Biogen conference likely linked to 'tens of thousands' of COVID-19 cases, researchers say

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Biogen's management meeting in Boston in February led to COVID-19 cases around the U.S. and world. (Biogen)

It’s been some months since Biogen’s February management conference has been in the news, but as the pandemic drags on, researchers are now linking the early “superspreading event” with tens of thousands of cases in the U.S.—if not more.

The company's February management conference has been connected to cases in numerous states and countries, and now researchers say it’s associated with about 20,000 cases in the Boston area alone, the Boston Globe reports.

For their work, the researchers identified two specific COVID-19 mutations associated with cases among conference attendees. The team then sequenced virus genomes of 772 COVID-19 patients in the Boston area and found the conference-associated mutations in 289 of them, including 122 people at homeless shelters. 

The work hasn’t been peer reviewed, but one researcher involved in it told the Boston Globe he’s “confident that the scale for measuring this event is in the tens of thousands.” That estimate is an extrapolation from the study examining genomes in less than 800 patients.

Further, the mutations have been found in 3% of the U.S. cases that have been sequenced, The Washington Post reports, indicating the event eventually led to cases hundreds or thousands of miles away. 

Because the conference took place early in the pandemic, the “superspreading event likely had an outsized effect,” the researchers wrote in their paper. After the conference, “extensive spread within the Boston area likely then contributed to the rise in frequency of C2416T and C26233T [mutations] in the United States and worldwide," they added.

RELATED: With meeting case count rising above 70, Biogen tells attendees to prep for quarantine, isolate from loved ones 

A Biogen spokesperson told the Post the company complied with health guidelines when it held the conference. Further, the February event took place “when general knowledge about the coronavirus was limited,” and the company informed experts as soon as it was aware of the outbreak.

“We never would have knowingly put anyone at risk,” the spokeswoman added, as quoted by the Post.

Biogen’s February conference dominated headlines early in the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, but since the event, the company has also chipped into the fight against the pandemic. Biogen committed $10 million to pandemic relief efforts, and many recovered employees have given blood to a “biobank” to help researchers learn more about the virus.

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