New Member Briefing Highlights Life Changing Contributions by CA Life Sciences Industry
.The California Biotechnology Foundation hosted a New Member Briefing legislative webinar last month along with Senate President pro Tem Atkins, Speaker Rendon and Assembly Speaker pro Tem Mullin to educate legislators and staff about the life science industry’s history, economic benefits, and life-saving treatments and cures happening here in California. Participants heard from life science experts and healthcare advocates about a range of topics such as COVID-19 therapies, policy and life science healthcare outcomes, the costs of chronic diseases and other vital issues. The briefing was a tremendous success with participation from legislators and staff at the local, state and federal level.
Some of the highlights from the briefing include:
Panel 1: What is Biotechnology and Life Sciences and what does it mean to California?
Collins Jones, PhD of Biotech Primer and Joe Panetta, President and CEO of Biocom California discussed how the life sciences industry has evolved over the last 20 years growing to 15,341 life science establishments in California, including research, wholesale, manufacturing, and medical and diagnostic equipment. The life science industry creates more than $327 billion dollars in economic activity for the state and provides 1,415,804 direct and indirect jobs to Californians.
Panel 2: Cost of COVID-19 on chronic disease.
Featuring Gersham Dent, PhD, MBA, Senior Director of Clinical Imaging, Clinical Sciences at Biogen; Christian Ramers, MD, MPH, AAHIVS at Family Health Centers of San Diego; and Jamie Mignano, PhD, RN, Senior Director at Gilead FOCUS, this panel underscored that chronic diseases and conditions which existed before the COVID-19 pandemic are still ever-present and COVID has exacerbated these illnesses.
Conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS were highlighted as examples. While companies are getting close to newer generation treatments for Alzheimer’s, the last medicine approved for the incapacitating disease was in 2003. Panelists also discussed lifesaving therapies for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, which up until recently had few viable treatment options. With the life sciences industry leading the way, testing and treating these chronic diseases are much more accessible and are improving patients’ quality of life substantially. We need to support more research, innovation, and infrastructure to someday prevent these diseases that are catastrophic to public health.
The panel also centered on the Gilead FOCUS program, aiming to reduce stigma around Hepatitis C and HIV and work with healthcare providers to get people tested. Since the pandemic, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing has been down 40 percent. Before the pandemic hit, there had been increased STIs rates for the past five years and now health officials are not sure of the current situation since regular testing has dramatically decreased. Gilead FOCUS is working with local governments to provide public health guidelines and recommendations.
California is leading the way for developing therapies that change people’s lives and innovative treatments for Alzheimer’s, HIV and other conditions that impact public health and the economy. Continued funding of these research programs and the infrastructure necessary to implement treatment is essential to help manage these ongoing crises.
Panel 3: COVID-19 vaccine development.
This panel showcased scientific experts on the front lines of COVID-19 vaccine development including Judith Absalon, MD, MPH, FIDSA, Senior Medical Director, Vaccine Clinical Research & Development at Pfizer and Kate E. Broderick, PhD, Senior Vice President, Research & Development at Inovio Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Absalon offered insight into the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer, its mRNA vaccine technology and the many years of research behind this type of vaccine technology.
In the mRNA vaccine, there is no “live” virus and the vaccine carries genetic information to the cells which reproduce the protein and help our bodies to defend against COVID-19. Pfizer developed the vaccine quickly including a historically diverse clinical trial thanks to new trial designs and collaboration with regulatory authorities around the world. Dr. Broderick explained how San Diego-based Inovio is developing DNA technology to be used in their COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine produced by Inovio will not need to be refrigerated and can keep for up to a month. This will be critical in vaccinating parts of the world where refrigeration is not easily accessible.