Biotech Professionals Express Fears…and Hope, During Pandemic
While the biopharmaceutical industry is working frantically to develop the tests, vaccines and therapeutics to combat COVID-19, the people doing the work are pushing their fears to one side. But, when asked, they admit to concerns. Not suprisingly, they mirror the fears shared by much of the world. To see the full report from the survey, "BioSpace Workplace Survey: The Impact of COVID-19", you can download here.
The top fear, shared by 22% of respondents, is that they or their family members will contract the virus and die according to the BioSpace Workplace Survey: Impact of COVID-19 - Spring 2020.
After that, their concerns become economic. At a macro level, biopharma professionals expressed concerns about small business closures and a coming recession, depression, or economic collapse. Those broad fears were expressed by 17% of survey respondents.
The concern isn’t strictly economic. “If countries fail to stabilize or regain financial independence, then more people will be killed by this pressure than by the virus,” CJ Xia, VP of Marketing & Sales at Boster Biological Technology, said. (At the time of publication, Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Resource Center tabulates the global mortality count at approximately 248,000 people – and counting.)
While nearly 70% of respondents in the biotech industry are still working, a Rasmussen poll released April 21 found that 40% of American adults say they or an immediate family member has lost their job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In late March, the figure was 32%. In fact, more than 26 million unemployment claims have been filed in the past five weeks.
In the BioSpace survey, 15% of respondents admitted to being concerned about unemployment and layoffs, a lack of available jobs, and, ultimately, a lack of income.
About a week earlier, a Rasmussen poll of1,000 likely voters reported that 36% of those polled said it was time for the nation to get back to work. At the time, 49% disagreed. Since then, citizens have begun staging back-to-work rallies in several states, including Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Washington.
As Mir Imran, chairman and CEO, Rani Therapeutics elaborated, “The economic impact of this pandemic is horrendous, and the unemployment numbers are staggering. Getting people back to work is essential, but that can only happen if there is free and wide-spread testing available.”
“My biggest fear is that, while many of us will get through this, there will be a lasting impact on those who were living paycheck to paycheck,” Imran continued. “This crisis will push them into poverty. For those already living in poverty, it will push them into homelessness. The government will have to step up to take care of our citizens, whether through job programs or prolonged unemployment benefits to support our most vulnerable. The financial implications of COVID-19 will be felt for a long time to come.”
The fourth-most mentioned fear (at 14%) was a resurgence or a spike in infections after restrictions are lifted. Much about the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still being discovered. “Our biggest fear regarding the pandemic is that there will be future waves of outbreaks until universal testing can be completed and a vaccine developed,” Catalina Valencia, CEO of Sapphire Biotech, told BioSpace.
Wrong decisions, miscommunication and poor planning by leadership – cited by 9% of BioSpace respondents – could contribute to a resurgence in cases. One of the challenges is the lack of clear, comprehensive data that forces leaders to make decisions with the information at hand. As a result, some will be overly cautious. Others will be overly optimistic.
As the patchwork of restrictions within the 50 U.S. states and internationally become increasingly varied, 8% of respondents fear the public will quit listening to health authorities. As new cases, hospitalization rates and mortality figures plateau and then decline, there is a risk that people will no longer take the pandemic seriously. If that happens, social distancing will relax, masks will be worn less frequently and the virus could re-emerge.
The bottom two concerns were tied at slightly more than 5%: the general loss of life caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the lack of widespread testing and available vaccines.
Greg Merril, CEO and co-founder of Adaptive Phage Therapeutics, thought back to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, applying its lessons to the current COVID-19 pandemic. “During the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, secondary infections were the greatest cause of mortality,” he pointed out. “My biggest fear with this pandemic is around secondary infections in patients who previously were infected with COVID-19.”
Although we are much better positioned today than a century ago, Merril said, “We still face a crisis-level number of multi-drug resistant and complicated infections worldwide, as detailed in CDC and WHO reports.”
Yet, despite these very realistic fears, there is a bright spot. As Lauren Shields Ph.D., head of customer success, east at Benchling, said, “It gives me hope to see COVID-19 bringing the scientific community together for one cause. This is a rare moment in time where scientists can focus on the true goal of science: to help people.”
“As a result, we’re seeing a different type of science emerge: one that’s much more collaborative, much more urgent, and, in a lot of ways, much more united in its goals. I hope we can continue this unity after all this is over because, if scientists banded together to tackle other problems in this way, it could accelerate all sorts of scientific breakthroughs.”
To see the full report from the survey, "BioSpace Workplace Survey: The Impact of COVID-19", you can download here.
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