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The rollercoaster of COVID-19 vaccines

September 10, 2020, 10:10 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

We’ve had a few turbulent developments in the coronavirus vaccine development race.

The biopharma investment and global health communities went into a tizzy over a halt of British drug giant AstraZeneca’s trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, being conducted with the help of Oxford University.

But here’s the thing: This is just kind of how things work when you’re making a new drug. And it’s complicated when you’re making one that seeks to serve the entire world on a short timeline while you’re trying to control an outbreak.

“This is a routine action, which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials,” AstraZeneca spokeswoman Michele Meixell says in a statement.

AstraZeneca’s clinical trial hold stemmed from adverse events and may well proceed into further clinical development. The bigger picture of who can develop a COVID vaccine as soon as possible is still murky.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla remains optimistic about his own company’s chances. “I’m very confident,” said Bourla in a recent event with Fortune. “Within a month we’ve had almost 26,000 people vaccinated.” He still thinks we’ll know whether or not this biological technology works by the fall.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Truepill raises $75 million. MobiHealthNews reports that digital health firm Truepill has announced a $75 million Series C funding round to fuel its at-home diagnostics efforts. Optum Ventures, TI Platform Management, and Sound Ventures were all in the mix. Diagnostics weren't the company's original focus (it's a digital pharmacy at heart)—but the expansion shows the upstart's growing ambitions. (MobiHealthNews)

INDICATIONS

Glaxo's asthma hat trick. British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline has long been battling in the asthma treatment space (where the company is a pioneer but now faces many competitors). On Wednesday, it got a bit of a boost with an FDA green light for its Trelegy Ellipta therapy, a triple-drug combination inhaler which only has to be taken once a day and, according to the firm, is significantly more effective on both a clinical and practical level.  (FiercePharma)

THE BIG PICTURE

Childhood vaccination rates may finally be on the rise. A new report from Komodo Health suggests that childhood vaccination rates—an area that the U.S. has typically trailed other developed nations—are beginning to pick up. It's not exactly a public health game changer given the depths of the problem, though, and as with everything in medicine and society, the specter of COVID is delaying progress, according to the report. "Childhood vaccination rates began to fall sharply across the U.S. starting in March of 2020, hitting a low point the week of April 6, 2020, when routine childhood immunizations fell by 50% versus the same week in 2019," say the authors. "Weekly immunization rates continued to stay significantly suppressed vs. 2019 totals throughout April and May, though the magnitude of decline became smaller with each month. By the week of May 25, 2020, the weekly childhood immunization rate was just 6% below the rate seen in the same week of 2019." (Komodo Health)

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