Biogen’s CEO, chief financial officer, and head of research and development were among those at a corporate meeting last week attended by eight people who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and the company said it has taken aggressive steps to prevent other employees from falling ill.
The executives — Michel Vounatsos, Jeff Capello, and Alfred Sandrock — attended the annual meeting, according to people familiar with the matter. Biogen on Friday confirmed their attendance at the meeting.
The company said the individuals known to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are currently “doing well, improving and under the care of their healthcare providers.” It added, “Protecting our employees and our communities is our priority.”
All of the approximately 175 meeting attendees, with or without flu-like symptoms, have been directed to work from home for two weeks. The company said it was asking all “office-based Biogen employees and contractors” in Massachusetts, Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Baar, Switzerland, to work from home until further notice, and “restricting travel” through the end of the month.
In a statement Friday night, Biogen said meeting attendees who are symptomatic would be contacted by public health authorities to be tested, if they haven’t already, and “must quarantine themselves.” They also have been asked to stay isolated from family members or others they live with, “and these close contacts must also be quarantined until further notice,” the statement said.
Attendees without symptoms also have been asked to quarantine themselves until further notice and have the people they live with work from home.
“We recognize that this is a difficult situation for our colleagues and their loved ones,” the statement said.
Biogen, based in Cambridge, Mass., is one of the first biotechnology companies ever founded. It has about 7,800 employees and annual sales of $14 billion, thanks to treatments for multiple sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy, a rare neurological disease. A drug it has been developing for Alzheimer’s is one of the most-watched, and controversial, medicines in development.
The meeting, held Feb. 26-27 at a Marriott hotel in Boston, has so far been linked with eight cases of Covid-19 overall, five of them in Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe, making it among the larger U.S. coronavirus clusters reported to date. The meeting was an annual gathering of executives at the vice president level or higher to discuss the company’s strategy.
On Friday, health officials were in the process of testing people who attended the gathering. Many had traveled to Boston for the event from outside Massachusetts, including Europe.
Vounatsos and other Biogen executives attended a health care investor conference in downtown Boston sponsored by the investment bank Cowen on Monday, March 2, just days after Biogen’s senior leadership meeting. Biogen has been in contact with Cowen about the potential coronavirus exposure, a Cowen representative confirmed to STAT.
The Cowen representative said the company was told by Biogen that none of the Biogen executives present, including Vounatsos, have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transmission from asymptomatic people is not thought to be the main way the novel coronavirus spreads.