Not surprisingly, vaccine rollout and distribution was a major focus on the second day of the 39th annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference. But the day’s sessions touched on several other themes of major import to medical marketers, including the growth of telehealth and pipeline assets beyond the much-touted vaccine realm.

While Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talked COVID vaccines during his Tuesday presentation, he stressed that vaccines in general are a “fascinating” area of focus for the company right now. He touted several others in the Pfizer pipeline, among them a pneumococcal vaccine currently in Phase II and a Clostridium difficile vaccine. The company is also working on developing a much-awaited Lyme disease vaccine.

“We are working on a portfolio of vaccines that don’t exist right now, [and we want to be] the first,” Bourla said.

Bourla described Pfizer’s non-vaccine pipeline as “very rich,” pointing to promising treatments within the realms of oncology and rare diseases. He also described drug pricing – somewhat backburnered amid the pandemic – as a “unanimous concern” throughout the industry, though he didn’t offer any concrete examples on how it could be addressed.

“We have arrived in a situation that needs reform,” Bourla said. “The No. 1 priority for healthcare reform is to reduce the out-of-pocket cost for patients. Everybody should contribute to that. But this is a must because it’s not a sustainable situation – and this is the fundamental base of why things are so tense right now in the healthcare section.”

Elsewhere at JPM on Tuesday, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson weighed in on his company’s Monday acquisition of Kymab for up to $1.5 billion. The deal, which cements Sanofi’s position as an immunotherapy leader, gives the company access to the antibody therapy known as KY1005, which is being developed to treat inflammatory issues and immune diseases. 

Hudson said the acquisition helps Sanofi “really press home and become an A-leading company in immunology… It shows how focused we are in M&A, where there’s low marginal cost but more importantly, where we can bring home breakthrough science and partnership and get it done for the benefit of patients.”

Sanofi bought Dutch biotech company Kiadis, which also focuses on immunotherapy in cancer treatment, last year. It acquired Principia Biopharma in August 2020.

As for Tuesday’s keynote address, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt, who served from March 2015 to January 2017, shared his predictions for the Biden administration’s healthcare focus – as well as his pointed thoughts on lagging COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

He identified health equity as a major focus for Biden, especially in the areas of racial justice and mental health. He added that he expects to see increases in the National Institutes for Health budget, which he noted has been under-funded.

Slavitt described vaccine distribution as “not… great so far, to be blunt.” Specifically, he noted his disappointment with distribution priority.

“We have 24-year-old dental students taking the vaccine who are at no risk of being hospitalized, and then we have hospitals that are full and we have people that are at higher risk who haven’t been vaccinated yet,” Slavitt said. “Some of that is because there is so much room left for the states. There’s a need for rules to be a bit clearer.”

Finally, CVS Health EVP Karen Lynch touted the company’s telemedicine surge, noting that 40 times more people accessed its virtual care during the pandemic. She noted the rollout of the company’s virtual care offering includes e-clinic capabilities for nurse practitioners to have face-to-face interactions with customers as well as virtual pharmacist and behavioral health visits.