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Trump Meets Top Pharma Execs; Excited about Work-in-Progress

March 3, 2020 (EIRNS)—President Donald Trump met with top pharmaceutical executives yesterday, which, he had said on Feb. 28, was aimed to pressure the industry to bring drug prices “way down,” suggesting that it had only later morphed into a “convenient” opportunity to discuss the development of a coronavirus vaccine with pharmaceutical executives from Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer.

Lev Facher writes in STAT magazine March 2 that the meeting showed a striking shift in Trump’s view of the pharmaceutical industry. After years of slamming drug companies’ “ripoff” prices, Trump appeared stunned by the executives’ progress reports, Facher writes.

Tony Fauci, Director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, interrupted at one point, saying “A year to a year and a half,” is how much time it would take to deploy an effective vaccine to large populations.

The President kept coming back to timing, and the executives told the him that for both therapies and vaccines, companies could begin early testing within months, with the aim of reaching the market in a year’s time.

“It was: Tell us how fast you can go, but let’s keep safety in mind, and let’s make sure we create something manufacturable,” Dan Menichella, CEO of CureVac said. The company, headquartered in Germany and Boston, uses messenger RNA to produce effective antibodies inside patients’ bodies to prevent infection. CureVac expects to start testing its coronavirus vaccine in healthy volunteers by June, then go to further trials if the injection proves safe.

Fauci and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar interrupted to caution that most therapies and vaccines were not ready, but Trump remained excited. Fueling Trump’s optimism, when the President questioned them, company representatives often labored to differentiate between projections for bringing drugs to late-stage trials and bringing them to market, so much so that Fauci became a de facto referee, STAT reports. The President “got it,” and at one point responded to Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna with the clarification: “You won’t have a vaccine—you’ll have a vaccine to go into testing.” But referring to Regeneron’s CEO Leonard Schleifer, Trump said, “But Lenny is talking about two months. I mean, I like the sound of a couple of months better.” Azar interjected, however, that Schleifer’s aggressive projection was for a Phase I trial, not a market-ready vaccine.

In a press briefing on their meeting later yesterday, Vice-President Mike Pence acknowledged that confirmed community spread of novel coronavirus is happening in limited areas in California and Washington State. Azar said that federal officials had spoken with state counterparts about strategies to mitigate contagion, including potential suspending of school. Pence also said American authorities would begin screening passengers coming from Korea and Italy.

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