At Klick Health’s first Exchange of Opinions conference with biotech and pharmaceutical industry insiders before the pandemic began, it was not surprising that many of the conversations included Covid topics. But while vaccines and treatments were discussed, so did the effects on drug development, federal responses, health disparities, and what to do now and then.
Regeneron chief scientist and co-founder George Yancopoulos opened the conference by answering a question from Acorda CEO Ron Cohen about the spotlight in the industry and some of the “lake” biopharmas he had received in the past during Covid.
“I hope society accepts that the disease’s economic impact—as measured by trillions of pandemics—and even fails to account for the loss of life and the pain associated with it,” Yancopoulos said. Said. “I hope this makes the community realize that we shouldn’t be investing more than $30 million in NIH funding, for example, but also that we need to invest much more in this great industry to protect ourselves against these catastrophic losses. I think we are not doing enough.”
Regeneron’s early monoclonal antibody treatment, REGEN-COV, was based on its speed in developing – along with the work of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly – on decades of scientific development and investment by companies. He stated that much more is needed.
“We must not recognize any of the existing solutions for the disease, and none of the existing solutions for climate change can save us. We just need new solutions that come from supporting future generations and with investments “on a much larger scale than we are today,” he said.
Former BARDA chief Rick Bright spoke not only of the need to invest and improve the current Covid response that has become endemic, but also the importance of trust and truth in these efforts. Bright headed BARDA under President Barack Obama, who joined in 2016, but was dismissed by the Trump administration in April 2020 and reassigned to a lower NIH post. Bright later filed a whistleblower complaint and testified in Congress about the government’s chaotic response to the pandemic.
“We hear a lot about the erosion of trust, and to be credible we have to be honest,” he said. “…since the beginning of this pandemic, to be honest, we haven’t had a lot of truth. So we have to make sure that we not only uncover the truth, but also translate the truth into something people can understand. As George says, when they see the therapeutic development of a vaccine or monoclonal antibody, they don’t realize it’s a decade of work. This was skipped for a political discourse like ‘Hey, I vaccinated in a short time’,” he said.
A panel on personalized medicine also featured Tal Zaks, Moderna’s former chief medical officer, and the Spikevax Covid vaccine developer, now a partner of OrbiMed Advisors.
While the ideas of personalized medicines and mass-market vaccines may seem incompatible, Zaks says, “all medicines are always personalized. “We go to the doctor to treat ourselves, not our neighbors,” he said.
For example, in Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, personalization comes into play for people who are immunocompromised, as well as for some cancer patients who are unresponsive and need specific, different therapies. While costs, benefits, and value are familiar topics in personalized medicine discussions, Zaks said the potential size of the patient pool for personalized medicine is less important to him than what it could offer.
“Rather than looking at the rise of personalized medicine as something that pharmacy went to because it couldn’t make money elsewhere, I have a different view. “For me, that’s why we’re talking about personalized medicine because that’s what science has uncovered.” “… The world of science and technology offers us opportunities to better understand populations, even with common diseases. “If you talk to medicine today, they don’t actually suffer from cardiovascular disease or neurological disease or diabetes, what they’re highlighting is a much more nuanced way of understanding these populations and an individual’s risk factor.”