So, the United States, as I’m writing this, has spent a few days being number one in terms of COVID-19 cases, and we’re not even doing the level of per-capita testing of other hard-hit nations, which means it might be even worse than it looks right now. Not a distinction I think that anyone wants in the United States, but the governmental response was very fragmented at first, and that didn’t help.
With a disease so highly contagious and with substantially higher mortality rates than influenza, there are lessons to be learned and, sadly, Gilead Sciences was on the wrong end of a lesson—and it got a lot of public relations blowback for something that was a bad idea and helped bolster arguments that pharma/biotech is just a bunch of greedy louts. (That doesn’t define the industry accurately, but I’ve discussed that before [also here and here] and it would sidetrack things to talk about it in depth right now.)
Basically, the company applied for rare disease/orphan drug status for potential COVID-19 treatment remdesivir at a time when there were still fewer than 200,000 COVID-19 cases in the United States. Obviously, given what we’ve seen of the virus, that number has gone much higher, and there is nothing “rare” or “orphan” about COVID-19.
It was a brilliant business maneuver from a pure money and patent protection standpoint, but absolutely awful in terms of appearances and presenting to the public a compassionate response to the pandemic.
Gliead did quickly back away from that even after the FDA gave them a positive nod about the idea—fortunately—but now some public health and citizens' groups are calling for an investigation into the FDA seriously considering that designation, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many regarding pharma companies.
That misstep aside, there are many academic, research, governmental and corporate institutions working hard on all kinds of avenues to diagnose infection by the novel coronavirus and potentially treat COVID-19 and co-morbidities, as well as bring us vaccines as soon as possible. We cover some of that in the Focus Feature in this issue, and we will cover it with another such feature in the July/August issue, in addition to various e-newsletters and likely a webinar between now and then—and probably beyond.
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay inside where you can, and remember to wash those hands.