studies published Thursday in the journal Science showed that insufficient interferon may lurk at a dangerous turning point in SARS-CoV-2 infections.

“It looks like this virus has one big trick,” said Shane Crotty, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California. “That big trick is to avoid the initial innate immune response for a significant period of time and, in particular, avoid an early type-1 interferon response.”

The work highlights the potential for interferon-based therapies to enlarge a slowly accumulating range of COVID-19 treatments. These include Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir and convalescent plasma, a component of the blood of recovered patients that may contain beneficial immune factors.

These treatments provide limited benefit and are typically used in very sick, hospitalized patients. The possibility that interferon may help some people is enticing because it appears most efficacious in the early stages of infection, when life-threatening respiratory failure could still be averted. Dozens of studies of interferon treatment are now recruiting COVID-19 patients.

“We think timing may be essential because it’s only in the very early phase one can really battle the virus particles and defend against infection,” said Alexander Hoischen, head of the genomic technologies and immuno-genomics group at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen that analyzed the DNA of the two sets of brothers.

Being male, elderly, and having underlying medical conditions can all raise patients’ risk of life-threatening COVID-19. But even within these groups, disease severity varies widely. Scientists have speculated other factors influence susceptibility, including pre-existing levels of inflammation and immunity, the amount of virus that starts an infection, and patients’ genetic makeup.

Interferon’s role represents a new nexus in COVID-19’s complex interaction with the human immune system. Many patients suffer their worst complications because of an immune overreaction sometimes called a cytokine storm, and may benefit from dexamethasone, a cheap generic that calms these storms.

“It’s a very interesting disease because too little immunity is no good,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sept. 10 in an online briefing for Massachusetts General Hospital staff. “Too much immunity is really, really bad.”

Some people are known to have trouble fighting infections because they make antibodies that deactivate their own interferon. On Thursday, a global consortium of researchers said such immune reactions to the protein could account for life-threatening COVID-19 pneumonia in at least 2.6% of women and 12.5% of men.

Interferon-blocking antibodies appeared in 101 of 987 patients with severe disease, but none of 663 people with an asymptomatic or mild case, according to the study in Science. Patients over age 65 were also more likely than younger ones to have the autoimmune abnormality, which was “clinically silent until the patients were infected with SARS-CoV-2,” the group of more than 100 scientists said.

“These findings provide a first explanation for the excess of men among patients with life-threatening COVID-19 and the increase in risk with age,” the researchers led by Jean-Laurent Casanova, head of Rockefeller University’s St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases in New York said. “They also provide a means of identifying individuals at risk of developing life-threatening COVID-19.”

Genetic analysis of COVID-19 patients published in the same journal revealed two dozen gene mutations that had been “silent” until patients were infected by SARS-CoV-2. Researchers—many of them also involved in the antibody study—sequenced the genomes of 659 patients with life-threatening cases of the disease; 3.5% carried genetic variations that inhibit interferon production.

Those genetic flaws were similar to the ones that Mr. Hoischen and his colleagues from a dozen Dutch centers described in the Journal of the American Medical Association two months ago. The two sets of brothers had inherited a gene mutation that impaired the interferon response, keeping their immune systems from fighting the coronavirus until it had replicated for days.

In the Dutch men, the effects were cruel. The first, a young father from a town in the southern Netherlands, suffered shortness of breath, cough, and fever at home for eight days before admission to intensive care. He was to spend 33 days in the hospital, 10 of them on a ventilator.

His 29-year-old brother succumbed to COVID-19 in an intensive care unit in Rotterdam, after being treated for shock and a fever that soared to 44 degrees Celsius. When doctors at Radboud learned of his younger sibling’s case, as well as a second pair—21- and 23-year-old brothers also in respiratory failure—they went looking for a genetic cause.

They found a mutation that was carried on the X chromosome. Defects on this chromosome are more likely to affect men, who have only one copy, while women have two.

The men’s mutations are rare—occurring in 1 in 10,000 people—and an unlikely explanation for the vast majority of severe COVID-19 cases. But the studies in Science indicate that various forms of interferon dysfunction may underlie as many as one in eight critical patients, and that screening and targeted treatment might prevent severe illnesses and deaths.

“If we manage to get them into our university medical center early enough,” Mr. Hoischen said, “our clinicians may be able to treat them with interferons.”

Other ways of overcoming autoimmunity, like the removal of antibodies against interferon from the blood, called plasmapheresis, could also help patients.

“The rare diseases and the more common forms of the same disease may converge, and we can learn from each other,” said Mr. Hoischen. “That’s the hope.” — Jason Gale/Bloomberg



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How a hair-care company went from salon supplier to sanitizer powerhouse

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When AG Hair moved into its new, 70,000-sq.-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Coquitlam, B.C., two years ago, it was part of a plan to supercharge expansion of its hair care product line to salons in international markets. Europe was next on its list. Then COVID-19 hit.

Not only was the European expansion put on hold, but salons in major markets across Canada and the United States were temporarily closed. Very few were purchasing hair products, so manufacturing was halted in mid-March, leaving most of the company’s 82 employees out of work.

AG Hair could have waited out the pandemic but instead decided to lean into its entrepreneurial culture and make a sharp pivot. It began providing hand-sanitizing products for front-line health-care workers, addressing a global shortage.

“We realized there was this massive need for health-care professionals, and we wanted to make a difference and be able to provide them with the products they needed,” says AG Hair CEO Graham Fraser.

AG Hair received Canadian and U.S. approvals a week after applying for the licences needed to make sanitizer, and produced samples to show local authorities within 48 hours.

AG Hair’s Coquitlam facility has pivoted to making hand sanitizer (Photograph by Alana Paterson)

“That rapid response time, and the fact that we had gone through all of the Health Canada regulatory hurdles, showed [the local health authorities] that we were a partner they could trust and someone they could look to, to deliver the products they needed,” Fraser says.

Within a month, the company started pumping out the products, first for the health-care industry, then for consumers on its own website and on Amazon. About 10 per cent of AG Hair’s hand-sanitizer production also went to people in need, as identified by organizations such as United Way.

Parallel 49 Brewing Company is also using AG Hair’s Coquitlam manufacturing facility to produce its own blend of liquid hand sanitizer for front-line health and emergency workers, in partnership with the B.C. government.

Fraser credits his team for its energy and creativity in making the hand-sanitizer production happen, and helping put AG Hair staff back to work.

“We realized we had an opportunity . . . and then it became this incredible, almost war-room mentality and collaboration with our owners, our executive team and our people to say, ‘How are we going to get through this?’ ” Fraser recalls. “I think our success speaks to the type of people we have and the entrepreneurial spirit of pursuing every avenue we have, understanding how we can produce the products and making it happen.”

AG Hair’s commitment to investing in future growth is a big part of what makes it a Best Managed company, says Nicole Coleman, a partner at Deloitte and co-lead of its Best Managed Program in B.C.

“Capability and innovation come through quite strongly with this company,” says Coleman, who is also AG Hair’s coach at Deloitte. “I don’t think they would be able to pivot as quickly if they weren’t so strategic and had the internal capabilities to do it.”

The manufacturing facility was a big investment, but one Coleman says has already paid dividends.

“They were looking forward with a strategic plan in mind about future growth and how they could expand, rather than just focusing on the day to day,” she says. “Best Managed companies are always pushing the envelope and are conscious about planning for the future.”

AG Hair was founded in Vancouver in 1989 by hairstylist John Davis and graphic artist Lotte Davis. The husband-and-wife team began bottling hair products in their basement and selling them direct to salons from the back of a station wagon.

The company eventually moved its manufacturing off-site, to a third party. One day, John went to watch the operations and was surprised to see salt being poured into the mixture. Although he was told salt is commonly used as a thickener, he didn’t like the potential side effects of dry hair and skin.

It was at that moment John decided the company would oversee its own manufacturing. “Through that experience, John also became an expert in product development,” says Fraser, who came to the company in 2000 as director of sales.

After having worked for more than two decades at PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, Fraser was eager to work at a smaller, more agile company where he felt he could help make a difference.

“It was perfect because I got to bring a lot of structure and process that I learned in those organizations, but I also learned an awful lot about being an entrepreneur from John and Lotte: that sense of urgency, the decision-making process, the need to get things done and drive things forward and pursue opportunities,” he says.

Fraser has helped drive AG Hair’s expansion into the U.S. and internationally, including Australia, Taiwan, and Central and South America. A portion of its sales go to One Girl Can, a charity founded by Lotte that provides schooling, education and mentoring for girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fraser also oversees the development of new, trending products, including a new deep-conditioning hair mask made with 98 per cent plant-based and natural ingredients. Hand-sanitizing spray and gel will be the latest addition to the company’s product lineup.

“We don’t see the demand [for hand-sanitizing products] going away,” he says. “As the isolation policies start to get lifted, people are going to need forms of security and protocols as they get back into regular life and work. We see there’s going to be a need for these types of products long-term.”


This article appears in print in the June 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Working out the kinks.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

The post How a hair-care company went from salon supplier to sanitizer powerhouse appeared first on Canadian Business – Your Source For Business News.



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Penn National Cashes in on Barstool Euphoria With Share Sale

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(Bloomberg) — Penn National Gaming Inc. is taking advantage of its nearly three-fold surge this year, helped by its minority interest in Barstool Sports, to sell 14 million shares of its stock.The offering, underwritten by Goldman Sachs, BofA Securities and JPMorgan, will start trading on Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter. The timing means there will be no price range governing the share sale. The offering, announced early Thursday, represents 11% of the company’s public float as of Aug. 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.Penn’s shares traded to a record high Tuesday after analysts at Morgan Stanley said the Barstool Sportsbook betting app reached 21,000 downloads per day in its first weekend, breaking records set by competitors DraftKings Inc. and Flutter Entertainment Plc’s FanDuel.The casino operator fell as much as 9.3%, the most in three months, on news of the stock offering and after an analyst downgraded shares to neutral. Macquarie’s Chad Beynon lowered his rating on the stock, citing the company’s leverage that could be viewed as “problematic” if there is another wave of coronavirus cases or if demand slows. He also said the current valuation ascribes $6 billion of value to Barstool and internet gaming alone.“Investors were quick to jump into the stock as a way to play the sports betting and iGaming market, but we believe Penn shares are now priced to perfection ahead of a marketing frenzy in the industry,” Beynon wrote in the note. While he remains optimistic on the outlook for the casino industry in the long-term, a general return to normal would likely pull consumer spending from casinos and into other industries like restaurants and travel.While the shares had gained 170% this year through Wednesday, they’d surged more than 1,400% from a March 18 bottom — jumping to a record $76.62 from $3.75. The company’s $8.8 billion market value makes it larger than legacy casinos including Caesars Entertainment Inc. and Wynn Resorts Ltd.A key part of the optimism for shares of Penn National has been its 36% interest in the controversial sports and pop-culture outlet Barstool Sports and the recently launched mobile betting app. The outlet’s millions of followers paired with social media celebrities in founder Dave Portnoy and contributers like Big Cat and PFT Commentator have driven bullish analysts to assign sky-high valuations and forecast big gains for the company.While Barstool Sportsbook is only launched in Pennsylvania, the key debate centers on its ability to take market share from peers with less of a hold on customers while competing against heavyweights in DraftKings and FanDuel. The pair holds about 70% of the U.S. online sports betting market with Boston-based DraftKings having struck deals with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN network and professional sports teams like the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants.Macquarie’s Beynon started coverage of DraftKings with an outperform rating and a Wall Street-high price target of $65. His target implies shares will gain another 35% over the next year — that would add to gains of 173% since the company started trading on U.S. markets in April.(Updates share movement in fourth paragraph, chart added.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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