- Faced with the quickening spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S., large drugmakers Eli Lilly, Biogen and Takeda are asking their employees to practice "social distancing" and work from home if possible, a significant step aimed at lessening the risk of exposure among workforces numbering in the tens of thousands.
- Biogen is currently dealing with an outbreak of the virus among employees who attended a conference in late February. Nearly two dozen have been confirmed to be infected with the virus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, and one of those individuals later went to a meeting held in Boston by the investment bank Cowen & Co. earlier this month.
- Other pharmaceutical companies reached by BioPharma Dive for comment, including Merck & Co. and Sanofi, said they were monitoring the situation closely and working to ensure the safety of their employees. As of Monday morning, more than 500 Americans have been treated for coronavirus infection, according to a database maintained by the New York Times.
Large drugmakers like Lilly and Takeda employ thousands of office workers, as well as sizable numbers of laboratory and manufacturing staff whose jobs can't be accomplished remotely.
The decision by both companies to encourage remote work among those who can is designed to minimize the infection risk to employees who develop and produce the drugs on which their businesses run.
"We have a unique responsibility to ensure continuity in our manufacturing facilities and R&D labs," a spokesperson for Lilly wrote in a statement to BioPharma Dive.
"By minimizing staff in our offices, we are reducing risk of inadvertent transmission to workers who don't have the option of continuing to do their important work from home."
Lilly employs about 11,000 staff in Indianapolis, some 15,000 in the U.S., and nearly 34,000 globally. The new work-from-home policy applies to employees who work at the drugmaker's U.S. facilities.
The company last week said it does not anticipate shortages for any of its medicines, including insulin made at sites in the U.S. and Europe.
A spokesperson for Takeda, meanwhile, said the company's goal "is to reduce the number of people at our sites, which in turn will reduce the risk of exposure for the employees working from home as well as those who must come into the office."
Takeda, Lilly and other companies like Bristol Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Vertex have also limited travel, a move that's become more common among major public companies as the virus has now spread to over 100 countries.
The threat to companies from SARS-CoV-2 was vividly on display this past weekend as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed 23 infections among attendees at a Biogen employee conference in late February.
Executives at Biogen were also at that meeting, reportedly including CEO Michel Vounatsos, CFO Jeffrey Capello and chief medical officer Al Sandrock, according to STAT.
A spokesperson for the company said in a statement to BioPharma Dive "all executives who were at the meeting have been continuing to perform all their duties throughout this whole period (but working remotely) and still are."
Most Biogen employees are also working from home, while the company has restricted laboratory access to essential personnel operations only, the spokesperson said.
Bristol Myers Squibb and Vertex, meanwhile, are encouraging some employees to work from home, although their policies are less sweeping than those implemented by Lilly and Takeda.
BioPharma Dive has reached out to other drugmakers for comment and will update this story accordingly.