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The hunt for a coronavirus vaccine begins

January 24, 2020, 11:52 PM UTC

This is the web version of Brainstorm Health Daily, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top health care news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

Happy Friday, readers.

The burgeoning Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has reached at least nine countries (including the U.S.), sickened hundreds of people, and killed at least 26 in Asia to date.

Transportation systems in the region have been shut down amidst Chinese New Year festivities; airports are on high alert. Just today, the second reported travel-related U.S. case (in Chicago) was confirmed. And a new hospital dedicated entirely to treating patients of this coronavirus strain seems to have propped up overnight in China.

Public health scares, understandably, have a way of inducing panic. (Sidenote: Panic is not a good way of dealing with outbreaks. Wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, and don’t stress unless public health authorities escalate their warnings. The U.S., at this point, doesn’t seem to have any reason to freak out.)

But medical officials are on high alert—and that includes drug makers.

A coalition of vaccine experts met with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week, according to Reuters, with a pretty stunning goal: Try and get to initial human testing of this latest coronavirus strain, which causes flu- and pneumonia-like symptoms, in the next three months. Companies involved in the effort include Moderna, Novavax, and others.

The virus’ genome was deciphered by Chinese scientists and shared with other researchers in an effort to expedite vaccine development. With the genetic information in hand, scientists from around the world wouldn’t have to wait for samples to get going on their work.

Could this be an early sign that the global health community has learned some lessons from the SARS and Ebola outbreaks of the past ten years? We can only hope.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.

Sy Mukherjee


Roman wants to set itself apart with a Pfizer partnership for generic Viagra. Telehealth firm Roman (an arm of Ro) has struck a deal with Pfizer subsidiary Greenstone for an exclusive license to an FDA-approved authorized generic for Viagra. Why is this important? "Normally, all drugs of the same active ingredients are perfectly interchangeable," Ro CEO Zachariah Reitano tells me. "I compare it to buying coffee. You can buy coffee at two different places. All the coffee contains caffeine. But so many things go into making that cup of coffee that go into the quality of that product and experience." Reitano believes the partnership will differentiate his company from competitors in the online men's wellness market. (Fortune)

Introducing Brainstorm A.I. Readers—I'd like to highlight Fortune’s Brainstorm A.I. conference in Boston, which takes place between April 27 and 28, 2020. The intersection of artificial intelligence and health care is pretty obvious (or, at least I hope we've made that clear). And this invite-only confab will feature some of the biggest names (corporate and otherwise) in A.I. Among them: United States Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios; Accenture CEO Julie Sweet; Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford; Siemens U.S. CEO Barbara Humpton; Royal Philips NV CEO Frans van Houten; Landing AI founder and CEO Andrew Ng; Robust.AI founder and CEO Gary Marcus; and top machine learning experts from Bank of America, Dow, Verizon, Slack, Zoom, Pinterest, Lyft, and MIT. You can request an invitation here.


Insurers team up with Civica Rx in attempt to cut generic drug prices. A coalition of Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers have teamed up with the upstart nonprofit Civica Rx in an effort to slash the cost of generic drugs—particularly in areas with drug shortages or particularly high costs. "Numerous studies confirm that medication costs can dictate whether individuals fill or ration their generic prescriptions," said Civica president and CEO Martin VanTrieste in a statement. (Fortune)


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