In a recent blog, we wrote about Johnson & Johnson and Gilead, two companies leading the race to find an effective treatment or vaccine against the coronavirus, which has now infected more than 5.3 million people worldwide. This race is truly global, and governments are backing the scientific community in its efforts to develop both effective, scalable treatments and a safe and tested vaccine.
As well as holding J&J and Gilead, we own at least another 12 companies involved in the battle with COVID-19. These companies operate in a range of sub-sectors of the healthcare industry, including medical devices, genome sequencing, biological engineering and neuroscience. Today, we take a closer look at what three of these companies are doing to help combat the virus.
Throughout the pandemic, there has been an urgent demand globally for personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators. The whole premise behind ‘flattening the curve’ is to ensure that hospitals are not overrun with patients filling intensive care units (ICUs), as there simply are not enough ventilators available.
Boston Scientific Corporation has several initiatives underway to support the medical community in its fight against the virus. The company has worked with the University of Minnesota Bakken Medical Device Centre and industry collaborators to bring an emergency resuscitator named the Coventor to market, which can be used as an alternative when traditional ventilators are not available. Following FDA authorisation in mid-April 2020, the company is manufacturing an initial supply of Coventors, with plans to scale up production as needed. The company is leveraging its supply chain capacity to help enable increased global production of transportable ventilators.
Figure 1: The Coventor Emergency Resuscitator
Boston Scientific is also addressing PPE shortages among healthcare workers by producing face shields across several sites, through a collaboration with the non-profit GetUsPPE.org and the plastic packaging company Prent Corporation. Boston Scientific employees assembled and donated one million face shields for healthcare providers and will continue with this initiative while there is a need. Working with an international coalition of medical experts, clinicians and industry leaders, they designed the Pneumask Face Shield, an FDA-authorised device which combines a full-face snorkelling mask and a Boston Scientific custom-moulded adapter that wearers can attach to a medical-grade air filter. The Pneumasks will be donated to hospitals across the U.S., and design details for the adapter mould will be available for continued production by other manufacturers.
Illumina Inc is a firm that specialises in genome sequencing. Recently the company announced the Illumina SARS-CoV-2 Data Toolkit, a new suite of data analysis tools and workflow functionality for researchers using next generation sequencing (NGS) in working on the virus. The toolkit makes it easier for researchers to detect and identify the SARS-CoV-2 viral sequence in their samples, and contribute their findings to critical public databases. Illumina is making the toolkit available at no cost to the global research community in support of efforts to combat the pandemic.
Regeneron, a leading U.S. biotechnology company, has announced important advances in the COVID-19 antibody program. The company has identified hundreds of virus-neutralising antibodies, and initiated large-scale manufacturing in mid-April with antibody cocktail therapy. This has the potential to enter human clinical studies by early northern summer.
This program is in addition to Regeneron’s separate ongoing clinical program evaluating Kevzara® (sarilumab, an IL-6 receptor antibody). Regeneron and Sanofi said on 16 March 2020 they had started a Phase 2/3 trial testing Kevzara as a treatment for patients who have been hospitalised with severe COVID-19 infections. The FDA approved Kevzara, a treatment developed by Regeneron and Sanofi as a therapy for rheumatoid arthritis in 2017. The aim is to evaluate if the drug lessens patient fevers and their need for supplemental oxygen.
Figure 2: Kevzara® (sarilumab)
While COVID-19 is having a devastating effect on the global economy, there are inevitably some industry sectors that will perform better than others. The healthcare sector clearly has a critical role to play in the global response, and, to the extent that it succeeds in combating the virus, it has the potential to fall into the category of outperformers.
For investors seeking to gain exposure to the above companies, and other global leaders in the health care sector, BetaShares offers the Global Healthcare ETF – Currency Hedged (ASX: DRUG). Find our more here.