An antibody medicine being evaluated to treat severe cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will receive additional support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) under an existing partnership with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals of Tarrytown, New York.
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) within ASPR will provide support for a U.S. Phase 2/3 clinical trial to evaluate Kevzara as a potential treatment for severely ill COVID-19 patients. Currently, Kevzara is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Kevzara was developed under a collaboration between Regeneron and Sanofi; the companies continue to collaborate on studying Kevzara for COVID-19, with Regeneron leading U.S.-based trials and Sanofi leading trials outside the U.S.
‘We are working at a record pace with our private sector partners to speed development of therapeutic treatments for people with COVID-19,’ said BARDA Director Rick A. Bright, PhD. ‘By repurposing a currently approved product, we may be able to expedite development and make treatments available quickly.’
Patients with COVID-19 are at risk of developing life-threatening respiratory failure, which may be mediated in part by elevated levels of a series of pro-inflammatory molecules, including interleukin-6 (IL-6). Kevzara is a fully-human monoclonal antibody that binds to the IL-6 receptor on normal cells and may improve patient outcomes by decreasing the severe inflammatory response.
The role of IL-6 is supported by preliminary uncontrolled data from a Chinese trial of a different IL-6 agent, which showed rapid reductions in fever in all patients and improvements in oxygenation. The Phase 2/3 clinical trial will determine if Kevzara can be used as a safe and effective therapy to reduce the amount of time that a person infected with the novel coronavirus remains ill. The first part of the trial will evaluate the impact of Kevzara on fever and patients’ need for supplemental oxygen. The second, larger part of the trial will evaluate the improvement in longer-term outcomes, including whether it can prevent death and reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, supplemental oxygen, and/or hospitalization.
This partnership with Regeneron is among the first to be issued by BARDA with funding from the H.R.6074 – Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 that was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Trump on March 6, 2020.
HHS continues to work across the U.S. government, including with the Department of Defense, to review potential products from public and private sectors to identify promising candidates that could detect, protect against, or treat COVID-19 for development and FDA approval/clearance.
In addition to this adaptive Phase 2/3 clinical trial with Kevzara, one other HHS-funded trial of an investigational COVID-19 treatment is ongoing. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is sponsoring a randomized controlled clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir in hospitalized adults.
‘Proven treatment options for COVID-19 are urgently needed. This trial of Kevzara is critical to inform doctors on treatment options for COVID-19,’ said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. ‘The close collaboration between BARDA, the FDA, and Regeneron to initiate this trial as soon as possible again demonstrates the speed at which we are responding to this pandemic.’
HHS divisions, including NIH and ASPR, are supporting the development of multiple diagnostic tests, vaccines, and potential therapeutic treatments for COVID-19. BARDA continues to seek partners for COVID-19 medical countermeasures, and offers multiple ways to submit proposals for potential new products or technologies.
About HHS, ASPR, and BARDA
HHS works to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans, providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. The mission of ASPR is to save lives and protect Americans from 21st century health security threats. Within ASPR, BARDA invests in the innovation, advanced research and development, acquisition, and manufacturing of medical countermeasures – vaccines, drugs, therapeutics, diagnostic tools, and non-pharmaceutical products needed to combat health security threats. To date, 54 BARDA-supported products have achieved regulatory approval, licensure or clearance.
Trump Says Economy ‘Roaring Back’ in June As 4.8 Million Jobs Added
The economy added back 4.8 million jobs last month, according to the government’s June jobs report released yesterday. That handily beat the 3.7 million jobs forecasted by economists and dropped the unemployment rate down to 11.1%.
After the report was released, President Trump said the economy was “extremely strong” and “roaring back” after the country has regained more than 7.5 million jobs in the last two months. Trump added that the economy will keep growing unless voters elected Democrat Joe Biden in November. He said Biden would raise taxes and hurt the economy and the stock market would “drop down to nothing.”
Of the jobs added back in June, bars and restaurants hired – or rehired – 1.48 million workers. This comes as many reopened for outdoor dining in the early phases of the reopening. They brought back a similar number of workers in May. It happened after shedding more than 6 million jobs due to the pandemic.
The retail sector regained 740,000 jobs, healthcare added back 358,000 workers, and manufacturing saw 356,000 jobs added.
The energy sector continues to be battered by low oil prices amidst the economic slowdown. Additionally, that industry shed an additional 10,000 jobs last month.
The return of lower-paying jobs like those found in the restaurant and hospitality industry dragged down the average hourly wages for the second straight month.
Many are cautioning against reading too much into reports like average hourly wages while the economy is in such turmoil.
Stephen Stanley, chief economist of Amherst Pierpont Securities, says, “The wage figures will be pretty much useless for a long while until the labor market gets back to some semblance of normality.”
Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist of the job site Glassdoor, also gave an explanation. He added, “Today’s positive jobs report does provide a powerful signal of how swiftly U.S. job growth can bounce back and how rapidly businesses can reopen once the nation finally brings the coronavirus under control — a reason for optimism in coming months.”
Unfortunately for many of the workers recently rehired to work in bars and restaurants, the recent spike in new coronavirus cases could lead to those jobs quickly being lost for a second time. Bars in many states are being shut down again in an effort to curb the growing number of cases.
The unemployment rate fell for the second straight month. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is trying to fix a reporting error that, if corrected, would increase the unemployment rate by 1%.
The problem is how households respond to the monthly survey that is used to calculate the unemployment rate. The jobless rate would have been 1 point higher if not for continued problems in how respondents answer the question about their employment status.
What many consider the “real” unemployment rate, which is the U6 rate, includes workers who can only find part-time jobs. It also includes those who’ve become too discouraged to look for jobs because so few are available. Using that measurement, the unemployment rate stands at 18% in June, down from 21.2% in May.
Trump Favors Larger Stimulus Checks, Says ‘Tremendous’ Market Crash if Biden Wins
In a wide-ranging interview with Fox Business News, President Trump mentioned his support for another round of stimulus checks and says should Joe Biden win the election in November, we should expect the stock market to crash “a tremendous amount.”
On Stimulus Checks
Speaking with Blake Burman, the president says he is in favor of another round of stimulus checks, but wants to make sure that there is a financial incentive for Americans to return to work.
“I support it, but it has to be done properly. I support actually larger numbers than the Democrats, but it’s got to be done properly. We had something where it gave you a disincentive to work last time. And it was still money going to people, and helping people, so I was all for that. But we want to create a very great incentive to work.”
Trump also mentioned he wants the checks to arrive quickly and spent quickly, without the Democrats adding complications.
“I want the money getting to people to be larger so they can spend it, I want the money to get there quickly and in a non-complicated fashion. And they wanted to make it too complicated, also it was an incentive not to go to work,” said Trump.
Returning to work is what hard-working Americans are looking forward to, says Trump, and he wants there to be a financial incentive to do so.
“You’d make more money if you don’t go to work. That’s not what the country is all about. And people didn’t want that. They wanted to go to work but it didn’t make sense because they make more money if they didn’t… we want people to get out and we want to create a tremendous incentive for people to want to go back to work.”
On Biden and Taxes
When asked about Joe Biden’s recently announced plans to raise corporate taxes if he becomes President, Trump said “You’re going to crash the market. 401(k)s will be down the tubes, the wealth of the country will be down.”
He added “That will kill the market. It will kill everything we are doing, it will kill jobs, and it will be very bad. Frankly, the stock market is doing well, but it’s an overhang. If he got elected, and they say this, that’s an overhang over the market, because the market would crash. Would absolutely crash.”
When asked what he means by crash, Trump responded, “Markets would go down by tremendous amounts. He’d raise taxes, he’d raise regulations. Look, one of the biggest things I’ve done is I’ve cut regulations more than any President in history. We still have regulations, but they’re much less. His people, the people around him (Biden) are radical left. They’re going to raise taxes, they’re going to raise regulations, and they’re going to put everyone out of business. It would be a disaster.”
Fed to Keep Rates At Zero, Worried About Market Crash Later This Year
The Federal Reserve will keep rates at near zero percent for the foreseeable future. Also, a few members feel worried about a second wave of the coronavirus crashing the markets later this year. These are according to the minutes of the June 9-10 meeting.
Federal Open Market Committee members voted to keep the benchmark short-term borrowing rate in a range of 0%-0.25%. They also said that, until the economy “had weathered recent events,” they would keep it there. Without providing specifics, the notes also mention that “a number” of members believe there is a high probability of additional “waves of outbreaks” of the coronavirus.
This worry over additional outbreak waves and the economic damage it could bring led the FOMC committee to downgrade their economic outlook from the April meeting. The said meeting had predicted a more benign baseline forecast.
The members also indicated that they will begin providing the markets with stronger guidance about future interest rate moves. However, Fed watchers don’t expect the committee to begin providing this guidance any earlier than the September meeting.
“In particular, most participants commented that the Committee should communicate a more explicit form of forward guidance for the path of the federal funds rate and provide more clarity regarding purchases of Treasury securities and agency [mortgage-backed securities] as more information about the trajectory of the economy becomes available,” the minutes said.
Milestones and Metrics
The committee also discussed what milestones they will use to determine an appropriate time to start raising interest rates. When they did, the metrics proposed has split the committee.
In 2012 for example, the Fed said it would keep rates at zero until the unemployment rate fell below 6.5%. Alternatively, they also said it would keep zero rates until the inflation goes above 2.5%.
In June’s meeting, a “number” of members said any interest rate increases should be tied to the Fed’s 2% inflation target. Meanwhile, a “couple” favored using the unemployment rate. A “few” members suggested the committee set a specific date.
The FOMC also released its expectations for GDP over the next few years. The median GDP projection for 2020 was a contraction of 6.5%. A 5% increase in 2021 and a 3.5% in 2022 will follow this. However, they acknowledged “that there remained an extraordinary amount of uncertainty and considerable risks to the economic outlook.”
Trump on Powell
Meanwhile, there’s a bit of good news for Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell. It appears he has slowly won over his most vocal critic, President Trump.
During an interview on Fox Business News, Trump said Powell has “stepped up to the plate” and he’s happy with Powell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for the work they’ve done to help the economy recover.
“I would say that I was not happy with him at the beginning, and I’m getting more and more happy with him, I think he’s stepped up to the plate. He’s done a good job, he’s had to liquify a little bit, let us liquify, put out the money that you needed, and I would say over the last period of 6 months he’s really stepped up to the plate.
“I can tell you I’m very happy with his performance, and Steve Mnuchin, I think they’ve both done a very good job, they’re working together very closely.”
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