Biodefense in times of Corona

It all started in China – since then the Corona virus has developed from epidemic to a pandemic. Despite many measures to contain the virus and the current research efforts in finding a vaccine, panic is spreading in the affected countries. Is the concern of the citizens justified or are the epidemic plans of the authorities sufficient?

Corona – From epidemic to pandemic

Stolen disinfectants from ICE toilets, sold-out mouth protections and empty supermarket shelves. Unfortunately, this means everyday life in Germany at the moment. Not an hour goes by without a new article on the Corona virus. Almost three months ago, the virus was only available in the Chinese province of Wuhan. Since then, however, the regional problem has become a global one. Iran, Northern Italy and the East of South Korea are having to struggle massively with the spread of the virus. According to the WHO, the number of countries with cases of coronavirus infection has almost quadrupled from 29 to 118. Now we have a global number of around 121.000 people infected (Status: 11.03.2020) within the last weeks. This indicates the World Health Organization‘s reluctance to categorize the current outbreak as pandemic rather than epidemic might crumble. The increasing spread of the pathogen is not only caused by its very virulent nature, but it is also the consequence of a globalized society. National strategies which are primarily based on prevention and lack a suitable vaccine or therapeutic can only contain an epidemic to a limited degree.

Map of Corona infections worldwide
© Johns Hopkins University & Medicine

Difficulties in the search for a Corona vaccine

The development of a vaccine is urgent and it is still unclear when it will be available. According to experts, the research will still take several months. The urgency of a suitable medicine is also shown by the current situation in Germany. In the meantime, there is an increase in the number of cases of infection across all federal states to currently approx. 1296 (as of 11.03.2020). While the Ministry of Health declares Germany to be well prepared and the Robert Koch Institute assesses the dangerous situation as moderate, panic and hysteria are nevertheless spreading among the citizens. 

Nevertheless, doctors are increasingly confident that existing antiviral drugs could be remodified to be used for the treatment of already infected people. The People’s Republic of China, for example, is counting on Favilavir from Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceuticals, which will undergo clinical trials in April 2020. Another promising drug is Remsdesivir from Gilead Sciences, which was previously used to treat Ebola- and Marburg-virus infections. A series of clinical tests are still required to ensure the efficacy and safety of the substance when used by humans. These testing phases of any new antiviral and antibacterial drug usually account for the majority of the cost and time involved in the development of pharmaceuticals and can amount to years.

Limited opportunities to fight the Corona virus at government level

National governments are currently not afraid to take drastic measures, such as isolation or imposing a national emergency. Curfews and the quarantine of entire cities are a reminder of Milan’s draconian measures against the plague in the 14th century. The entire city was completely sealed off to protect the population and people suspected of being infected were walled in alive in their homes. Governments are trying to prepare themselves accordingly and prevent a large-scale outbreak by implementing pandemic plans. To this end, international hubs are currently being increasingly controlled or in some cases closed, medical personnel and the population are being trained in handling the virus and risk groups are being protected.

National governments have limited opportunities

Are the epidemic plans for of the state authorities sufficient?

The market research project of Clevis Research in the global biodefense sector has shown how different strategies at government level can be. There are still massive discrepancies at the state level concerning epidemic control and biological hazard prevention. This is shown in one of our current analyses of the European and U.S. biodefense sector market. Historically, changes in the stocking of specific antiviral and antibiotic agents have been anticipated by precedents. For example, the anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001 triggered a massive, worldwide increase in antivirals. This led to the expansion of government measures and subsequently to the strengthening of the American biodefense sector. Having maintained this sector, the United States is likely the best-equipped country against biological threats in the world and dominates the pharmaceutical market. Besides, periodic outbreaks of animal diseases and influenza-epidemics have resulted in the stockpiling and development of vaccines worldwide. Similarly, the avian flu in 2005 and swine flu in 2009 led to government contracts worth billions for the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Stockpiling during epidemics

The events of past cases of flu seemed almost forgotten. But the current situation is bringing them back to the minds of states and governments. So Business as Usual? Not quite. Even if stockpiling measures can be taken preventively and retroactively, Germany has historically avoided any significant stockpiling. Large-scale epidemics of infectious diseases have been infrequent. That’s why there has been no reason for strategic stockpiling from a German perspective. Besides, there are blurrily defined responsibilities between federal and state authorities. Any attempt of concerted efforts had so far been hindered by this conflict, regardless of the current supply of suitable drugs against the coronavirus.

In-Depth Analyses by Clevis Research

By identifying such deficits, the political debate on stockpiling can be intensified – especially in times of the coronavirus epidemic. These in-depth analyses of highly specialized but at the same time socially and economically relevant markets enable us as Clevis Research to identify opportunities in niche markets early on and to develop strategies for our clients. This, in turn, enables us to generate a better understanding of the needs of the players involved and, consequently, to ensure the best possible access to the market.

by Tim Leister

Clevis Research is a market research and advisory boutique. We support clients to pursue global business development opportunities and spark new growth.


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2 Kommentare
  1. Yuan Liao
    Yuan Liao sagte:

    One of the best articles about the current situation. Because the spread of the new coronavirus was about two months earlier in Asia than in Europe, do you think it ’s a good idea for in-Depth analyses to take the experiences from Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and South Korea etc. into consideration?

    • CLR_nAdmin@
      CLR_nAdmin@ sagte:

      Dear Mr. Liao,
      thank you for your feedback! I certainly think the experiences of the East Asian countries require an in-depth discussion and a comparison with Western approaches. As we highlighted in this article, stockpiling of either sanitary material or vaccines – if available – would mitigate the crises in the West. Since no vaccine had been available, the West has been pursuing strategies of lockdowns of public life – and it works to some extent. Compare this to the experience in at least Taiwan and South Korea, where the government has been much more effective at targeting and isolating infected citizens to prevent a great epidemic. To project their approaches onto the West, however, one has to keep in mind the technological diffusion and surveillance capacities in East Asian countries, on the one hand, and the lessons learned from previous epidemics such as SARS on the other. As a result, the governments of South Korea and Taiwan were excelling at testing large quantities of their population, which the West is not even able to. Lastly, if any country should have been prepared for this crisis in the West, it is the United States. Considering the vast resources spent on the biodefense sector and its strategic stockpile after the anthrax attacks, their response has been slow and weak. Despite their vast resources allocated to the preparedness and response to biological threats, the U.S. American strategy, if there is any, has been weak. It shows how, in the end, government and a public healthcare system are the deciding factors determining the effectiveness of the response, especially when disbanding key institutions that would have facilitated a state-wide strategy.
      Best, Tim Leister


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