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The 3-pronged approach to defeating the coronavirus

April 23, 2020, 9:38 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

We learned this morning that about 26 million Americans have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus crisis. Real unemployment now stands at more than 20%. The U.S. has crossed 850,000 confirmed cases (those we know of so far) and is creeping up on 50,000 confirmed deaths—the most in the world.

As we explored at length in this story, the reasons for this failure are widespread and complicated. There will have to be an ultimate accounting for that. In the meantime, however, the priority is digging the nation out of this catastrophic public health and economic hole. So, how do we do that?

I explored the multi-pronged approach we’ll have to take in order to tackle this insidious and sometimes inscrutable pathogen in the latest print issue of Fortune.

In conversations with dozens of experts across the medical industry, here’s what became clear: We need to test; we need to treat; and we need to create vaccines for long-term protection.

That may seem obvious after months of quarantine, but the logistics are a lot more complicated. And that’s where the biopharma industry truly has a chance to shine and show whether or not it can lead in the midst of the chaos.

In short, adequate—and accurate—testing can help slowly re-open the economy and mitigate risk; the development of effective treatments can lower the burden on the health care system and hospitals; and a longer-term vaccine, should one emerge (and that’s an open question), can provide global peace of mind.

All of that is a heavy lift. The (very qualitative) good news is: At least a number of firms seem to be stepping up. “There’s an incredible sense of urgency,” George Scangos, the former chief of Biogen and current CEO of Vir Biotechnology, a company working on both ­COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, tells me. “The number of companies that want to contribute regardless of whether you make a lot of money is incredible.”

We’ll see if those aspirations can ultimately salvage what this scourge has wrought.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

A milestone in STI testing tech. Boston-based biotech Binx Health has a box—one that could address a silent epidemic which affects some 376 million people across the globe every year by providing a point-of-care system for STIs. "A fully integrated, automated, and maintenance-free molecular testing platform, [Binx's] Io lets users drop fluid samples, either self-collected by a patient or taken by a clinician, onto a cartridge sans prep: Insert the cartridge into a slot, follow on-screen instructions, then get lab-level results within an unprecedented 30 minutes," Mark Hay writes for Fortune(Fortune)

American Well expands telehealth offerings in the midst of coronavirus pandemic. Amwell, an arm of telehealth giant American Well, says it's ramping up telehealth support for doctors who run practices with fewer than 100 providers in their network. With COVID-19 cases flooding hospitals, telemedicine has become an essential tool for patients who may not be able to access their caregivers—and a potential lifeline for relatively smaller practices which have seen their revenues plunge.

INDICATIONS

Biogen's Alzheimer's drug comments draw scrutiny. The Biogen Alzheimer's drug drama is still barreling forward. There's been a whole lot of controversy over the experimental treatment, aducanumab, as I've discussed before. The latest twist is that Biogen is delaying its timeline for submitting the drug to the Food and Drug Administration for approval after assuring stakeholders it was proceeding with agency's collaboration. That may very well be true—and Biogen execs are claiming this is just a temporary holdup that's in part due to challenges provided by the coronavirus pandemic. But it throws another twist into an already convoluted clinical saga for what could eventually become the first-ever treatment approved for the underlying cause of Alzheimer's.

Gilead's latest coronavirus antiviral update presents a twist. Gilead's remdesivir has been touted as the most promising option to date (at least that we know of) to tackle COVID-19. But with great hope comes great hype—and sometimes, great confusion. Gilead's chief medical officer Merdad Parsey said on Thursday that initial data on human trials of remdesivir in China which were published on the World Health Organization's (WHO's) website were prematurely posted. "This information has since been removed, as the study investigators did not provide permission for the publication of the results," said Parsey in a statement emailed from Gilead. The firm still believes its treatment will be effective. (Fortune)

THE BIG PICTURE

The 'elective' surgery hit to hospitals. You'd think that hospitals are making big money during the COVID-19 outbreak. You'd be wrong. I dove into the finances of so-called "elective" surgeries—many of which aren't really optional at all, despite the terminology—and why hospital systems are under such tremendous pressure in these current times. (Fortune)

Bill Gates on how to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. My colleague and Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf sums up Bill Gates' gigantic memo on defeating the coronavirus. As Cliff puts it, the document is strikingly optimistic. Here's one telling quote: "During World War II, an amazing amount of innovation including radar, reliable torpedoes, and code-breaking helped end the war faster," wrote Gates. "This will be the same with the pandemic." (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

More surveillance and less privacy will be the new normal after the coronavirusby David Meyer

Real unemployment rate soars past 20%by Lance Lambert

The world's 25 greatest leaders are the heroes of the pandemicby Fortune Staff

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