Who gets it first?

October 5, 2020
Our thoughts are with the First Family as President Trump continues his COVID-19 treatment at Walter Reed. We're also incredibly proud of our members who have been working hard for months to develop therapeutics that have provided hope for the President and many others…
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Our thoughts are with the First Family as President Trump continues his COVID-19 treatment at Walter Reed. We're also incredibly proud of our members who have been working hard for months to develop therapeutics that have provided hope for the President and many others around the world battling this disease.

Today, we look at a framework for vaccine allocation and distribution, the state of biotech investment, and a biotech insect that could help save crops in around 950 words, just under 5 minutes.

 

Who gets it first?

 
 

The biopharmaceutical industry has been working with unprecedented speed to develop a COVID-19 vaccine—but approval is only the first hurdle. Last week, the National Academies released its own proposal to help determine how to distribute billions and billions of doses.

We’re getting closer. Of the 180+ vaccine candidates in development, nine are already in phase 3 clinical trials, and BIO’s Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath has predicted one could be available as early as spring of 2021.

To help determine who gets the vaccine first, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine, a consensus report offering advice on how to develop national and local guidelines for allocation and distribution.  

For the initial period when vaccine demand could exceed supply, they recommend “a four-phased approach to allocation built on widely accepted foundational principles and guided by evidence to maximize societal benefit by reducing morbidity and mortality caused by the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” 

Priority should be given to those who are disproportionately affected, they say, starting with high-risk health workers, first responders, adults with two or more “significant comorbid conditions,” and older adults in group settings, which totals approximately 15% of the population

They’ll be followed by: critical workers (including teachers, school staff, and childcare workers), people in homeless shelters or incarcerated/detained people, all older adults, and people with moderate risk factors, which should cover another 30-35% of the population.

 
National Academies' phased approach to vaccine allocation
 

They also factor in the need to reach disproportionately affected communities of color, by utilizing the CDC Social Vulnerability Index or COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index, which maps the impact on the virus across the United States.

What they’re saying: “Inequities in health have always existed, but at this moment there is an awakening to the power of racism, poverty, and bias in amplifying the health and economic pain and hardship imposed by this pandemic,” said committee co-chair Helene Gayle, President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. “We saw our work as one way to address these wrongs and do our part to work toward a new commitment to promoting health equity.”

Learn more about what BIO is doing to combat inequity in health care and the industry.

 
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This “self-limiting” caterpillar could save corn crops

 
 

Sure, bugs are important to our natural ecosystems—but insects that feed on crops “pose a constant threat to farmers’ harvests and livelihoods, and impede our pursuit of sustainable, productive agricultural systems for the future,” says Oxitec. They’ve partnered with Bayer to use the power of nature to breed insects that can help ward off a growing threat.

The fall armyworm is devastating corn crops around the world. In 2016, the insect caused $6.3 billion in damage in West Africa alone, reported Wired, and it harms farmers, economies, and our ability to feed the world.

Now, Oxitec has developed a “self-limiting” version that could combat the growing threat. The self-limiting male mates with females in the corn fields, but the females “produce no female offspring in the next generation, meaning fewer caterpillars eating and damaging the crop and fewer egg-laying female moths,” says the company

Developed in partnership with BIO member Bayer, the insects “are also expected to offer active protection of biotech crops and other tools against resistant fall armyworm caterpillars, meaning that these protection measures remain effective for longer.”

Yes, you’ve heard of Oxitec before. They developed a genetically modified mosquito, which could be an important tool in fighting mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever. 

What they’re saying: “This collaboration represents our collective effort to develop safe, sustainable, and highly effective technologies to bolster farmers’ ability to manage these devastating pests,” concludes Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen

This is another example of the potential of animal biotechnology to help feed our planet and combat the effects of climate change. Now, policy needs to catch up.

 

More Agriculture and Environment News: 

Nature: What a Joe Biden presidency would mean for five key science issues
“[H]is US$2-trillion plan calls for massive investments in clean-energy research and development and low-carbon infrastructure, such as public transit and energy-efficient buildings. It also calls for the United States to generate 100% clean electricity by 2035 and to produce ‘net-zero emissions’ by 2050.”

 
 
 
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Biotech Investment in 2020
 
 

Ahead of next week’s BIO Investor Forum Digital, BIO spoke with biotech investors and investment companies about the state of investment during the pandemic.

“Investors are people, too.”

Take Dr. Abraham Heifets, for example. His company, Atomwise Inc., focuses on AI technology for small molecule drug discovery—and raised $123 million during the pandemic. 

“Health care is a top-level concern. The whole world is aligned in that,” he said. “Everybody—and investors are people too—is therefore interested in funding biotechnology innovations.”

And those investments are continuously needed through the life cycle of a biotechnology product. 

As Brad Loncar of Loncar Investments points out, biotech is a capital-intensive business. These companies need a lot of money because they are undertaking very risky ventures—and it takes a lot of money to get through the different stages of development before a treatment or vaccine reaches commercial viability. 

Watch and hear more:

 
Biotech investors talk about the 2020 investment climate.
 

Want to know more about the biotech investment climate? Register for BIO Investor Forum Digital, taking place October 13-15, 2020.

 
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President Trump’s Monday: The New York Times and POLITICO recap everything we know about President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment. He’s still at Walter Reed, and there are conflicting reports about the state of his health and whether he could be released today. Meanwhile, VP Pence is scheduled to continue campaigning across the country ahead of Wednesday’s debate with Sen. Kamala Harris.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: With three Republican Senators confirmed to have COVID-19, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced a recess until October 19.

 
 
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