Earlier this month, as COVID-19 began to spread across the United States, three Biogen employees who attended an off-site corporate meeting at a hotel in Boston first tested positive for COVID-19, the virus caused by the novel coronavirus. There were about 175 people who attended the conference, the company confirmed. None of the first three live in Massachusetts but all had attended the management conference. Two of the employees were from Europe and the third was from Tennessee. That employee from Tennessee has been identified as Chris Baumgartner, who went public on Facebook, The Tennessean reported. Baumgartner is the vice president, East General Manager for Biogen. According to his LinkedIn profile, he joined the company in February after spending nearly two years as an area business director for Sage Therapeutics.
Following the reports of the first three cases, more Biogen employees began to test positive for COVID-19, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization last week. After 15 employees who attended the meeting were diagnosed with the virus, Biogen issued a work-from-home order to its employees in the Bay State, North Carolina and Switzerland. Several of those employees are known to have transported the virus from the conference back to their home states, including at least five in North Carolina, according to the News & Observer.
Biogen isn’t the only company to be impacted by COVID-19. Arie Belldegrun, the former head of Kite Pharma and current chairman of Allogene, announced he had been diagnosed with COVID-19, as has Cedric Francois, chief executive officer of Kentucky-based Apellis Pharmaceuticals.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts noted that more than half of its 179 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been tied to that Biogen meeting. On Monday, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company announced it was donating $10 million to support global response efforts and communities around the world impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Biogen said the funds will be used to address immediate critical needs, with the majority of donations going to support non-profit organizations in the U.S., including Massachusetts and North Carolina. A portion of the funds will also be used in Italy and other countries that have been hard-hit by the virus. The $10 million donation is on top of a previous donation made by Biogen China to the Red Cross Society of China. Biogen said the funds from the donation will be used to expand testing options, ease the strain on medical systems, provide training for front line health workers and support access to necessities like food.
“We are deeply affected by the impact of COVID-19 globally and we understand the critical importance of access to testing and other materials to support healthcare providers,” Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos said in a statement. “It is vital that we act immediately to support those who are on the front lines caring for the health and well-being in all communities affected around the world. Our hope is that this commitment will support these courageous organizations, and the vulnerable, during this unprecedented time.”
In addition to the $10 million donation, Biogen has also provided medical equipment and supplies to Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts, to help diagnose COVID-19 in a greater number of people.