Pharma vet and former Biogen chief to lead biotech industry’s coronavirus response

March 2, 2020, 3:47 PM UTC

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The biotechnology industry now officially has a coronavirus czar—and he’s a longtime veteran of the drug sector.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the industry’s largest trade group, has reportedly tapped George Scangos for the role. Scangos served as the CEO of drug giant Biogen for six years and is currently chief executive at Vir, a San Francisco startup that’s working on a coronavirus treatment of its own.

The details about Scangos’ exact responsibilities remain a bit fuzzy. “The role is still evolving but it is clear someone needs to pick up the reins. It is only natural for us here at Vir to take on a leadership role,” Scangos told the New York Times.

But given BIO’s decision to tap a startup CEO (with a history at much larger drug makers), it seems likely that Scangos will help smaller firms navigate tricky regulatory waters as they attempt to fight the coronavirus threat.

That may include helping facilitate partnerships between startups and the bigger firms that have more advanced manufacturing capacities or advising BIO member companies on how to deal with regulatory agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

To date, a slew of firms ranging from Gilead to Moderna to Vir have announced they’re working on coronavirus treatments or vaccines. Gilead’s experimental therapy remdesivir has received the most public praise from health officials and is speeding through the clinical trial process.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Teladoc easily bests analyst expectations in earnings report. Telehealth firm Teladoc reports that its fourth quarter 2019 earnings were up an eye-popping 27% compared to the same period one year ago, soaring past Wall Street expectations and sending the company's stock flying. If you're wondering if there's a coronavirus angle to the story, there is—the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has urged further use of telemedicine and virtual doctor visits in order to contain the virus' spread.

China, coronavirus, and the surveillance state. My colleague Eamon Barrett explores China's expansion of its surveillance capacity in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak—and how they may persist long after the crisis has abated. Eamon looks into what the computer facial recognition firm Sensetime has been up in recent months. "Sensetime has tweaked its algorithms to develop software that can recognize individuals from just their eyes—as many in China are now wearing surgical masks," he writes. "Conversely, Sensetime has also developed a program that can detect when someone is not wearing a mask—a useful tool as authorities in Wuhan, the outbreak epicenter, and other locales have made wearing masks mandatory in public." (Fortune)


Gilead pulls the trigger on $5.9 billion Forty Seven deal. It finally happened—Gilead is actually buying a company. And this time around, the rumor mill was right. The biotech giant has agreed to purchase Forty Seven, a cancer drug specialist, in a $4.9 billion deal. Gilead has long tried to expand its reach in the oncology sector in order to grow its portfolio beyond the antivirals and hepatitis C treatments it's best known for. (Reuters)


A twist in South Korea's mounting coronavirus woes. South Korea, the nation with the most number of reported coronavirus cases outside of China, is seeking murder charges against leaders of a church who they say stymied preventive efforts that could have led to fewer deaths from the pathogen. The church's leader, Lee Man-hee, said the organization tried its best to stop the infection's spread but was unsuccessful. (Reuters)

Pence says coronavirus testing will ramp up significantly. Vice President Mike Pence, the Trump administration's coronavirus czar, announced on Sunday that America's capacity to test for coronavirus will ramp up rapidly in the coming weeks as state agencies get the green light to develop their own tests and the CDC fixes problems with its coronavirus diagnostic. "And, more importantly, we’ve established a process in a number of cities across the country where if somebody presents at the local hospital with a respiratory ailment, we want them also tested for coronavirus," Pence said during an appearance on CNN's State of the Union. The U.S. has only tested for several hundred coronavirus cases, and the ramped up testing capacity will likely lead to a massive spike in the number of reported infections. (Politico)


Coronavirus spreads to a previously health sector: corporate earningsby Anne Sraders

How to think about COVID-19by Sandro Galea

Funding for female founders increased slightly in 2019by Emma Hinchliffe

Do epidemics ever really end? by Naomi Xu Elegant

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