Man, what an end to the week. The coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa was found in the US, and we got vaccine results from Novavax, and from Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine.
We’ll get into all that and more, but first – new to our newsletter? You sign up here for daily dispatches from the healthcare team.
Also – we’re hiring another reporter for the team! Are you a journalist looking to dig deep on digital health, break news, and make sense of what’s ahead for the industry? Be sure to apply here!
It’s been a mixed bag of vaccine news this week, kicking off with the news that Merck is dropping out of the race.
With the pharma giant tapping out, all eyes have been on the next wave of results, with more than 200 vaccines still in the works.
Andrew Dunn mapped out what the year ahead looks like for those candidates.
And as new, more infectious variants have emerged around the world, a big question has been around how they’ll interact with vaccines.
Then on Thursday, Novavax shared results from its UK and South Africa trials, finding that its coronavirus vaccine was highly effective in the UK, but didn’t work nearly as well in South Africa, where a new variant is circulating widely.
The news was followed shortly after on Friday morning with the long-awaited results from Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine. The company said its vaccine is 66% effective against COVID-19 based on a global trial run in places including the US, Latin American and South Africa.
The results – while not as high as Pfizer and Moderna’s – come with some big questions. For one, having only one dose could be a game-changer. J&J shared that its vaccine was 85% effective at preventing severe disease, across all variants, which would be a big help in curbing the pandemic.
J&J’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine is 66% effective against COVID-19, raising worries that some variants may lower protection
Meanwhile, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s shots are still rolling out across the US. In some places, usage has been better than others.
Patricia Kelly Yeo spoke to experts in the Dakotas about how they’re approaching administering vaccines. For the more rural areas, having a centralized systems has been a big help.
For states and cities with bigger populations, she found there are two big takeaways from North Dakota and South Dakota’s experiences. Collaboration is key, and so is keeping the rollout system centralized.
On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Walgreens had found its next top exec.
It’s a move most Wall Street analysts are cheering on, saying Walgreens “nailed” the choice for a successor to Stefano Pessina who will stay on as executive chairman.
Shelby Livingston has a full look at what analysts think is ahead for the company with the pick.
‘Nailed it’: 4 Wall Street analysts lay out why Roz Brewer is the best pick to turn around Walgreens
Last Friday, Shelby had a chat with Humana CEO Bruce Broussard.
Broussard told her about competing with some of the health-insurance startups taking on the red-hot Medicare Advantage market, like Oscar and Devoted.
Humana for its part has its own answer: a new venture called Author. It launched in 2021 in South Carolina, and already has 15,000 members, Broussard told Shelby.
Speaking of the insurance upstarts, Shelby and the graphics team here at Insider took a closer look at Medicare Advantage enrollment heading into 2021.
(It’s pretty striking to see the enrollment numbers for giants like UnitedHealthcare stacked next to some of the tiny younger players.)
As part of Shelby’s conversation with Broussard, they discussed what led Humana to invest heavily in primary care. The conversation turned into one about the future of health insurers, medicine, and Humana itself.
Tech giants are keeping busy, as Blake Dodge has been reporting over the past few weeks.
That’s especially the case for companies as part of the Alphabet umbrella. She and Alphabet reporter Hugh Langley teamed up over the past week on some dispatches from Google’s parent company.
- Alphabet’s age-fighting bet Calico may have been quiet for years, but it’s hiring. Here are all the open jobs open at the secretive biotech firm.
- And after a turbulent 2020, Verily has hired 2 top execs, Hugh and Blake report. They’re filling out the company’s leadership in chief marketing officer and chief information officer roles.
One of the pockets of the healthcare industry tech companies seem to be focused on is monitoring health at home. Blake mapped out how those strategies are playing out so far at Apple, Amazon, Verily, and Google (hint: it’s a lot of smart watches).
Big tech wants to monitor your health at home. From Verily to Amazon, here’s where they’re placing their bets.
Over in the land of startups and funding, things are always a-buzz. Here’s what you need to know.
- Sana Biotechnology updated its initial public offering filings, and said it plans to raise as much as $345 million. Allison DeAngelis has the list of all the investors who stand to win big as the company makes its public debut (and what their shares are worth).
- 23andMe is reportedly planning a $4 billion public debut via Richard Branson’s SPAC. It’s coming on the heels of raising $82.5 million from Sequoia, Megan Hernbroth reports.
- And over on the investor side, SoftBank has quietly backed some of healthcare’s biggest startups. Megan this week listed out its 11 top investments.
With that all in mind, I wanted to let you know about an event Megan is moderating on February 10 at 3 p.m. ET. She’ll be talking to top healthcare VCs about the year ahead for startups trying to make a dent in the $3.8 trillion healthcare industry.
SIGN UP HERE: Hear from healthcare’s biggest VCs on the future of digital health, biotech, and startups
I hope you all have great weekends! I’ll be spending mine outside, probably double-masking to stay extra safe.