BIO Summit Accelerates Collaboration in Fight Against COVID-19

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) this week hosted a productive virtual summit intended to foster collaboration among key government agencies and biopharmaceutical innovators with one goal: eradicating Covid-19. The two-day virtual event helped companies working on treatments, diagnostics and vaccines come together to discuss challenges and opportunities with government officials and other stakeholders.

Senior administration officials coordinating the nation’s Covid-19 response joined the event, including White House Response Coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx, and Dr. Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The goal is to “minimize redundancies and maximize cooperation and collaboration,” noted BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “From the beginning of this crisis it was clear,” Greenwood explained, “BIO is the organization that’s best constituted and positioned to organize and connect the biopharmaceutical industry so that we can accelerate the research and development and coordinate that development in response to this crisis.”

According to Debbie Hart, president and CEO of BioNJ, “BIO’s forum will be meaningful in accelerating this research and seeding possible collaborations that might otherwise not have happened. We were fortunate to be able to participate in these sessions and also to recommend companies for involvement.”

She added, “It has been extraordinary to witness the number of companies that have switched or added gears to find a way to focus on this critical and crushing new need.  As my Mom used to say: ‘You see a need and you fill it.’  COVID-19 is a premier example of the most dire need … and this industry is … as it always does, rising to the challenge to fill it.”

As an international trade association representing more than 700 biotechnology companies, BIO is playing a unique role in organizing and coordinating the activities of many of its companies. According to a survey, more than 45 member companies are working to address coronavirus and more than 20 have products in various stages of development.

Dr. George Scangos, CEO of Vir Therapeutics, helped lead the event. He was appointed by BIO’s chairman of the board, Dr. Jeremy Levin, to oversee the organization’s efforts to foster collaboration across the biopharmaceutical industry.

Describing the current pandemic as a “time of national, global uncertainty,” Dr. Scangos highlighted “the incredible” doctors, nurses and other medical professionals “on the frontlines” treating the sick and preventing the spread of the virus.

He also noted that many biotechnology companies—many with tight budgets and without any commercial products—are “offering to do what they can to contribute their technologies, their compounds, whatever it is they have” to tackle the virus.

During her remarks to more than 40 biotech leaders assembled, Ambassador Birx spoke about the need to advance diagnostics to the point of care. Meanwhile, Dr. Kadlec called for a “whole of nation” approach to overcome this epidemic.

“I think, based on the work you are going to do and your ability to collaborate with one another, positions us not only for the moment, but for the next six months, the next year, and the next 18 months,” said Ambassador Birx. “We are really thrilled about the work you are doing.”

Company leaders repeatedly expressed the need for speed of action on the part of government agencies to help accelerate the development of new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. Also, as the discussions over two days unfolded, a number of key areas of concern emerged:

The need for innovative and flexible partnerships between industry, government and academia to quickly move the science through the development and regulatory processes;

The importance of determining how to best scale up manufacturing capacity when a new diagnostic, therapy or vaccine is available;

The urgency in securing funding for agencies and other partners to get resources where they are needed as soon as they are available; and

A desire to work with the FDA to establish guidelines for the development of point-of-care diagnostics.

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