As education, awareness, and testing of the coronavirus evolves, we are bracing for a challenging and unprecedented future, not just for our public health, but in the way our society functions on a daily basis. Despite the uncertainty of the next few weeks and possibly months, it gives me hope to see how people are coming together to support each other and protect our vulnerable populations.

Reflecting on the time ahead, I want to share some of the things we’re doing to support our team members at COTA, and highlight promising developments as well as some of the challenges we face in the COVID-19 pandemic.

What COTA is Doing to Support Our Team Members

With offices in New York City and Boston, keeping our team safe by reducing their exposure is a top priority. As such, all team members are currently working from home and utilizing tools like Zoom and Slack to stay connected. We recognize the unique challenges faced by those with children at home, and are providing flexibility and support at this time when many are balancing professional, educational, and caretaker responsibilities with limited support.

Additionally, we are proactively addressing feelings of isolation and loneliness as we adjust to working remotely by hosting virtual gatherings where people can take a break together. While most of our work can be done anywhere, we want to ensure all team members feel emotionally connected while we practice social distancing.

What the Life Science Industry is Doing 

We’re proud to work with life science companies to bring clarity to cancer care, and it is inspiring to see how the industry has come together to address this public health crisis. From pivoting their research and development efforts, to the work on behalf of the FDA to quickly and safely bring diagnostics and treatments to the public, we are inspired by the work currently being done. Some of the highlights include:

  • Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir is being used to treat patients with coronavirus in the hopes to reduce the intensity and duration of the infection. The drug is now being tested in five COVID-19 clinical trials, and has already been delivered to some patients through a compassionate use program.
  • The FDA granted Roche a green light for emergency use of its newly developed diagnostic test within 24 hours of receiving the application. This Emergency Use Authorization allows clinicians to run the Roche test through Roche’s molecular testing systems, widely available at hospitals and labs throughout the country. Roche was also able to pre-ship its tests to laboratories so they could be used as soon as approval was granted.
  • Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is also beginning trials of an arthritis drug, Kevzara, as a potential remedy for the worst symptoms of COVID-19. The company is working with Sanofi, who is leading the study abroad as the two companies co-developed the drug.
  • The FDA has also granted emergency expanded access to Bellerophon Therapeutics’ inhaled nitric oxide delivery system for treating the symptoms of coronavirus. While this policy – also known as ‘compassionate use’ – is usually administered on a per-patient basis, the agency has expanded its applications amid COVID-19. This allows patients to receive these treatments more quickly in an effort to alleviate or lessen the severity of their symptoms.

Supporting Provider Organizations 

We are extremely grateful to all of the healthcare workers who put their health at risk to treat those affected by this virus. As COTA board member Donald M. Berwick recently wrote in the New York Times, “as the world writhes in the grip of COVID-19, the epidemic has revealed something majestic and inspiring: millions of health care workers running to where they are needed, on duty, sometimes risking their own lives. I have never before seen such an extensive, voluntary outpouring of medical help at such a global scale.”

We share Don’s sentiment and reiterate the importance of following CDC guidelines and recommendations before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room to prevent further strain on our healthcare system.

COVID-19 & Cancer Patients

As researchers attempt to make sense of the data surrounding COVID-19, it is clear that certain populations are more vulnerable. One such population is cancer patients. According to Dr. Steve Pergam, a clinical and infectious disease researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, “Patients with hematologic [blood] malignancies we believe will have the biggest risk. Also, patients who are in active chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant patients. Those are the ones with the most profound immune deficits.”

To learn more about the risks for cancer patients and suggestions for patients and their families, please read: Coronavirus: what cancer patients need to know

The Importance of Data

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized shortcomings in the collection and sharing of healthcare data. In a recent letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, Bill Gates highlighted the importance of patient data in both disease surveillance and drug development to identify new technologies that will slow the spread of future pandemics.

Access to curated patient data can accelerate clinical trials for new tests, vaccines, and therapies and is a critical component for driving new technology solutions across all disease areas. The US healthcare system must prioritize advances in our data infrastructure so we can quickly identify and respond to future public health threats and drive innovation and drug development for all major diseases.

Doing Our Part

Beyond supporting our team members, we are committed to doing everything we can to support both the life science and provider industries as they tackle this virus head on. For life science companies who are continuing their work to bring life-saving medications to market, we have made changes to our operations to continue serving them during this time.

We also recognize the toll that these necessary social distancing practices may place on future clinical research as many facilities are cancelling all non-emergency cases. We are actively working with our partners to understand how real-world data may be able to support this ongoing research. The FDA is also committed to supporting these trials, and issued new guidance documentation indicating it is open to clinical trial modifications caused by coronavirus.

As we all adjust to a new normal, we remain hopeful for the collective efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 and find an appropriate treatment as soon as possible. Until then, we will continue to implement new programs to support our team members and work with our partners to support their ongoing clinical initiatives.