Updated: Arie Belldegrun Diagnosed with COVID-19

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First published on Sunday, March 15, 2020. 

Arie Belldegrun, the co-founder and executive chairman of the board of Allogene, disclosed this weekend that he has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The pharma entrepreneur is in self-quarantine and is doing well.

Belldegrun, who was also the founder and former chair, president and chief executive officer of Kite Pharma, issued an announcement on Twitter. He said he experienced a “minimal dry cough and transient low-grade fever,” two hallmark signs of the coronavirus illness that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization last week. Belldegrun said he took precautions to quarantine himself and was tested for the virus, which came back positive. It is unknown at this point how Belldegrun came into contact with the virus, the announcement said.

As a physician, Belldegrun believed it was important to disclose he had been diagnosed with the virus to show that it can impact anyone and also to help destigmatize exposure. His announcement came days after multiple Biogen employees were diagnosed with COVID-19 following exposure at a corporate meeting in Boston that was held in a hotel. Following the announcement that multiple employees had tested positive, the company issued a work-from-home order for its employees in Cambridge, Mass., North Carolina and Switzerland.

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In his announcement, Belldegrun said three other Allogene executives had been in contact with him prior to his diagnosis. None of the executives are experiencing any symptoms but remain in self-quarantine as a precaution. Those employees had recently attended a banking conference, Belldegrun’s announcement said. No other employees of the company that Belldegrun launched in 2018 have been in contact with him. At this time, there is no impact to the work being conducted at Allogene, but, Belldegrun’s announcement said they will “continue to take proactive measures to put the safety and well-being of employees and the community at large first.”

Belldegrun urged people to monitor updates to public health systems and seek testing should they develop symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Belldegrun’s announcement came the same day that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization for Roche’s cobas SARS-CoV-2 test. Multiple companies are aiming their resources at COVID-19, with more projects being announced almost daily as the global economy has slowed dramatically due to shutdowns of businesses, schools and more.

Over the weekend, Cedric Francois, CEO of Kentucky-based Apellis Pharmaceuticals, revealed he too had been diagnosed with COVID-19. On his LinkedIn page, Francois disclosed he had developed the virus following his attendance at the COWEN conference, which had also been attended by a Biogen executive who tested positive for the virus, Endpoints News reported. Francois said he began to develop symptoms on March 11, “no fever, no cough or shortness of breath, but general malaise.” He was tested the next day, and learned he had the virus.

Francois said he had not been in the offices of Apellis since March 3, which makes it unlikely he infected anyone there while potentially contagious.

“Like others, I thought it would be good to be open about this and to show my gratitude. I lead an extraordinary company with the most amazing and dedicated people I ever had the privilege of working with. We are part of the marvelous world of biotech. Together, we aim to advance the cause of medicine. We spend day and night trying to improve the human condition. We work for all people worldwide to control COVID-19 and together we will conquer this virus,” Francois said.

According to a Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracking map, there have been 169,387 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the globe, with 77,257 known to have made a recovery. There have been 6,513 deaths associated with the disease, mostly in China and Italy. In the United States, there have been 3,774 diagnosed cases and 69 deaths, with 12 known recoveries.

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