Welcome back to part two of our conversation with Joe Von Rickenbach, chairman of ZAGENO’s board of directors.
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I want to switch gears slightly to be more focused on the industry we serve - life science - because in 36 years as the CEO of PAREXEL, you oversaw more than 40 mergers and acquisitions with contract research organizations to regulatory services for pharma manufacturers and others, I'm sure. It's clearly given you a very broad view of life science as an industry and so I had some questions related to this.
How do you believe the life science industry is working together right now to combat COVID-19 through discovering therapies and eventually, vaccines?
This is a golden moment for biopharma because the entire world depends on vaccines being developed and therapies being developed.
Well, it’s a question for where you draw the lines around the life sciences industry. But, let's say biopharma. This is a golden moment for biopharma because the entire world depends on vaccines being developed and therapies being developed.
So people, by the way, believe, once we have a vaccine, we're home free, we're not. And more and more evidence shows that, in fact, this is more like a flu. So, we may have to get vaccinated every year and people will still get this. And, the point is basically, we also need therapies for the people who will still continue to get sick.
And so for biopharma, this is a golden opportunity to improve its image. Remember they were, from a popularity point of view, less popular than the tobacco industry, which takes some doing. And I'd have to say, on the whole, they have done a great job or we have done a great job, because obviously, we're also part of this.
The industry has really pulled together; the fact that we have half a dozen vaccines there were legitimate hopes that we have a vaccine by the end of the year, let's say early next year, which is unbelievable. Usually it takes absolutely years to get to this point. And so this takes a huge amount of coordination.
The governments had to be involved and coordinate and the whole supply chain has to basically fall into place because of manufacturing, logistics, and so on… everybody has to basically be a part of that.
And as you may have seen, you know, these deals that have now been cut by the government, in the United States with these manufacturers. Essentially, companies are prepared to offer these vaccines essentially at cost, which I think is great.
And, by the way, it's of course no surprise that the investments that are flowing into biotech are going through the roof. I mean, it's this complete boom out there it's incredible, actually.
You spoke about supply chain, which forecasts my next question.
Can you address the production and supply chain challenge of an eventual vaccine? And what would you like to see in that rollout; what will be an indicator that this is going well?
I think what we will see by mid fall, let's say November, December timeframe... I think we will have enough evidence with two or three products that show basically efficacy and safety.
And so the question then is what will happen next? So that's a big view because until that point, until we have the data that basically provides evidence that a product can be effective we have to just wait but then things really, roll.
And so, at that point, I think the FDA would have to review the data on a totally expedited basis. I think this could take weeks by the way, maybe a month or two, not more. And they will then approve the product. Upon approval we still don't have the number of doses that are necessary to vaccinate the population, but you probably have hundreds of thousands.
So, the first question is who is going to get those? This will be essential people in other words it would be central people in government, essential people in the military, essential people in the CDC task force but chances are, it's not going to be you and me at that point. But in the interim and I suspect already, now, a number of deals have been cut in the supply chain.
So, for instance, Moderna has a deal with Lonza, and the big pharma companies, meaning Glaxo, where all these potential manufacturers for vaccines work, basically to get their supply chains in-line and aligned. And so, I suspect that by the first quarter of next year, we will have hundreds of millions of doses.
And I think what then will happen is that you have to go down the tiers of society that is most at risk but I'm sure we will get CDC direction. Remember that the government now is paying for this, basically. They will direct the rollout of these vaccination programs.
By the way an interesting factoid on the side is that 51% of the population, as of the most recent one surveys, say they wouldn't want to be vaccinated even if a vaccine would be available, which is a little scary because a vaccine normally works if you have about 70% of the population, minimally vaccinated.
You gave us a really good layout of the tier one recipients of an eventual vaccine and the rationale behind that. And I think you touched on this, but I want to be very precise in hearing your advice about what stakeholders in life science must do to address access and affordability.
Well, this basically has already happened and the way it has happened is that the government has cut financial deals with each prospective manufacturer of the vaccine. And actually Moderna was the last one.
And actually, I did a little back of the envelope exercise to calculate, on a per dose basis, how much this would cost, meaning per inoculation per person. And it's actually fairly reasonable.
We're talking about 350 million inhabitants in the U S alone. So, to make a long story short, the range of (vaccine) pricing that I came up with was roughly in the order of five bucks on the low side and about 23 bucks on the high side. So that's, that's pretty reasonable.
...the range of (Vaccine) pricing that I came up with was roughly in the order of five bucks on the low side and about 23 bucks on the high side. So that's, that's pretty reasonable.
And these deals are already cut. So, unless there's some charlatan out there coming up with something that people basically buy, I don't really see a danger of profiteering.
We've talked a lot about the unexpected occurrences that happen in life and can really scare people. It can destroy certain business models - you talked earlier about restaurants or barber shops. There's a lot of anxiety that has come from this and that perhaps will be with us for some time to come.
Do you remain optimistic about the years to come?
I am, actually. I think one of the biggest takeaways from the crisis discussions is when you're in the crisis you basically believe this will ever end. It's going to be absolutely terrible, this is the big one, this one is different… And the truth is, as a society, we have come through worse. Think about World War II, or, the Spanish Flu, where millions of people died. And yes, it's a hundred years ago, but it was no less bad for the people living then.
...we have come through worse. Think about World War II, or, the Spanish Flu, where millions of people died. And yes, it's a hundred years ago, but it was no less bad for the people living then.Not only do I believe that we will come through it, as bad as it may seem right at the moment, I think we will lead the world, eventually yet, again.
I always quote Warren Buffett. His fundamental mantra is basically never bet against America. So, basically we will come through this. Not only do I believe that we will come through it, as bad as it may seem right at the moment, I think we will lead the world, eventually yet, again.
I have a lot of confidence in that, but I'm willing to bet on that actually, literally. I'm literally willing to invest. I am investing.
Joe, this has been a fascinating conversation. I always learn so much from our discussions. I hope to speak with you again soon . Thank you very much for joining us, today.
Hey, it was a pleasure. Really appreciate the opportunity and always nice to talk to you, Greg.