Somehow, we’ve made it to the end of July. If you can believe it, that means we here in the US have been in this pandemic for five months. Is anyone keeping up with the hobbies they picked up in March?
This week in healthcare news, vaccine candidates moved into late-stage trials that should tell us whether the shots work, Republicans and Democrats haven’t come to a consensus on the next stimulus bill, and a receipt for $US18,000 worth of fertility medications that’s been stumping me since May.
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It was a big week in the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine (I probably write this sentence every week, which feels on par for all the vaccine developments happening).
On Monday, both Moderna and Pfizer with its partner BioNTech got their large, late-stage vaccine trials underway.
Andrew Dunn spoke with Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel shortly after the first participants got their shots. Bancel shared with Andrew a detailed timeline of when we’ll know if a vaccine works, and when the general public might be able to get vaccinated. (Hint: It’s not until next spring.)
Bancel also said that he’s thinking of setting two prices for the vaccine: one at a discount during the pandemic, and another once the disease is endemic.
Also this week: The coronavirus vaccine from Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline will receive up to $US2.1 billion from Operation Warp Speed, the companies said on Friday, and Merck said it will start human trials of its vaccine in the third quarter.
We’ve talked a lot over the past few months about how having a vaccine that can prevent people from getting infected is critical to getting out from under this pandemic.
But to be sure (and this is something that’s taken me a lot of time to come to terms with), just because we get a shot won’t mean we’ll immediately get to stop wearing masks and leave social distancing behind us. Andrew spoke to a top vaccine developer about why that is the case.
And I’m sure nobody wants to hear this, but as Andrew and our colleague Aylin Woodward write, don’t hold your breath for a coronavirus vaccine.
There are seven big challenges we still need to overcome, including ensuring people take it should we get an effective vaccine.
Another critical piece to the vaccine and drug development conversation: who’s taking part in clinical trials. The coronavirus pandemic has been disproportionately hitting communities of colour.
But trial participants are predominantly white, Andrew found in an analysis of the clinical trials underway.
Black and Latinx people are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, but trials testing coronavirus treatments are mostly white
Insider’s Hilary Brueck had a conversation with Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates all about the pandemic, the vaccine race, and his quarantine routine.
Gates, who has been warning of a pandemic for years, told Hilary what he thinks of the testing going on in the US (“worthless“), why he’s confident we’ll get a vaccine, and why he doesn’t anticipate the novel coronavirus fading from view anytime soon.
Bill Gates: We will have a coronavirus vaccine, but the disease will keep coming back if there’s a US ‘leadership vacuum’
Weekly unemployment boosts set up in the early days of the pandemic are expiring officially today, and Congress still hasn’t finalised its next stimulus plan, Kimberly Leonard and Joseph Zeballos-Roig report from Capitol Hill.
Republicans officially unveiled their next stimulus plan this week, leaving Republicans and Democrats to fight over the details.
Included in what Republicans want: A student-loan plan that means millions of people could have to start making payments again.
Kimberly and Joseph also have the full list of what the parties are fighting over as they look to get the next plan out the door.
Fights over liability protections, unemployment benefits, and hazard pay are keeping Democrats and Republicans from reaching a deal on the next coronavirus stimulus
It seems a pandemic and an economic recession didn’t get in the way of financing for young healthcare companies.
Investors put $US18.1 billion into healthcare companies in the second quarter of 2020 alone, according to a report by CB Insights.
Blake Dodge has the list of firms that were the most active in digital health investing, which itself attracted $US5.8 billion in funding in the quarter.
And in the third quarter, funding for new companies doesn’t seem to have slowed down.
- Andrew reports on Flagship-founded Omega Therapeutics, which raised $US85 million this week. Flagship, the VC firm behind Moderna, is making a huge bet on the startup, which is taking an entirely new approach to using your DNA to fight diseases.
- Healthcare startup Ro on Monday said that it had raised an additional $US200 million, putting it at a $US1.5 billion valuation and landing it on our billion-dollar healthcare startups list.
- I spoke with Alexis Ohanian (Reddit cofounder and Serena Williams’ husband) on why he invested in the healthcare startup when it had just a founding team and a pitch deck.
Ohanian, if you recall, stepped down from Reddit’s board early in June, urging the company to fill his position with a Black candidate.
We spoke about how his approach to early-stage investing has changed since then. (Relatedly: Axios reported in June that Ohanian’s stepping away from Initialized Capital, the venture firm he cofounded in 2012 to focus on “pre-seed” investing).
Alexis Ohanian is rethinking how he invests in early companies after stepping down from Reddit’s board
A woman going through egg freezing got an $US18,000 charge that would have eaten up almost her entire fertility benefit
The past few months, I have been wading deep into the complicated realm of fertility benefits.
While it shares many of the same confusions as one might expect in medical and prescription benefits, there are certainly some quirks that took some getting used to, like the wrinkle that a large number of people going through processes like egg-freezing and in-vitro fertilisation have no insurance coverage and have to pay in cash.
The reason for the deep dive was a confusing receipt one woman got,charging her $US18,000 for fertility medications – triple what she’d expected. Even more confusing: She was using the pharmacy that was in-network with her insurer(a pharmacy that’s also owned by the insurer, I might add).
That round of medications alone would have wiped out nearly her entire $US20,000 fertility benefit, prompting the both of us to do some digging.
A 36-year-old woman got an $US18,000 charge for her fertility medications – and it reveals a disturbing problem for the US healthcare system
I’ll leave you with a quick update on Oak Street Health’s plans to become the second primary-care company to go public in 2020.
A revised copy of the company’s filing this week revealed it’s looking to price its initial public offering between $US15-$US17 a share, raising $US250 million at the midpoint of the range. At the midpoint, that values the company at $US3.5 billion.
I’m off next week, but I’m leaving you in the very capable hands of our healthcare team! To get daily email updates from them, sign up here. Be sure to reach them while I’m out at [email protected].