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Biotech Leader Argues Industry Is ‘Essential’ Under Coronavirus Shutdown

Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development, stands in ...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development, stands in a lab at Inovio Pharmaceuticals in San Diego's Sorrento Valley, Jan. 23, 2020.

Biotechnology companies in California were not explicitly included on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s list of essential businesses when he issued a stay-at-home order last week. But some industry leaders think that should change.

Companies that are focused on developing a coronavirus vaccine, health care equipment and providing critical health products are still working under the order. But, Joe Panetta, CEO of the industry group Biocom, said it’s still not clear which biotechs are considered essential.

"We don’t have any clear and specific language yet from the state of California as to how many of our various types of biotech companies can be allowing our companies to work during this time," said Panetta.

Reported by Shaline Chatlani , Video by Roland Lizarondo

And that’s an issue, he said, because many of those companies will have to halt clinical trials if they close down.

"There are companies that are developing products in the long-term that will contribute to ensuring that people stay healthy," Panetta said. "So we believe we not only need a short-term approach but a long-term approach to keep our companies developing [products]."

Panetta said the definition of essential businesses with regard to biotechnology companies should be much broader.

Health officials have been asking essential business employers to create opportunities for workers to practice social distancing and stay safe.

Some concern has already emerged in the media about how that can happen with biotechnology companies. For example, a Wall Street Journal article two weeks ago highlighted the Boston-based company Biogen.

A strategy meeting among executives from the company is thought to be the source of a number of coronavirus cases there. Though since then, public messaging and rules around COVID-19 have grown much more serious.

"We sent out a broad email to all of our members a couple days ago to point them to our coronavirus resource center that contains all the precautions they should taking," Panetta said.

In the meantime, Panetta said Biocom is also working with member companies to contribute their personal protective equipment like masks and gloves to healthcare facilities across the state.

"One of our companies up in the bay area was able to provide about 1,500 masks," Panetta said.

And he said biotech companies will be sharing much more.

Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

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Photo of Shalina Chatlani

Shalina Chatlani
Science and Technology Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover all things science and technology — from the biotech industry in San Diego to rooftop solar energy on new homes. I'm interested in covering the human side of science and technology, like barriers to entry for people of color or gender equity issues on biotech boards.

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