Report traces coronavirus outbreak in several states to fateful Biogen meeting

April 13, 2020

New details have emerged about the Biogen company meeting in Boston that became what epidemiologists are calling a “super spreader” event.

In late February, the Massachusetts-based biotech held its annual leadership meeting with about 175 attendees, including executives from Europe, at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston. Although many companies were already canceling in-person meetings, there were fewer than 100 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. at the time and Biogen went ahead with its plans. Unbeknownst to the attendees, the meeting, which included a buffet dinner and cocktails, had become the perfect breeding ground for spreading the virus. After it was over, the attendees returned to their homes around the U.S. and EU, many of which brought coronavirus with them. 

According to the New York Times report, officials now estimate that about 100 Biogen employees, including two top executives, fell ill because of the leadership meeting. Several became “patient zero” in their home states. It is now believed that the first cases of coronavirus in Tennessee and Indiana (along with some of the earliest cases in North Carolina) can be traced back to the Biogen meeting.

One employee, who was already showing symptoms, also traveled back to China with her husband and son, and reportedly lied to Air China officials about being sick. After arriving in Beijing, Chinese authorities reported that she was being investigated for “obstructing the prevention of infectious diseases,” and could face jail time. (Biogen later cut ties with the employee.) 

All of the Biogen employees sickened from the meeting have reportedly recovered, but it is unclear what the impact of the meeting has been on the wider public.

Like many major pharma companies, Biogen is now also looking at becoming a part of the solution to the coronavirus and is partnering with Vir Technology to develop and manufacture potential antibody treatments for COVID-19. 

Read the full New York Times report.