Good afternoon, readers. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!
There’s no shortage of COVID news from the past several weeks. For one, Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was cleared for use in the U.K. and doses could begin reaching certain Americans in a matter of weeks.
On the flip side, U.S. cases and hospitalizations are absolutely skyrocketing. Wednesday saw America reach the grim milestone of the most COVID deaths, more than 2800, in a single day.
Of course we’ll be delving into all of that in detail. But for once, I’m going to focus on non-depressing news: There at least some corporate leaders out there who are revolutionizing their business strategies for the better in the midst of the COVID pandemic while becoming more attached to their workforces despite not even being in the same offices.
And it’s all thanks to technologies which have become essential such as Slack and Zoom.
“The [tech] CEOs have kind of come together, and we’ve been able to share best practices, learn from each other, get through the pandemic as we’re running our businesses,” said Box CEO Aaron Levie during the Fortune virtual Brainstorm Tech conference on Wednesday, referring to a Slack channel which the Silicon Valley crowd uses to brainstorm ideas about dealing the pandemic.
Those kinds of brainstorms may range from business strategy to how employees are dealing with work from home, as well as the best way forward.
The idea of corporate America crowdsourcing coronavirus ideas with software they were already using is the definition of making the best of a horrible situation. But another comment which stuck out to me was from Jennifer Tejada, the CEO of PagerDuty.
“We acquired a company [during this period], and I think that transaction went through faster than it normally would have,” she said.
Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.
Roche advances the science of COVID testing. Roche made major waves in the COVID testing space with a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization for a more accurate kind of coronavirus diagnostic. This isn't an active infection test; rather, it's an antibody test. But it's more effective from the dozens of other tests in an important regard: It can deliver results in 18 minutes and sniff out antibodies accurately 99.98% of the time, according to the company. (FierceBiotech)
The vaccine race rockets forward. To say it's been a huge few weeks for coronavirus drug development would be an understatement. Pfizer and BioNTech applied for authorization, setting up a crucial FDA advisory committee meeting next week; Moderna filed for its own vaccine candidate's authorization this week; the U.K. became the first country in the world to approve Pfizer's vaccine; and a host of other countries like China have given other coronavirus shots the green light. Initial distribution of the Pfizer vaccine could begin as soon as mid-December (perhaps not for many readers, but more on that below). (Fortune)
Johnson & Johnson moves along with a gene therapy for blindness. Drug giant Johnson & Johnson has struck a deal with biotech Hemera Biosciences for the company's experimental gene therapy to reverse wet AMD, a type of vision loss associated with aging. If it pans out, the treatment would just be a one-stop infusion in order to protect against worsening vision loss. Drug giants like Roche and Novartis and host of other big names have been wading into the gene therapy field as these treatments offer an actual cure (though usually at an enormous price tag). (BioPharma Dive)
THE BIG PICTURE
What's in an "elective surgery?" With COVID cases skyrocketing across the country and no end in sight, hospitals from California to Ohio to New York are feeling the squeeze on their available hospital beds. That's forced some health systems to yet again pause elective medical procedures as they grasp onto every bed possible. But those procedures aren't something like cosmetic surgery; they can range from cancer biopsies to treatment for a broken limb. All it means is that the patient's condition isn't immediately life-threatening. (Fortune)
Who will get the first COVID vaccines in the U.S. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisory committee, as widely expected, has recommended that health care workers and nursing home residents (including at assisted-living facilities) be the first to receive doses of a COVID vaccine once the FDA authorizes one. There will be a limited number of doses, hence the prioritization on the most vulnerable and essential medical staff, with widespread public availability likely slated for next summer or spring. (NPR)
Fortune's latest Businessperson of the Year, by Alan Murray
How the Slack-Salesforce deal stacks up against other big tech M&As, by Jeff John Roberts
Elon Musk's rocket ride, by Andrew Nusca & Michal Lev-Ram