Dispensed: J&J speeds up its vaccine timeline — A $100 billion plan to save healthcare coverage — The go-to telemedicine startup

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Hello,

Welcome to Dispensed, Business Insider’s weekly healthcare newsletter.

I have some news – I’m now a healthcare editor! I’ll be helping our senior editor Zach Tracer out with edits as we grow our healthcare team, which includes Kimberly Leonard, Andrew Dunn, and Blake Dodge.

(I’m still learning how to juggle the new role, hence the late-day edition of Dispensed!)

Speaking of growing – we’re hiring another healthcare reporter! They will take on a lot of the reporting I was responsible for, that is, the changing ways Americans are getting their healthcare.

Know someone who’d be great? Send them my way! Think you’d be great for it? Let’s chat! Here’s the listing.

Are you new to the newsletter? You can sign up here.

First off this week, I wanted to make sure you all saw the conversation on race, diversity, and leadership that biotech CEOs had this Thursday. I wrote about some of the comments from biotech vets Dr. Ted Love and Dr. Tony Coles here, which got quite personal. You can watch the full hourlong conversation here.

Inside a $US100 billion plan to save health insurance coverage for laid off Americans

When Kimberly wasn’t busy digging up the testing plans for 8 states, she’s been looking into an idea that’s been gaining steam among lawmakers.

Quickly: Most Americans get their health insurance via their employers. When they’re laid off (as was the case for millions of Americans in the wake of the pandemic), the employees can continue to buy into the health insurance they had at the company under a program known as COBRA.

Coverage is expensive though, because the employees have to cover the full cost of their health insurance – their former employer isn’t subsidizing the bulk of the costs any more.

Now, members of Congress are getting behind a plan to cover much of the costs of those health insurance plans – a plan that would cost $US100 billion.

You can read the full story here:

How a $US100 billion plan to buy expensive health insurance for laid off workers won backing from big companies, hospitals, and unions, and became a bipartisan priority in Washington

VaccineREUTERS/James Akena

J&J’s vaccine trial is starting 2 months ahead of schedule

It was (unsurprisingly) a busy week in the race to develop treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus. Things kicked off on Sunday when Bloomberg News reported on a potential merger between drugmakers AstraZeneca and Gilead Sciences (two key players in the push to make coronavirus vaccines and treatments).

Andrew has the story on what Wall Street analysts think about the potential deal – especially the doubts they have that it’d actually happen.

On Monday, Andrew had the scoop that President Donald Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui had pulled out of the Biotechnology Innovation Organisation’s annual conference. It would have been his first public appearance since joining as the head of the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed.”

Trials for new antibody drugs are underway, with Regeneron kicking off its human trials on Thursday. Should those treatments succeed, they could be ready by the fall.

Speaking of trials, Blake has a story on the move to “virtual” drug research in the wake of the pandemic. Pharma giants are finding ways to conduct trials that don’t have to take place in doctor’s offices – subbing in video chats and phone calls instead.

You can read the full story on virtual drug trials here.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot: It’s still only been months since we found out about the novel coronavirus, and researchers are still learning so much about it. Andrew reports on the “blind spots” Microsoft and the Seattle biotech Adaptive Biotechnologies are finding, which could make for good vaccine targets down the line.

And eventually, we’re going to have to figure out how much these vaccines cost. On Tuesday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said at a Goldman Sachs healthcare conference that he won’t charge a high price for a coronavirus vaccine.

“That will be unethical, I think,” Bourla said.

In the meantime, Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday bumped up its coronavirus vaccine schedule by two months, aiming to have it start human trials in July. Andrew spoke to J&J’s chief scientific officer about the challenges facing the drugmaker – and its rivals – when it comes to making an effective coronavirus vaccine.

You can read the full story here:

The top scientist at the world’s biggest healthcare company told us the top challenge facing J&J and rivals racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine

Brandon WelchDoxy.meDr. Brandon Welch, cofounder and CEO of Doxy.me.

Meet Doxy.me, a bootstrapped startup that’s become the go-to for online doctor visits

This week, Blake reported on Doxy.me, a telemedicine startup that offers free accounts that doctors can use to conduct video visits with their patients. The startup quickly became a favourite among doctors in the early days of March as the pandemic was hitting the US and in-person doctor visits were cancelled.

She has the story of how the company – pronounced “doc see me” – went from a school project to signing on 620,000 healthcare providers in a matter of months, all while operating out of cofounder and CEO Brandon Welch’s house in Charleston, South Carolina.

A counter-example is Bright.md, which raised $US16.7 million in the middle of the pandemic! Blake got an exclusive look at the startup’s pitch deck, which you can read through here.

As someone who’s been following along with the rise of telemedicine, especially for more established companies like Teladoc, a publicly traded company, or Amwell, which CNBC reports has confidentially filed to go public, I’ll be curious to see how Doxy.me’s approach competes, especially while shying away from outside capital.

You can read about the full wild ride here:

A little-known telehealth startup became a lifeline for doctors during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how it went from a school project to adding more than half a million healthcare workers from the cofounder’s home.

Health insurance startups 4x3Clover Health; Bright Health; Oscar Health; Olivia Reaney/Business Insider

Here’s how health insurance startups fared in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic

This week, I finally had a chance to round up the first-quarter 2020 financials for the health insurance startups Oscar Health, Clover Health, Bright Health, Alignment Healthcare, and Devoted Health.

While big insurers unequivocally had a profitable first quarter as hospitals called off elective procedures in the early days of the pandemic, the startups’ results were more of a mixed bag, with three reporting profits and two posting losses in the first quarter.

Devoted Health’s filings also had some clues about where it might be headed in 2021.

You can read the full story here:

We just got our first look at how healthcare startups like Oscar and Clover fared as the coronavirus pandemic hit the US

A programming note: Business Insider is off next Friday in commemoration of Juneteenth, so you won’t be getting a Dispensed from me next Friday.

In the meantime, you can find me at [email protected], or you can reach the entire team at [email protected]. Have a great weekend!

– Lydia

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