The first coronavirus vaccine is ready for testing

February 25, 2020
There’s yet another Democratic debate tonight, in South Carolina—and health care is expected to be front and center. We’ll let you know tomorrow if there’s anything new to report.  Meanwhile, major news: BIO member Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is ready for clinical…

There’s yet another Democratic debate tonight, in South Carolina—and health care is expected to be front and center. We’ll let you know tomorrow if there’s anything new to report. 

Meanwhile, major news: BIO member Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is ready for clinical testing. And we’re reading about another major problem for the planet—microplastic—and how biotechnology could help solve it, too. AND we've got a lot of links on everything from the outlook for Grassley-Wyden to biofuel investment. Here are just under 1,000 words/5 minutes.

Thanks to biotech, the first coronavirus vaccine is ready for testing

As we mentioned yesterday, we’ll be highlighting the biopharma industry’s work to combat the coronavirus—and we’re starting today with The Wall Street Journal reporting the first vaccine is ready for clinical testing, thanks to BIO member Moderna.

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

And they sent vials of the vaccine to the U.S. government yesterday. Moderna produced the vaccine in their Norwood, Massachusetts, facility, a former Polaroid plant, using “repurposed…robotic equipment that was making cancer vaccines tailored to the genetic mutations of patients’ tumors,” with 100 employees working around the clock. 

The clinical trial is expected to begin in April. “The institute expects by the end of April to start a clinical trial of about 20 to 25 healthy volunteers, testing whether two doses of the shot are safe and induce an immune response likely to protect against infection,” explains The Wall Street Journal. “Initial results could become available in July or August.”

What they’re saying: “Going into a Phase One trial within three months of getting the sequence is unquestionably the world indoor record. Nothing has ever gone that fast,” said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

Why it matters: Beyond the potential of stopping a pandemic and saving lives? This kind of innovation wouldn’t be possible without a huge financial commitment by biotech companies and their investors—yet policy proposals like an international price index would make it even harder for them to make the investment. Even if this particular coronavirus dies out, there will be another threat in the future—so we must foster an environment in which biotech innovators can continue the R&D needed to develop new cures.

To stay on top of biotech coronavirus news, visit


More Health Care News: 

STAT: New partnership tries to make up for missing drug data in cost-effectiveness analyses
The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) is partnering with Aetion, “a startup that analyzes insurance claims and other data mostly for pharmaceutical companies.”

The Daily Iowan: Sen. Chuck Grassley talks prescription drug prices in Coralville
Speaking at a health care event, the Iowa Republican said he expects the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, co-authored with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), will pass by May 20.

The New York Times: White House asks Congress for billions to fight coronavirus
“The request arrived at the same time the Trump administration is proposing cuts to health programs across the government and as health officials across the nation struggle to keep up with costs.”


Tiny plastics, big problems


We know we have a plastic problem—and scientists are starting to think some of the biggest challenges could come from the tiniest microplastics, reports ABC News, though they’re trying to get a handle on the scale of the problem. 

What are microplastics? Tiny particles about 5mm long or smaller that come from all kinds of products ranging from car tires to food and household products to synthetic clothing and even personal care products. (Yes, you might be putting plastic on your face.) 

And they’re invading our oceans—found inside the stomachs of sea creatures, with one study finding 11 pieces in the average oyster in Oregon, for example. 

What are we doing about them? Five dozen microplastics researchers met in Washington State “to create a mathematical risk assessment for microplastic pollution in the region similar to predictions used to game out responses to major natural disasters such as earthquakes,” says ABC News

How can biotech help? The industry is making progress on numerous plastic alternatives—from biodegradable sugar-based exfoliating microbeads for skin care products to bio-based materials for straws and Legos. These innovations will not only help us reduce the impact of fossil fuels and plastics but will also help grow the bio-based economy.


More Agriculture & Environment News: 

Houston Chronicle: Biofuel could save oil companies as more transit goes electric
“[B]iofuels are getting new attention from both established oil companies and a wave of startups that are quickly expanding capacity to produce so-called advanced biofuels as states move to enact low-carbon fuel standards and industries become increasingly cognizant of their carbon footprints.” 

Progressive Farmer: Struggles drive down 2019 biofuels M&A
“Despite the biofuels industry operating on thin margins and dealing with federal policy uncertainty in 2019, the number of mergers and acquisitions in the industry was historically low last year, according to a new report from an investment bank focused on biofuels transactions.”

The New York Times: This tiny creature seemed extinct. DNA technology helped prove it wasn’t.
“The rediscovery of a fly species in Wales hints at environmental DNA sampling’s potential to change endangered species protection.”

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Tuesday: In India, he delivered a joint statement with PM Modi and schmoozed with business leaders at the U.S. Embassy before heading to the Presidential Palace for a state dinner. 

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The House and Senate are in session. HHS Secretary Alex Azar will testify today in front of the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee. Meanwhile, FiercePharma has more on the outlook for Grassley-Wyden, in Grassley’s view.

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