The latest coronavirus news from Washington DC and the biotech industry

March 16, 2020
As we start what could be a critically important week in the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a special request: tell us what you’re doing to respond. We want to know what you’re doing about business continuity, especially lab and manufacturing activities, travel and events,…

As we start what could be a critically important week in the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a special request: tell us what you’re doing to respond. We want to know what you’re doing about business continuity, especially lab and manufacturing activities, travel and events, worker safety, teleworking, supply chains, the works. We'll compile the plans (with your private details scrubbed) and share them in our coronavirus resource center.  

Send your plans and any questions to

(And, just so you know, BIO is testing organizational readiness for telework today, all employees will be working remotely. But don’t worry, we won’t stop working; we’re here to support our members and industry through this difficult time.)

Here are 900 words, about 4 and a half minutes, with news you need to know today about coronavirus actions in Washington DC and biotech industry efforts.

The news from Washington DC

The past few days have been a whirlwind of coronavirus news in Washington DC. If you took a media hiatus this weekend—and we wouldn’t blame you if you did—here’s what you missed.

It’s a national emergency. On Friday, Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, “two very big words,” he said in the Rose Garden. 

He also announced a few other initiatives—like “drive-thru” testing at retail pharmacies across the country as well as a collaboration with Google to develop an online platform with testing information, though details are unclear, and POLITICO says it leaves “many questions unanswered.” 

And the House passed an emergency coronavirus package, HR 6201, The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, by a bipartisan vote of 363-40, with support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), President Trump (by tweet), and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

What’s in it?

  • Free coronavirus testing, including for individuals with Medicare/Medicaid as well as private health insurance
  • 14 days of sick leave at full pay for employees of companies with 500 or fewer employees.
  • Up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave, which can be used if you’re sick or in quarantine, or caring for someone, including caring for children whose schools are closed due to the pandemic.
  • Additional funding for food assistance programs to meet increased demand, particularly for households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price meals at school.

Now, the package goes to the Senate, which canceled this week’s recess and is expected to take up the bill as early as today.

Looking ahead, the House is expected to work on “a new bill meant to address the economic damage wrought by coronavirus, which has devastated the airline, hospitality, and entertainment industries.”


The news from the biotech industry

We’re continuing to keep track of updates from BIO members and industry innovators, who continue to research vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for COVID-19. Here are two updates from BIO members Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. 

Pfizer released a five-point plan, calling on the industry to commit to “unprecedented collaboration to combat COVID-19.” 

Here’s what they’ll do:

  1. Share tools and insights.
  2. Create a “SWAT team of our leading virologists, biologists, chemists, clinicians, epidemiologists, vaccine experts, pharmaceutical scientists and other key experts to focus solely on addressing this pandemic.”
  3. Share clinical development and regulatory expertise with smaller companies.
  4. Offer “excess manufacturing capacity” and “potentially shifting production” to rapidly manufacture an approved therapy or vaccine.
  5. Reach out to federal agencies to “build a cross-industry rapid response team.”

What they’re saying: “Pfizer calls on all members of the innovation ecosystem—from large pharmaceutical companies to the smallest of biotech companies, from government agencies to academic institutions—to commit to work together in addressing this dire crisis. With our combined efforts we know that there is no health challenge that we cannot overcome,” said Pfizer Chair & CEO Dr. Albert Bourla.

Johnson & Johnson is aiming for a vaccine clinical trial by the end of the year, one element of their own comprehensive plan

They have experience in this kind of research. Working with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, they plan to leverage research for Ebola, Zika, RSV, and HIV vaccines and identify a candidate by the end of March. 

They’re ramping up manufacturing capacities, too—so, when a vaccine is developed, it can be manufactured quickly on a large scale. 

Masters’ Message: The science and our researchers are moving at warp-speed, but until we find a solution the American people should listen to the experts and stay safe and calm. The world is looking to the scientists in our industry to come to the rescue and because we have the best system in the world, our scientists will succeed. – Rich Masters, BIO’s EVP for Public Affairs. Follow Rich on Twitter (@RichMastersfor industry news, political commentary and insights from a seasoned communications professional. 

More News:

Biopharma Dive: As coronavirus spreads, a biotech IPO squeaks through
“Imara, a sickle cell disease drug developer, became the ninth drugmaker to list shares in the U.S. this year, matching 2019's pace through 10 weeks. Nonetheless, analysts and some securities lawyers expect the market volatility to push companies to take a ‘temporary pause’ to assess the damage being done to their business and fundraising prospects.” 

POLITICO Morning Agriculture: The coronavirus stimulus plan for ag, trade
Lawmakers are looking at the impact on the food safety net, the farm safety net, and trade, with some calling for the removal of trade war tariffs on China.

The Hill: Canada approves North American trade deal
Before shutting down for five weeks for the coronavirus, Canada’s Parliament formally approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

BIO Beltway Report

President Trump’s Monday: Over the weekend, the White House announced Trump tested negative for the coronavirus following contact with several Mar-A-Lago guests who’ve been confirmed to be infected with the virus. Today, he’ll join teleconferences with G7 leaders and U.S. Governors to discuss response plans. The Coronavirus Task Force is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10:30am ET.  

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: The House is in recess, but the Senate canceled their recess to work on the coronavirus bill.   

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