Peter Pellerito, a senior policy advisor with Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), spoke to Partners in Progress’ Board of Directors at their June 9th meeting. He spoke about drug development efforts in the fight against COVID-19, as well as how Moore County is poised to attract and recruit small pharmaceutical and medical-related companies to expand its medical-related industry cluster.
Pellerito is a Pinehurst resident who commutes to Washington, D.C., where he also serves as BIO’s federal/state economic development and technology transfer lead.
He said there are some 550 unique drug compounds being tested and developed around the world in the fight against COVID-19. These were launched in a just 20-week period from January – May. Over 50% of these drugs are being developed in the United States, followed by China at 39%.
These projects include studies of drug treatments, antivirals and vaccines. As of early June, 93% of drug treatments for COVID-19 were using redirected or repurposed drugs from other projects; however, approximately 97% of vaccines were newly developed.
“The timeline for a vaccine is more complicated and unknown territory. In part because you are dealing with the current virus but also any mutations that come out of it, either directly or indirectly,” Pellerito said.
He said small businesses are contributing up to 70% of the COVID-19 research effort. “They are very important for the communities where they are located and their assistance with hospitals and research centers. They are also a large part of our future. Small and merging companies coming into the effort can move quickly with their approach of how to attack this virus.”
He mentioned that Moore County’s own FirstHealth of the Carolinas is involved in a clinical trial initiated by the Mayo Clinic that will administer plasma donated from recovered COVID-19 patients to current patients showing severe symptoms.
Partners in Progress Executive Director Pat Corso asked if Moore County is favorably positioned to expand its medical industry cluster as part of its economic development efforts.
“I am very optimistic for Moore County,” Pellerito said. “You have FirstHealth, an outstanding healthcare institution with great patient care and clinical trials. I was struck not only by the number of them but the diversity of them.”
He also noted Moore County benefits from its proximity to Research Triangle Park, UNC and Duke University’s medical schools, and Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg.
“Technology doesn’t know borders. The quality of life in this community is such that it is an attractive place for families and attractive for healthcare companies,” he added. He mentioned that the area of bioinformatics could be a target for recruitment.
“Identifying where the quality of effort is being placed and finding out where Moore fits in the mix is important, and I think it has the potential to grow.”