Biotech's Green Shoots
What an eventful month! Since the last Biopharm Executive went out, there's been plenty of excitement. Here are just a few highlights:
• Human infection with H1N1 virus spread around the globe, sparking debate about vaccination strategies and public health approaches to sharing out limited stocks of Tamiflu.
Takeaway: Joe Biden-style hysteria pretty quickly gave way to a backlash in which public health officials were accused of crying wolf. To me, though, this looks like a great practice run for something more lethal down the road. We're facing tough issues already--about how much swine flu vaccine to create, for instance, knowing it will take away from regular influenza vaccine production, as well as how to equitably distribute antivirals. Hopefully, this will make us recognize one key problem with our current public health system: Long-term, making vaccines in chicken eggs makes about as much sense as fueling cars with corn. We can do better.
• The 2009 BIO International Convention took place in Atlanta with about 14,000 attendees--down rather sharply from the prior year, when there were over 20,000.
Takeaway: Low turnout probably had less to do with flu fears than it did with the economy and the simple fact that there's a bit less biotech to be convened these days. I was one of those people who didn't make it, unfortunately, but there was some excellent blogging going on--so much so that I feel as if I hardly missed a thing, except the rain. (Yes, .pdf readers, those are all helpful blog links.)
• The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released abstracts prior to its annual data-fest, which begins May 29 in Orlando.
Takeaway: The actual meeting doesn't start until after this issue is out, but there is already plenty of blogging about this meeting taking place, too. Still, the abstracts don't seem to be creating quite as much buzz as usual. We'll look to some late-breaking data to spice up the end of May. At least attendees can hope for better weather in Orlando than BIO conventioneers got.
• President Obama has promise to deliver $2 trillion in health care savings to the American people. Sort of.
Takeaway: In decades past, it was the American Medical Association that stood in the way of all reform. President Eisenhower once referred to the AMA as "just plain stupid...a little group of reactionary men dead set against any change." Now it's insurers who pose the chief obstacle to reform. Obama has been successful in getting lip service from them about cooperation and reform, but that may be because the specifics are so lacking. That $2 trillion? Most of it is smoke and mirrors, or is at least largely unquantifiable. It's made up largely of quality incentives, waste reduction, streamlining, automation, and bureaucratic simplification--pretty much the standard boilerplate of uncontroversial reform. Whether it's change we can believe in is another matter.
So what else happened in May? Just read on!
Read the BioPharm Executive online newsletter May 2009.
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More By Karl Thiel