April 1, 2020

COVID-19 roundup: Johnson & Johnson, Moderna strike deals with US government for COVID-19 vaccine development

Daily Briefing

    Ford and General Electric (GE) announce partnerships to build ventilators, FDA approves distribution of anti-malarial drugs to hospitals throughout the United States, and more.

    • Apple on Friday unveiled a COVID-19 app and website that individuals can use to gauge their risk of contracting the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The app and website ask users a series of questions about their recent exposure to the new coronavirus, risk factors, and symptoms for themselves or a loved one. After answering the questions, the users will receive CDC recommendations on the next steps they should take based on their answers, including whether they should closely monitor symptoms or call a medical provider (Apple release, 3/27).
    • Cigna and Humana have announced that they will waive all out-of-pocket costs for treatment related to COVID-19, including hospitalizations and ambulance transfers, for their members. David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, said, "[W]hile our customers focus on regaining their health, we have their backs." Bruce Broussard, president and CEO of Humana, said the company was taking this step "to help ease the burden on seniors and others who are struggling right now. No American should be concerned about the cost of care when being treated for coronavirus" (Tozzi, Bloomberg, 3/29; Coombs, CNBC, 3/29).
    • DxTerity Diagnostics announced that it is developing a new self-screening test that companies can provide to employees for the new coronavirus. The goal is to provide "a way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread while still allowing business to operate" as employees go back to work after shutdowns, according to a DxTerity release. Employees will administer the test themselves and place their samples into collection devices that will be shipped directly to DxTerity for testing. The company then will electronically deliver de-identified results the following day (DxTerity release, accessed 3/31).
    • FDA has approved the distribution of anti-malarial drugs to hospitals throughout the United States. Such drugs have been shown in small, anecdotal studies to possibly relieve symptoms of COVID-19. FDA said the possibility that these unproven treatments could stem the spread of the new coronavirus outweighs the risk of patients trying them (Rowland, Washington Post, 3/30).
    • FDA has given emergency use authorization for a coronavirus test developed by Abbott Labs called ID NOW that can provide positive results in five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes. According to Robert Ford, president and COO of Abbott Labs, the ID NOW test allows providers to "perform molecular point-of-care testing outside the traditional four walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots" (Hauck, USA Today, 3/28; Aleem, Vox, 3/28; Abbott Labs release, 3/27).
    • Ford and General Electric (GE) announced Monday that they will partner to build tens of thousands of ventilators to increase supply during the U.S. coronavirus epidemic. Ford and GE said they will be building a simpler version of an existing ventilator and estimated they will be able to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days, beginning on April 20. They would then plan to produce 30,000 a ventilators a month after the first 100 days (Siddiqui/Albergotti, Washington Post, 3/30).
    • Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Moderna have struck separate deals with the United States government to make and manufacture a vaccine for COVID-19. J&J's deal aims to expand manufacturing to produce more than one billion doses of a vaccine that was co-developed by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. A vaccine likely won't be ready for public use until at least 2021, Reuters reports (Saltzman, Boston Globe, 3/30; Steenhuysen, Reuters, 3/30).
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are working on a project aimed at tracking the movement of patients with COVID-19 using their phones to determine who they come in contact with. As part of the project, users voluntarily download an app on their phone and enter their data. The app then alerts users if they've come in close contact with a COVID-19 patient. Researchers said the data is scrambled so users are unable to be identified (Belkin/Grind, Wall Street Journal, 3/27).
    • Medtronic on Monday announced that it will be publicly sharing the design specifications for its Puritan Bennett 560 ventilator to give other companies the ability to rapidly produce the product to mitigate any ventilator shortages. The company said it also plans to post the software code and other related information for the ventilator soon (Loftus, Wall Street Journal, 3/30; Medtronic release, 3/30).
    • Houston Methodist Hospital on Saturday became the first hospital in the nation to perform the procedure that uses blood plasma from a patient who'd survived COVID-19 to help treat a seriously ill COVID-19 patient. The procedure has been gaining traction since Johns Hopkins immunologist Arturo Casadevall published an op-ed about it in February. The procedure goes back to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 (McDonnell, Quartz, 3/30l; Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 3/28).
    • UnitedHealth Group will be releasing a new self-administered coronavirus test, which could reduce the risk that health workers contract the virus, the Wall Street Journal reports. On Monday, FDA included the new test in guidance it issued to medical workers nationwide, and following an initial use of the test in Seattle, UnitedHealth announced it will begin implementing the test throughout the United States. The Daily Briefing is published by Advisory Board, a division of Optum, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group (Carlton, Wall Street Journal, 3/26).
    • The University of Minnesota has begun developing a new ventilator that will be smaller than a box of cereal and will not require pressurized oxygen. The developers of the ventilator hope that the new equipment will be less expensive and easier to produce than current ventilators (Reilly, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, 3/27).
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