Innovation, Information, and Ingenuity Can Fight COVID-19

By Grace-Marie Turner

This article was originally published by the Galen Institute on March 20, 2020.

The coronavirus crisis has, in a few short months, reshaped our lives, the world economy, and our health sector in a way that seemed unimaginable before this lethal pathogen began sweeping the planet.

Recent reports warned we must prepare for a “pandemic that could last up to 18 months and include multiple waves of illness,” but that is static thinking.  The U.S. government, the states, American industries, and countries around the world are bringing the full force of their energies, ingenuity, and determination to defeating this killer.

While this is a frightening time in so many ways, innovation has demonstrated innumerable times throughout history justified confidence and faith in the “invisible hand,” from the private sector’s transformative power in winning World War II to putting out oil well fires in Kuwait after being sabotaged at the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Putting out the fires was expected to take years, with shocking damage to the atmosphere.  The task seemed herculean. Some reported that seeing the oilfield fires on the horizon was like watching a dozen setting suns.

Instead of years, it took just eight months to extinguish the fires.  The heroes were three companies from Texas—Red Adair Company, Wild Well Control and Boots & Coots—and Safety Boss of Calgary, Alberta, that created an army of 10,000 workers from 34 countries using 125,000 tons of heavy equipment.

Now, America’s research-based pharmaceutical industry is center stage in fighting this new threat.  With just 4% of global population, it funds 44% of world medical research and development, invests 75% of global medical capital, and holds the intellectual property rights for most new medicines, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Clinical trials already have begun for vaccines and drugs to actually treat the virus, first known in humans only in late 2019.

Companies are screening their vast global libraries of medicines to identify potential treatments and are exchanging findings with other researchers around the world.

Manufacturing capabilities are being expanded so they are ready to ramp up production once a successful medicine or vaccine is developed.  And they are donating supplies and medicines around the world to help those affected.

President Trump has directed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the use of drug therapies that might work against coronavirus, including an established anti-malarial drug.

The FDA is expanding the “compassionate use” of drugs that are tested and on the market but which aren’t licensed for this coronavirus.  It will allow them to be used in attempts to treat COVID-19.

“They’re already approved for other diseases,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said.

The president also has cited the promise of another drug, remdesivir, developed by California-based Gilead Sciences, and separate work from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals on alternatives.

Remdesivir was previously tested in humans with Ebola virus.  The National Institutes of Health earlier said the drug had “shown promise” in animal models for treating illnesses caused by other coronaviruses.

Now, the FDA has classified remdesivir as an investigational drug for treating COVID-19, and it is being tested in a randomized, controlled clinical trial at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, among other sites.  The first trial participant is an American who had contracted the disease on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Innovation, information, and ingenuity can solve this—and sooner than many of us now expect. We just need to do our part in containing the spread and keeping ourselves and families safe in the meantime.


Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a public policy research organization that she founded in 1995 to promote an informed debate over free-market ideas for health reform.