a16z Podcast

Uncontrolled Spread: Science, Policy, Institutions, Infrastructure

Scott Gottlieb, Vineeta Agarwala, Marc Andreessen, and Vijay Pande

Posted September 19, 2021

There’s no question technology played a huge role in the recent/current pandemic, including especially in the plug-and-play engineering and incredibly fast development behind the mRNA vaccines… But is there an even bigger role for the private sector, not just government, to play (and partner) when it comes to key infrastructure for future such emergencies, and even beyond?

Especially given how faulty the translation of institutional science to policy and public health measures turned out to be — for instance, with “6 feet” of social distancing, or with fomite (vs. aerosol) transmission of COVID. And why are we still talking about the same, not specific, vaccine booster for the Delta variant? What can we learn about real-world evidence, other clinical trial approaches, and progressive (vs. binary) EUA approvals when it comes to public health emergencies? Are capabilities like genomic surveillance and mapping strains — which require layers of technology, real time — sitting in the right places?

In this special book-launch episode of the a16z Podcast, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb — author of the upcoming new bookUncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us, and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic — shares insights on the above, and revealing stories from behind the scenes. Do we need a new entity to manage public health through a national security lens, and is the government capable? Gottlieb debates this and other probing questions from a16z co-founder Marc Andreessen (who famously wrote “It’s time to build“); a16z bio general partner Vineeta Agarwala MD, Phd (who has spoken about the trials of clinical trials, practiced medicine during the pandemic, and more); and founding a16z bio general partner Vijay Pande PhD (who, among other things, founded the distributed computing project Folding@Home which pivoted to COVID proteins).

One thing’s for sure — with this COVID crisis, we’re at an inflection point between old and new technology — whether it’s in how we make vaccines, or how we apply the fields of synthetic biology and genetic epidemiology in public health response. So now’s the time to look both backward, and forward, to really change things…