BIO to Outline Key Priorities for Next Pandemic During Senate Hearing

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COVID-19-related testimonies will continue in Congress today, with representatives from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) expected to address the current pandemic as well as key priorities that will need to be in place in order to effectively respond to the next global viral threat.

Infectious disease expert Julie Gerberding, a member of the BIO Board of Directors, is expected to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Gerberding, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will likely highlight the herculean task BIO members have undertaken to address COVID-19, which was infected more than 2.3 million people in the United States and contributed to the deaths of 121,225 people, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard. During BIO’s annual meeting earlier this month, which was conducted virtually due to the pandemic, Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO’s new chief executive officer, said BIO member companies have launched more than 600 programs against the novel coronavirus. Those programs include more than 150 vaccine programs, more than 180 antiviral treatments and more than 250 therapies to treat the various consequences of COVID-19 infection, BIO said this morning.

While companies address COVID-19, there remains the threat of other pandemics, which the Senate panel will discuss today.

“Being better prepared for the next pandemic must be a top priority for our nation, and today’s hearing will help create the type of policy environment needed to make that possible,” BIO’s Phyllis Arthur, vice president for Infectious Diseases and Diagnostics, said in a statement ahead of today’s Senate committee meeting.

Arthur, who worked for Merck’s vaccine division before joining BIO, applauded the forward-thinking of the Senate committee to look ahead at future threats, even while the nation and world continue to grapple with COVID-19. Taking a proactive stance will ensure the nation is better prepared for future infectious disease outbreaks and other biosecurity threats, Arthur said.

Gerberding and others who testify before the committee will urge Congress to look at three key areas to prepare for the next pandemic – manufacturing capacity; protecting the market; and bolstering public-private partnerships.

When it comes to manufacturing, BIO said it is important for the United States to maintain a strong biopharmaceutical manufacturing infrastructure for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. That will include “appropriate incentives” to expand domestic capacity in critical areas, the organization said. While domestic manufacturing is important, BIO noted it’s likely not feasible to rely solely on domestic capabilities and may not always be appropriate “given the importance of maintaining a robust and resilient global supply chain.”

Public-private partnerships will also be critical, such as the support companies have received from programs like the federally-supported Operation Warp Speed in COVID-19.

“In particular, robust funding is needed for public-private partnerships focused on the research and development and manufacturing infrastructure for a broad range of potential vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. In addition, dedicated funding and incentives for the development of new therapies that address emerging infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance also is an important component of any long-term strategy,” BIO said.

When it comes to ensuring functioning markets, BIO said a well-managed Strategic National Stockpile will be critical to ensuring continued private investment in the research and development of new vaccines and treatments.

“Any changes to strategy surrounding the Strategic National Stockpile must account for the unique breadth and nature of resources that could be stockpiled to prepare for a wide range of emergencies,” the organization added.

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