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Op-ed: Local life science industry contributions to COVID-19 response

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the country, Washington is making progress toward recovery. Our state was ground zero for the first confirmed case in the US, but quick action from our elected leaders, front-line healthcare responders, and everyday citizens turned what could have been desperate scenario into a national model for concerted public health response. Already we have seen a flattening of the infection curve in Washington state. The determination of all Washingtonians to confront the coronavirus threat in a united front opens the possibility for recuperation, an economic revival, and hope for a cure.

Biopharmaceutical companies in our state and across the country have been deploying their top scientists to speed the discovery and development of treatments and vaccines. A Seattle-based company with expertise in tracking human immunity, Adaptive Biotechnologies, has partnered with Amgen nationally to analyze and identify the immune response of patients who have already recovered from COVID-19 – in hopes that naturally generated antibodies can be turned into drugs to either protect recipients or treat patients actively battling the virus. Our company has also helped others working to rapidly advance new therapeutic and diagnostic options for this disease.

In the spirit of shared purpose, therapeutic and vaccine developers are sharing key findings from clinical trials in real time with governments and other companies to enhance our understanding of COVID-19 and potential therapies, and hopefully to accelerate a cure. Companies are also ramping up manufacturing capabilities and working with government agencies as well as global partners to meet unprecedented capacity requirements.  Just-Evotec Biologics, another Seattle-based company, is deploying their know-how and innovation in protein manufacturing to help produce COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines as rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible.

To put these efforts in perspective, it typically takes years to gather essential data and research, undergo trials, and ultimately develop a single dose of a new vaccine or therapeutic. That innovation must then be mass produced for shipment to millions of people around the world. In concert with the Federal government, the scientific knowledge base that powers America’s biopharmaceutical industry has pivoted to focus on finding a solution to COVID-19 – working to turn a years-long process into something potentially achievable in a matter of months.

But this commitment to research, development, and collaboration isn’t the only focus of local life science industry partners. A commitment to our state and the communities struggling under this new normal remains a top priority. Companies are working to maintain efficiency in their supply chains to ensure patients won’t see any disruption in regular medication or other treatment needs. They are also encouraging employees that are licensed healthcare professionals to volunteer at hospitals and testing centers. Companies are providing financial support and donations to organizations and patient groups to bolster food service supports in vulnerable communities, fill educational gaps, and provide for other essential needs that are unmet amidst the crisis.

Every Washingtonian, and industry sector, has an important role to play in solving the challenge of COVID-19. The life science community is stepping up in this historic moment not only to provide the resources and expertise needed to find a cure, but also to address day-to-day needs. While challenging, this moment highlights an enduring American capacity for empathy, collaboration, and new discovery. Lasting partnerships between therapeutic innovators, the government, essential workers, and the healthcare community will form the foundation for a better future.

Dirk Smith is a Founding Partner of the Cascadia Drug Development Group.


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