By Powerscourt on 26/08/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 26 August 2020
The breakneck speed of coronavirus drug development has created a gold rush, with biopharma companies and their investors pouring money into vaccine and therapy development. While this has obvious benefits for scientific innovation, it always brought a heightened risk that the impartiality and rigour that should underpin drug development could be compromised by politics.
The extent to which this is now happening is becoming clear around the world.
The head of the US Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn, has been forced to withdraw an earlier claim that blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as a therapy had provided a dramatic benefit to Covid-19 patients in clinical trials.
On Sunday night at a press conference with President Donald Trump, Commissioner Hahn said that blood plasma from survivors given to new patients could save huge numbers of lives. By Tuesday Hahn, who spent Monday under fire from scientists, effectively did a U-turn and said he had overstated the benefits.
Scientists are warning that this is the worst example they have seen of the supposedly impartial FDA being influenced by President Trump anxiety to project global scientific leadership for the US ahead of the November 3 election.
Separately the Financial Times has reported that the lobbying body for European vaccine makers, Vaccines Europe, has pushed the European Union to indemnify itself from the risks that the accelerated timetable of drug development could lead to problems.
The speed of roll-out means it is impossible generate the volume of data that clinical trials would provide in “normal” times and that drug-makers need some legal protection in the event of problems after approval. The story will do little to calm the fears of those who worry that vaccines are being rushed without proper safety checks, for political expediency.
In another embarrassing U-turn for the British government, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dropped a previous refusal to issue guidance against the wearing of face masks for schoolchildren. The Prime Minister’s advice comes days before most children return to school for the first time in six months, and amid high levels of anxiety from parents and teachers. South Korea has recently forced schools back online after a worrying spike in infection rates in Seoul.
In lockdown areas such as Greater Manchester, where restrictions are in place to stop the spread of the virus, wearing face coverings will become mandatory in school corridors where social distancing is difficult. In other areas headteachers will have discretion over whether to require face masks, but the government will no longer advise against their use, government sources told The Guardian.
As managing coronavirus becomes part of daily life in the advanced world, there are increasing signs that controlling the virus in rural and poorer areas is more challenging.
In the US coronavirus infection numbers are now on the way down in most of the worst-hit states. But the Wall Street Journal reports on a surprising trend: infections are rising or declining more slowly in rural areas. In the last two weeks, eight of the 10 counties in Illinois with the fastest rates of new Covid-19 cases per capita were in rural counties, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile in India, which is close to overtaking the US and Brazil as the world’s most infected nation, over half of new cases are coming from rural areas.
Global stocks held largely steady overnight as markets anticipate the comments of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, at the upcoming Jackson Hole conference on Thursday.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
American Airlines has said it will cut 19,000 jobs at the beginning of October as a result of its reduced flight schedule during the coronavirus pandemic and the expiration of federal aid.
Virgin Atlantic’s trade creditors voted on Tuesday in favour of a 1.2 billion pound rescue plan.“Today, Virgin Atlantic has reached a significant milestone in safeguarding its future, securing the overwhelming support of all four creditor classes, including 99% support from trade creditors who voted in favour of the plan. Achieving this milestone puts Virgin Atlantic in a position to rebuild its balance sheet, restore customer confidence and welcome passengers back to the skies as soon as they are ready to travel.” a spokeswoman said.
Russian gold miner Polymetal doubled its dividend after gold and silver prices rallied in the first half of the year. It reported adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation rose 53 per cent to $616m, in line with analysts’ expectations. Revenue rose by 21 per cent to $1.1bn. Polymetal said it would pay a first-half dividend of 40 cents a share and there had been “no material Covid-19 outbreaks” at its operations.
Retail & Consumer
Just Eat Takeaway
Just Eat Takeaway announced that it had entered into a definitive agreement to acquire 100% of the shares of Grubhub Inc. in an all-share combination. This is subject to shareholder approval in accordance with regulatory requirements.
7digital, provider of B2B end-to-end digital music solutions, announced that it has partnered with eMusic to launch eMusicLive, a first-of-its-kind livestream platform for the live music industry to stage virtual concerts. Tamir Koch, President of eMusic and Chairman of 7digital, said: “At eMusic, we believe in technology that creates sustainability, removing inefficiencies or providing new income streams for artists…Our unique partnership with 7digital will allow artists to generate income streams from music sales and interact seamlessly with fans from all corners of the world, which sets our new offering apart from anything else on the market today.
Financials & Real Estate
Manchester-based Co-operative Bank said it would reduce its workforce by 350 people and close 18 branches due to coronavirus-induced “economic uncertainty”. “Unfortunately, we’re not immune to the impact of recent events, with the historically low base rate affecting the income of all banks and a period of prolonged economic uncertainty ahead,” said chief executive Andrew Bester.
International law firm Linklaters will allow its more than 5,000 staff to work half the time remotely. Employees will be able to work outside their offices between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of the time, the firm said. Andrea Arosio, a partner at Linklaters and member of its people committee, said: “Our recent experience has demonstrated that, whilst we are a people-focused business and collaboration is key, remote working has worked remarkably well and we can deliver high-quality work whilst working remotely.
IN THE NEWS
Central bankers face virus hit to global economy at crisis forum – Financial Times
Covid-19 vaccine makers lobby EU for legal protection – Financial Times
Cambridge university aims for autumn trials of coronavirus vaccine after UK funding – Reuters
Coronavirus school rules: Temperature checks and no touching – The Times