After 'superspreader' meeting, recovered Biogen employees give blood to aid coronavirus research

Boston Marriott Long Wharf
The Marriott Long Wharf in Boston hosted Biogen's late-February meeting. (Marriott International)

Early in the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, Biogen’s February meeting in Boston played a central role in spreading the virus in Massachusetts and beyond. Now that many employees have recovered, they’re donating blood samples to a “biobank" to help researchers learn more about the virus.

In conjunction with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Biogen employees, family members and close contacts will be able to donate blood samples and share other medical info.

That'll provide scientists with de-identified info to advance vaccine and drug development, Biogen says.

The patients have had a common exposure to the virus, and researchers say that could provide more info about why some patients are symptomatic and others are asymptomatic. They're also among the first in Massachusetts to recover from confirmed infections.  

The pandemic “has had a very direct, very personal impact on our Biogen community,” Biogen’s chief medical officer Maha Radhakrishnan said in a statement. The company is “uniquely positioned to contribute to advancing COVID-19 science in an organized and deliberate way so we can all gain a better understanding of this virus,” she added. 

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

Just as COVID-19 started spreading within the U.S., Biogen hosted a meeting of about 170 managers in Boston. Afterward, dozens became sick. Many traveled back to their home states or to Europe, playing a role in outbreaks elsewhere.

Aside from contributing to dozens of early cases in Massachusetts, employees carried infections to six states, the District of Columbia., and three countries, the New York Times reported Sunday.

SPECIAL REPORT: The top 20 pharma companies by 2019 revenue

One Biogen employee, Tennessee’s self-described “patient-zero,” discussed his experience in a Facebook post. After traveling back to his hometown and being diagnosed, he said he saw “hysteria” and “human kindness at its very best.” 

"Inside us all lies the ability to decide how we choose to deal with the fear of the unknown, how we decide determines whether fear wins out or humanity shines through,” he wrote. “We are so grateful to be surrounded by a community who chose the latter.” 

RELATED: Tennessee's 'patient zero,' a Biogen employee, comes forward to discuss 'hysteria' and 'human kindness at its very best' 

Another Biogen employee's post-meeting situation wasn’t as heartwarming. After the confab, a woman surnamed Li traveled to Beijing, where she has been put under investigation for “obstructing the prevention of infectious diseases,” NYT reports. That offense is reportedly punishable by up to seven years in prison. 

Aside from Li, other Biogen employees who attended the meeting have returned to work, a spokesman told the Times.  

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