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This photo taken on February 20, 2020 shows doctors looking at a lung CT image at a hospital in Yunmeng county, Xiaogan city, in China’s central Hubei province.
On Tuesday the number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide hit 80,370, with more than 2,700 worldwide, raising concerns that the outbreak has reached a new stage and could continue its global spread.
But why is it that the health sector is so woefully unprepared to respond to an infectious disease outbreak?
It is understandable that this is a novel strain of coronavirus that has suddenly appeared, and various physical characteristics of the virus itself make it difficult to develop a timely treatment. It may take a year or more to develop a vaccine, and at that time it may no longer be effective due to mutations of the virus.
The biotechnology industry has rapidly grown over the last few years, garnering $19 billion in venture capital in 2019, with $37 billion in acquisitions, according to PitchBook, giving rise to numerous and well-publicized successes, particularly in the area of cancer therapy, such as CAR-T immunotherapy.
But investment in infectious diseases is a far different story. According to Statista, in 2018 venture investments in infectious-disease companies plummeted to a mere $372 million, down from almost $1 billion the previous year, while oncology venture investments soared to $4.43 billion.
As one of the co-founders of BioAegis Therapeutics, a private clinical-stage biotechnology company involved in inflammation and infectious disease, I have a unique perspective on why health organizations are so ill-prepared to deal with infectious-disease outbreaks.