In the first two months of 2020, COVID-19, the novel Wuhan coronavirus (previously known as 2019-nCoV), has dominated the news. At the time of writing, there are over 45,000 confirmed cases worldwide and over 1100 deaths (you can see the latest estimates here). While about 99% of cases are confined to mainland China, cases have been recorded in several other countries. These include the US and here in Canada.
In the era of fake news, the outbreak has sparked international panic among travelers and has created several conspiracy theories. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a “myth busters” resource to help the public navigate the myths and information overload surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus. Additionally, the outbreak has also unleashed a wave of anti-Asian racism.
Open Data-sharing and Collaboration
On the flip side, in an unusual move, scientists are openly sharing their data, leading to speedier development of diagnostics. Moreover, CBC reports that, in order to stay on top of the rapidly breaking science, some journals have agreed to send copies of research papers to WHO before publication, with the authors’ permission. Considering how competitive academia can be, this showcases how big of a potential threat scientists consider COVID-19. It also has people asking why we do not practice this type of open collaboration at all times.
Additionally, the emergence of COVID-19 has mobilized multiple Pharma and biotech companies worldwide. In the last couple of months, several companies have announced that they are working on a vaccine. Nonetheless, it is still too early to tell whether an effective vaccine will become available in time. An article in Science Magazine speculates that by the time a vaccine proves its worth in a clinical trial and manufacturers scale up production, it may be too late to make a significant dent in the course of the epidemic.
COVID-19 Travel Restrictions and Other Considerations
The risk of contracting COVID-19 is currently low outside of China, with the flu being a much more immediate threat. However, that does not mean that we are not feeling the effects. Retail sales are down significantly due to enforced quarantines and Chinese shoppers choosing to stay home. Air travel, vacation packages, and tours are also suffering, both within and outside of China. Pharma teams working in Asia may be experiencing uncertainty in travel plans due to cancellations or visa restrictions. Physicians and investigators may not be able to attend international conferences.
This outbreak serves as a good reminder that travel plans can change in the blink of an eye. It also highlights that we need to be flexible, agile, and innovative in our approaches to both drug R&D and stakeholder meetings.