APS’ View of the Horizon

April 7, 2020

The 17th century English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller is credited as the first person to use this statement in print. It is found in Book 3 of his religious travelogue A Pisgah-sight of Palestine and the Confines Thereof, published in 1650.  I feel the reality of these words is particularly appropriate for our circumstances today.

On Sunday, April 5, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that this week would be “the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”  That is certainly a very dark statement, and quite likely true as U.S. officials anticipated that this would be America’s most difficult week yet in the coronavirus crisis as the number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise unabated. 

Although there may still be some weeks of darkness in the United States, I firmly believe the dawn of a new day will arrive.  There are some rays of sunshine that I believe will burst forth from below the horizon in the next couple of weeks.  Here are just a few:

Treatments for sick people:  There are several promising antiviral treatments under study.   On Friday, March 20, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a large global trial called SOLIDARITY to focus on what it says are the four most promising antiviral therapies:   

  • an experimental Ebola compound called remdesivir
  • the malaria medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine
  • a combination of two HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir
  • that same combination plus an interferon-beta

On March 29, the FDA fast-tracked approval for New York to conduct a large-scale 1,100 patient clinical trial using chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine in combination with a Z-Pak.  Results should be known within the next week. 

More than 45 countries are participating in the study.  If just one of these four is effective, it’s a game changer that can reduce deaths and shorten hospital stays. If the length of a hospital stay is cut in half, it’s like doubling the number of available beds. 

In addition to the antivirals, testing by more than 30 institutions nationwide is being advanced for the use of convalescent plasma, a therapy that has existed for more than 100 years.  The blood of recovered coronavirus patients contains antibodies that can be transfused into sick patients with the hope that the antibodies will replicate and help that patient recover. 

The success of any one of these would be a significant brightening of the horizon!

A vaccine for healthy people: The most rapid development of a vaccine in history was completed by Cambridge-based biotech firm Moderna.   On January 11, 2020, the Chinese authorities shared with the world the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus. Two days later, Moderna’s infectious disease research team finalized the sequence for the vaccine and by February 7, the first clinical batch was manufactured. A soft pastel glow on the horizon.

After analytical testing, on February 24, the clinical batch was shipped from Moderna to the NIH for use in their Phase1 clinical study…just 42 days after sequencing the vaccine!  On March 6, the first of 45 healthy adult participants had been dosed. The glow increases.

Most of our Merck clients are familiar with the drill: Phase 2 and then Phase 3. Moderna is already manufacturing the doses for the Phase 2 trials which could begin in a few months.  If the data then looks really good during Phase 3, it is not inconceivable that some of our greatest risk frontline healthcare workers may enjoy the sunlight of a vaccination in less than 9months, based on individual risk/benefit assessments.

Lockdowns and Social Distancing:  The various “shelter-in-place” and social distancing orders have been effective in slowing the daily rate of new cases in the US and globally.  In the past 2 weeks, the daily rate of new cases has dropped from 30% to 8% in the US, and from 10% to 6% globally. More rays penetrating the darkness.

Antibody testing:  A simple finger-prick blood test can determine if someone has been exposed to COVID-19 and recovered, perhaps with no symptoms at all.  Access to testing for antibodies as well as the virus is expanding rapidly.  Confirmation of antibodies would likely indicate immunity, and radically shape how we decide who gets to leave home and return to work to restart the economic engine of the United States.

Stock Market Recovery:  On Monday, April 6, the S&P 500 Index (the market) climbed sharply by 7%, extending its gains to 19% in just 2 weeks since the recent low on Monday, March 23.  For perspective: although the market is still down 21% from its all-time high on February 19, as of market close on April 5, the market is still up 18% since January, 2017.  If, or when, the market recovers the previous high, that would represent a gain of an additional 27%.  Even if this took 3 years, think what the average annual return would be.  That’s Bear Market Math revisited.

I believe that the information that I have shared above should provide optimism to look expectantly at the horizon for the rising sun of a hopefully glorious new day!

Sincerely,

Richard J. Volpe, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®

Founder and President