Two tales of innovation from CVS and Pfizer
Good afternoon, readers.
Innovation takes many forms. One form may be, say, transforming the way you think about your purpose in an industry. Another may involve rising to the urgency of the moment with technological advances.
I mention this because two very different kinds of health care companies’ chief executives discussed that exact dichotomy of innovation during Fortune‘s virtual Global Forum this week.
The highlights which come to mind are the stories of CVS Health (a major provider for COVID testing during the pandemic) and drug giant Pfizer (which has one of the leading candidates for a coronavirus vaccine).
CVS CEO Larry Merlo pinpointed the company’s evolution to a specific moment: Its decision to leave a lucrative tobacco business behind to become a true health firm.
“It’s a great story in the evolution of our company. We looked at our strategy at that time in terms of becoming more of a health services company,” said Merlo during an interview at the event. “We had our CVS pharmacies; we had CVS Caremark as a leading pharmacy benefit management company; we were opening our retail clinics branded as MinuteClinic.”
Merlo said that a point came when CVS could no longer justify selling a product which kills millions of people, even if that decision ate into its bottom line to the tune of $2 billion. That crucial decision was perhaps the first domino to fall in the company’s ambitions to become a provider of basic medical services within local communities.
The other firm is Pfizer. While there are a number of prominent drug makers (and some not-so-prominent ones) attempting to make a COVID vaccine, Pfizer realized early on that its own experimental therapy required supplementary materials.
You see, Pfizer’s candidate, should it be authorized or approved by the FDA, would require intense refrigeration at temperatures as low as negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit. So it figured out a way to make it happen: Design a high-tech carrying case that can freeze it at such temperatures while monitoring the location and temperature of every dose.
“The logistics of medicines and distribution of medicines are always very complicated, because there are always storage conditions,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla during the Fortune Global Forum. “And we knew that we had to move very fast. So we wanted to make sure that we can distribute by plane, we can distribute by any type of vehicle without needing refrigeration individually.”
Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.
Telehealth's explosion continues unabated. Telemedicine is seeing its moment in the sun during the coronavirus pandemic. Teladoc Health, one of the most prominent companies in the sector, is yet another example of the trend. The company announced in its third quarter earnings report that revenues swelled nearly 80% for the first nine months of 2020 compared with the same time period last year. A lot of that had to do with membership gains and a massive 163% spike in total telemedicine visits. Net losses, however, dragged it down a bit. But that's a metric which may improve once its $18.5 billion merger with digital health firm Livongo closes. More on that here.
The state of play on COVID vaccines. There are literally hundreds of COVID vaccines in development around the world. But four major ones stick out in the U.S. These candidates from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are at various stages of the regulatory process, and the companies' executives have expressed various levels of optimism for when their product may reach the market. For instance, Pfizer hopes to file for an FDA emergency authorization by the end of November should its efficacy data support such an application. More on the details here. (Fortune)
THE BIG PICTURE
How much can we rely on COVID antibodies? The staying power of coronavirus antibodies remains one of the biggest mysteries surrounding this pathogen. A number of studies have suggested antibodies disappear within anywhere from two to six months. But that's not the end of the story. What exactly does that mean for, say, the possibility of recovering from COVID-19 only to become reinfected? Is it possible you don't need a high antibody count to not remain sick? These are questions which will take years to answer, but in the meantime experts seem to agree that taking precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and keeping your distance will still be critical. (Fortune)
Health care on the ballot. Believe it or not, the 2020 election is finally coming to a close within the next week. All (or most) eyes will understandably be on the top of the ticket. But there are also plenty of health care-related ballot measures in states that are worth tracking. California's Proposition 23 will likely be the most closely-watched, as it challenges the dialysis industry's giants such as Fresenius and DaVita by imposing more regulations on dialysis clinics. But there are also a number of initiatives in states like Colorado, Oklahoma, and Maine addressing everything from Medicaid expansion to vaccine exemptions. Plenty more on this after Election Day.
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