Everything you need to know about the coronavirus today

March 6, 2020
It was another busy week in the fight to contain the coronavirus—but policymakers and the biopharma industry are coming together to find solutions. Here’s the latest news from Washington and BIO members, in about 700 words, or 3 and a half minutes.
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It was another busy week in the fight to contain the coronavirus—but policymakers and the biopharma industry are coming together to find solutions. Here’s the latest news from Washington and BIO members, in about 700 words, or 3 and a half minutes.

Congress passes emergency funding package—here’s what we know

More than 225 people across the country have been infected with the coronavirus, formally called SARS-COV-2, and we can expect those numbers to rise with an increase in testing. This week, Congress came together to do something about it, passing a massive emergency funding package to support R&D for vaccines and treatments.

The House and Senate quickly passed an $8.3 billion funding package, much larger than the White House’s $2.5 billion request. 

It includes more than $3 billion for vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics R&D, including:

  • More than $2 billion for BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which BIO CEO Jim Greenwood said in his recent op-ed is critically important “for the development of new medical countermeasures that help address specific national health security issues.”
  • $826 million for NIH, to support R&D
  • And $300 million to purchase approved vaccines and treatments.

Jim’s Judgment: I’m deeply pleased that Congress put partisan politics aside in order to provide resources the public and private sectors need to combat the coronavirus. This is an important win for patients and the American people concerned about the spread of this deadly virus. – BIO CEO Jim Greenwood  

More on the funding deal:

  • Biopharma Dive: $8.3B in coronavirus funding set in motion as federal agencies ramp up response
  • POLITICO: 6 things to know about the coronavirus funding package
 
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So, when will we have a treatment or vaccine?

 
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The biopharma industry continues impressive work to find treatments and vaccines—and many are partnering with agencies like NIH and BARDA, and even one another. 

The clinical trial of Moderna’s vaccine is underway in Seattle, Washington—"a rapid turnaround time after researchers learned the virus’s genetic sequence in January,” reports the Wall Street Journal

ICYMI: Moderna, which is researching treatments and vaccines for cancer, heart disease, and infectious diseases based on messenger RNA, partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) and NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop a vaccine.  

And everyone’s watching Gilead’s remdesivir, the antiviral developed to treat Ebola but is now in trials in the United States and Asia to see if it’s effective against the coronavirus. 

It looks like it has real potential, explains Biopharma Dive, because of “preclinical data showing the drug to be active against the MERS and SARS viruses, which share enough genetic similarities to SARS-COV-2 that researchers and the company think remdesivir could work against it too.” 

Meanwhile, two additional BIO members, Vir Biotechnology and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, announced they’ll work together even more closely to expand their existing collaboration “to include the development and commercialization of RNAi therapeutics targeting” the coronavirus, according to a press release

How it will work: Alnylam has designed and synthesized 350 siRNAs (small interfering RNA) targeting the coronavirus genomes, which they’ll screen for effectiveness, while Vir will lead the development and commercialization of any selected for further development. 

What they’re saying: "There is an imperative to do whatever we can to try and head that off and mitigate the pandemic to the extent that we can," said Dr. George Scangos, CEO of Vir Biotechnology. "It's important for all constituents—governments, NGOs, companies—to put aside their parochial interests and work together to see if we can do something that will save a lot of lives around the world."

 
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For the latest news on the coronavirus and what BIO members are doing about it, visit www.bio.org/coronavirus.

 
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President Trump’s Friday: He's expected to sign the emergency coronavirus funding package, though he canceled his scheduled trip to the CDC. Meanwhile, according to Lunchtime Politics, 51% of people disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, while 42% approve, numbers pretty close to his overall disapproval/approval ratings.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: Relatively quiet after the bipartisan push on coronavirus funding. In other health policy news, POLITICO Pulse reported this morning that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has 24 Republicans “ready to vote for” his drug pricing legislation, which he spoke about on the Senate floor yesterday.

 
 
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