Coronavirus pharma news roundup – 13/03/2020

With coronavirus now declared a pandemic by WHO, all eyes are on pharma and other healthcare companies to develop solutions – but the industry isn’t immune to workforce and economic threats from the virus. We round up the latest R&D, digital health, events and business stories from the outbreak over the past week.

Staff at pharma firm Biogen were told to work from home after around 15 employees became infected with the virus after attending a meeting at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts.

Citing company sources MarketWatch said that about 175 people attended the meeting including chief executive Michel Vounatsos and workers from the Swiss operation.

Employees who attended the meeting will be tested and have been told to self-quarantine, the company said.

Charities have bankrolled a new COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator that will try and coordinate R&D into drugs for the virus and “remove barriers to drug development and scale-up” by acting as a go-between for governments, private enterprise and other philanthropic organisations.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome medical charity, backed by Mastercard, have committed $125 million to speed up access to drugs to treat the coronavirus epidemic.

A key role will be to provide earlier access to funding for promising projects that may be available from public funds, according to the charities, which say the Accelerator will also focus in the longer-term on other viral pathogens.

An Italian startup has launched a chatbot that helps diagnose coronavirus. With the entirety of Italy on lockdown, startup Paginemediche has created the tool to support the health emergency efforts by providing an online triage in infection diagnostics.

Paginemediche is a digital health firm from Healthware’s portfolio of companies, and its chatbot was designed under the medical supervision of Dr Emanuele Urbani, a general practitioner in Milan.

The chatbot could also be used to help doctors interact with patients via remote visits and has also been adopted by the Lombardy region on its institutional portal.

New UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget included perks for pharma R&D amid cash injections to mitigate the economic impact of coronavirus.

Sunak announced a £30 billion stimulus package to boost the economy through the outbreak.

The £30 billion extra spending included £12 billion earmarked for coronavirus measures including at least £5 billion for the NHS in England and £7 billion to help businesses and workers get through the difficult weeks ahead.

The budget also included a commitment to “invest in ideas”, including an increase in R&D tax credits from 12% to 13%, with central government investment in R&D increasing to £22 billion a year.

Poland’s DataWalk has created software that uses data to identify people at risk of being coronavirus “supercarriers”.

The software connects and correlates vast amounts of data such as immigration records, individuals who are known to be affected, mobile phone data. This allows the software to identify potential super carriers who are often resistant to the disease themselves and do not know that they can infect others.

While the software may be useful, the debate about the treatment of “super spreaders” on social media continues. The Vietnamese socialite Nga Nguyen has spoken out after being singled out in press reports for spreading the virus after attending several fashion shows across the world in February.

Chinese officials say that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready for clinical trials and emergency situations next month.

China allows vaccines developed for major public health emergencies to be deployed for urgent use under specified conditions.

The country’s drugs regulator, the National Medical Products Administration must consider the benefits of the treatment to outweigh the risks.

Several more pharma and medical conferences have been cancelled or postponed due to the outbreak, with many choosing to go ahead as digital-only events.

For full updates on how coronavirus is affecting industry events, keep an eye on pharmaphorum’s coronavirus conference monitor.