What you missed at Fortune’s first-ever virtual Brainstorm Health conference
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Fortune’s fifth annual, invite-only Brainstorm Health conference arrived as the world reeled from a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. As of July 9, COVID-19 has sickened more than 12.2 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of more than 550,000.
It was a fitting moment, then, to convene corporate leaders, thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and health policy innovators to discuss—well, the 800-pound virus in the room.
The event kicked off on Tuesday with Medicare chief Seema Verma, who offered insights from the government response to COVID-19. “Data to me is integral to everything we’re doing here, and the United States’ handling of data is not as robust as it should be,” she said. Next came Mayo Clinic CEO Gianrico Farrugia and IBM Watson Health GM Paul Roma, who shared how we’re tasking supercomputers to help us develop a coronavirus vaccine. “You can get months’ worth of modeling and work done in the course of a day,” Roma said.
Mayo Clinic physicians Elvis L. François and William Robinson appeared on attendees’ screens next. The duo is responsible for famously covering the song “Imagine,” John Lennon’s 1971 ode to world peace. (The acclaim was “one of the most humbling moments in my entire life,” Robinson said.) Following the “singing surgeons” was Bank of America vice chairman Anne Finucane, who joined to talk about racial equity in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. “Metrics are important,” she said. “If you can’t measure it, how can you determine you’re doing better than a year before that?”
Jessica Mega of Verily Life Sciences highlighted the worsening ailments not named COVID-19 that were also on the rise. A panel featuring executives from the National Academy of Medicine, GE Healthcare, and Baxter International discussed the sudden opportunity to increase telehealth adoption. Aetna president Karen Lynch and National Institute of Mental Health director Joshua Gordon spoke about the impact of the pandemic on mental health. Amgen CEO Robert Bradway offered insight into the company’s clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine: “We’re making fast progress.”
It didn’t stop there. Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan and Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio spoke about the pharma industry collaboration sparked by the search for coronavirus solutions. Salesforce chief medical officer Ashwini Zenooz and Upwork VP Erin Thomas spoke about ways companies could tackle racism as a health issue. Cal Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, known for codiscovering a powerful genetic engineering technology called Crispr-Cas9, explained how the pandemic was changing the public’s view of her work.
Then came NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who explained how the pro basketball league was getting on with its interrupted season during the pandemic. Moderna Therapeutics CEO Stéphane Bancel closed out the day by discussing how his company developed a coronavirus vaccine candidate in mere days.
And that was only day one. (Phew!)
Wednesday’s proceedings kicked off with Fitbit Health GM Amy McDonough, who shared the activity trends the company was seeing at a time of widespread stay-at-home orders. Reform Alliance CEO Van Jones came on next (alongside Walmart health chief David Hoke) to discuss the relationship between racial injustice and the pandemic. Can parking lots give us a clue about COVID-19 outbreaks? John Brownstein of HealthMap joined to explain how.
Google Health VP David Feinberg and FDA principal deputy commissioner Amy Abernethy offered attendees a progress report on the company’s contact tracing collaboration with frenemy Apple. What’s the deal with anti-vaxxers? Centene CEO Michael Neidorff and Merck chief patient officer Julie Gerberding weighed in on how the maligned movement might affect our pandemic response. The novel coronavirus is also changing what hospitals look like; Intermountain Healthcare CEO Marc Harrison, Stanford Children’s Health CEO Paul King, and IBM chief health officer Kyu Rhee offered participants a glimpse of how. And Vaccine Alliance and Gavi CEO Seth Berkley received a Fortune leadership award for his work vaccinating children around the world.
Rwanda’s former health minister Agnes Binagwaho logged on next to explain how the African country bested the U.S. in its COVID-19 response. Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky followed with a warning that solutions for the pandemic were needed far beyond a vaccine. Harvard public health school dean Michelle Williams imagined a future of better preventive health care. Tempus CEO Eric Lefkofsky outlined how so-called dirty data was slowing our pandemic response: “There are so many brilliant minds surrounding health care, but they have, for whatever reason, chosen to not clean out their data warehouse.”
Apple health chief Sumbul Desai and Stanford Medicine dean Lloyd Minor shared ways that academia and Silicon Valley were working together to fight COVID-19. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins called on fellow executives to take a stand on racism, and San Francisco mayor London Breed accepted Fortune’s first-ever Bernard J. Tyson Memorial Leadership Award, given in honor of the late Kaiser Permanente CEO. “We need to ensure everyone has equal access to resources like health care, education, and most important, housing,” she said.
Closing out the conference was women’s and mental health advocate Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, spouse to Canadian Prime Minister Justin, who joined to discuss the challenges of isolation during the novel coronavirus pandemic. “We’re all in one very similar trauma—experiencing this virus, this pandemic,” she said. “So we have to adapt to this situation and use our creativity to connect with one another and tell our own stories. We’re all connected through our traumas.”Subscribe to The Capsule, a weekly brief monitoring advances in health care and biopharma, delivered free to your inbox.