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Editor’s take – Health care and life sciences: The ‘new normal’ for health care, rising COVID-19 cases and the race for treatments

The reading habits of SmartBrief's health care and life sciences audiences provide a unique window into the priorities and interests of professionals across these industries, and our newsletter engagement data also sheds light on what's keeping our readers up at night. We serve health care insurers, providers and IT professionals, as well as audiences in pharma and medtech. Here's what was top of mind for all of them in Q2, as well as a look at what's next.

The race for treatments

In the second quarter of 2020, more companies and universities entered the race for a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, with at least 10 companies and institutions in Phase I or II/III and many more in the preclinical phase. The Trump administration is still deciding which vaccines it will back with financial support, with AstraZeneca and partner the University of Oxford, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Sanofi already gaining funding from the US government.

The COVID-19 vaccine candidate being developed by AstraZeneca has probably progressed the furthest, and it is followed closely by Moderna's candidate. Moderna has launched an early-stage trial for its vaccine while Inovio has also initiated a Phase I study for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

As far as treatments, some drugs appear to limit the severity or length of COVID-19 symptoms, but more research is needed before clinical recommendations can be made. Meanwhile, Gilead Sciences recently announced positive results from a clinical trial of its antiviral drug remdesivir in patients with COVID-19.

What’s next: The development pipeline for COVID-19 includes at least 161 candidate treatments and vaccines, and the NIH has said it will work with 16 pharmaceutical firms to expedite development. The administration's Operation Warp Speed initiative has zeroed in on development of 14 promising COVID-19 vaccines, and they hope that three or four will make it through the end of the testing process. Large-scale clinical trials planned for this month are expected to test about half a dozen of the most promising vaccine candidates in an effort to validate one by year's end.

The second wave

As the life sciences industry continues the search for vaccines and treatments, a second wave of the pandemic looms on the horizon. At least 12 states have paused or rolled back plans to relax restrictions in hopes of containing a surge. Mortality rates rose by almost 50% in seven states, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci has warned against moving too quickly to reopen. Meanwhile, the WHO has extended its declaration that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to warrant a public health emergency of international concern. The organization warned countries to remain vigilant because "the virus is still spreading fast, it is still deadly and most people are still susceptible," according to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

What’s next:  CDC Director Robert Redfield has said a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections in the winter would be more devastating than the first wave because it would coincide with flu season. Additionally, the novel coronavirus initially detected last year in Wuhan, China, appears to have mutated to become more contagious, with the newer form becoming the dominant strain by the end of March. The Trump administration predicted a steady increase in new COVID-19 cases and deaths in the weeks after states reopen, and one model predicts the disease could kill nearly 135,000 Americans through the start of August, due in part to relaxed restrictions.

The new normal for health care

While COVID-19 remains top of mind, health care organizations and regulatory authorities are beginning to look toward life post-pandemic. Experts say the country's public health system, and its ability to identify people with COVID-19 and prevent them from infecting others, will be key to getting schools and businesses back to normal. Three changes to the US health care system that are linked to the pandemic but likely to continue afterward include greater use of telehealth, increased concern over the future of primary care, and less emphasis on hospital care.

The Trump administration has unveiled guidance for private insurers clarifying coverage requirements included in two coronavirus relief packages. Under the legislation, commercial health insurers must provide free access to coronavirus testing as well as to in-person and telehealth COVID-19 care, and the CMS said this mandate will extend to antibody testing once it is more widely available. The CMS has also increased reimbursement rates for audio-only telemedicine to match those for in-person visits.

What’s next: WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus has emphasized that the world cannot return to the way things were before the pandemic and there needs to be a "new normal." Health care leaders expect their post-pandemic world will be permanently changed, with the greater reliance on remote work and remote care technology becoming the norm. Humana CEO Bruce Broussard has said the health care system and care delivery will be very different post-pandemic, and he expects a continued rise in the use of telehealth, as well as in health care services being performed at home, rather than in hospital settings. Regulators appear to be on board with these changes as well, and the CMS’ annual Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program rule is expected to permanently expand reimbursement for telehealth services. Among the negative consequences, the pandemic has amplified existing emotional distress and burnout among US health care providers, and experts expect the effects will remain long after the crisis has faded.

More top trends

Check out a snapshot of more top health care and life sciences stories from Q2 below.

April Hollis is custom content editor for health care and life sciences content at SmartBrief. She edits life sciences newsletters and oversees development of content marketing pieces for SmartBrief’s health care and life sciences clients.

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This feature reflects the most read items across SmartBrief's health care and life sciences publications. Check out all of SmartBrief’s newsletters in these spaces to get news like this delivered straight to your inbox. Also, be sure to check out opportunities to reach SmartBrief's readers with your own content and solutions.