In June – a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic – Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath took over as President and CEO of BIO, a global organization that represents biotech companies. McMurry-Heath, an immunologist whose resume includes both Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, describes the first months of her BIO tenure as “quite eventful.” But she says she’s energized by the way biotech flew into action.
Last week, she addressed scientists and industry leaders gathered for a virtual conference hosted by Life Sciences Pennsylvania. CSL Behring, with its global corporate headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, is a member. Here are three takeaways from McMurry-Heath’s remarks:
1. Scientists around the world are leaning into the highly complex puzzle that is COVID-19.
From the beginning, COVID-19 has been an elusive virus affecting various body systems and impacting patients in vastly different ways. Biotech companies responded with 720 potential medicines, including 180 vaccines, according to a tracker BIO created. Having 700+ drugs in development is a giant proof point that the industry can pivot in a critical time, McMurry-Heath said. Though she predicted COVID-19 vaccines won’t be widely available until spring 2021.
2. With emerging COVID-19 treatments, biotech leaders are taking a public stand in support of scientific integrity and against cutting corners.
An open letter organized by BIO – and signed by McMurry-Heath along with eight biotech CEOs – spelled out five principles that must be followed in the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. The requirements include transparency, independence, rigorous data-driven decisions and a refusal to be swayed by politics.
“We believe that public health, and the public’s trust in new medical products, are dependent upon the integrity, transparency and objective assessment of new data as they emerge,” the September 3 letter said.
3. In this critical moment, biotech can contribute mightily to public health and rewrite its own story.
Instead of concentrating primarily on lawmakers, McMurry-Heath believes biotech should take its story directly to the public. She wants to make the case for scientific innovation that benefits the many, not the few. Sharing a message about “access” to medicines often centers on what’s available today. But there’s another kind of access – access to the innovations of tomorrow, McMurry-Heath said.
“Science holds the key to most of the intractable issues we face,” she said. “We need to start a movement about science and improving lives.”