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Looming Price-Hikes On Food Set To Hit Americans Even Harder This Fall

Looming Price-Hikes On Food Set To Hit Americans Even Harder This Fall

Authored by Kevin Stocklin via The Epoch Times,

In its effort to contain inflation,…

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Looming Price-Hikes On Food Set To Hit Americans Even Harder This Fall

Authored by Kevin Stocklin via The Epoch Times,

In its effort to contain inflation, the Federal Reserve has launched what many expect to be an ongoing series of interest rate increases, which are already taking a toll on stock and housing markets, with job losses likely to follow. As weary as Americans have become from paying record high gas and grocery prices, however, another round of price hikes is making its way through the food supply chain and is expected to reach consumers this fall.

“People don’t realize what’s fixing to hit them,” said Texas farmer Lynn “Bugsy” Allen.

“They think it’s tough right now, you give it until October. Food prices are going to double.”

The 8.8 percent increase in food prices that Americans have already seen does not take into account the dramatic cost increases that farmers are now experiencing. This is because farmers pay their costs upfront and only recoup them at the point of sale, months later.

“Usually, what we see on the farm, the consumer doesn’t see for another 18 months,” said John Chester, a Tennessee farmer of corn, wheat, and soybeans. But with the severity of these cost increases, consumers could feel the effects much sooner, particularly if weather becomes a factor.

Lorenda Overman, a North Carolina farmer who raises hogs and grows corn, soybeans, and sweet potatoes, said the spike in fuel costs has put her farm into the red this year. “Nothing that consumers are paying is going to bridge the gap for farmers right now,” she said. “The prices now have not hit the grocery stores yet,” but she expects they will start to by the end of summer.

Much of the cost of food hinges on the price of oil.

“They have no electric trucks delivering that food and there are no electric tractors,” Allen said.

“It takes diesel to run all this.”

Chester said that fuel and fertilizer together make up 55 percent of his total costs. The price of diesel fuel has more than doubled, from $2.50 per gallon at the end of 2020 to more than $5 per gallon today. Farmers say the cost of fertilizer, an oil derivative, has tripled and in some cases quadrupled.

“When you look at the machinery that uses diesel, it’s farm equipment, it’s railroads, and it’s truckers,” said Daniel Turner, Executive Director of Power the Future, an energy advocacy group. Diesel “moves all of our goods, it grows our food. From cargo ships arriving from overseas to trucks or trains getting those goods across the country. All those things now have added costs that will get sent to the consumer.”

“That surge in food and energy costs is very demand destructive for U.S. households,” said Joseph Lavorgna, Chief Economist at Natixis, a European bank. “If you have to pay a lot more money for your food, to heat or cool your home, or put gasoline in your vehicle to get to work, there’s less money available elsewhere.” Price hikes in gas and food will leave Americans with less money to spend on other goods, which will reduce demand and have a knock-on effect on the wider economy.

Economic reports are indicating that Americans are already unable to keep up with inflation. Household savings fell to the lowest rate in 14 years, as people struggle to maintain their standard of living. Credit card debt is hitting record highs, and retailers say they are preparing for more consumers to limit their spending to the “bare-bones basics.”

While it is possible that Americans’ loss of spending power may help to reduce inflation, some economists fear a return of 1970s-era “stagflation,” rising prices coupled with economic stagnation and increasing unemployment. That period of inflation was ultimately tamed by the Fed raising interest rates to nearly 20 percent.

In contrast to the Carter-era energy crisis, which was sparked by an embargo from foreign oil producers at a time of declining American oil output, today’s energy shortages are largely the result of domestic U.S. government policies, as the Biden administration attempts to force Americans to switch from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and electric. This effort has included shutting down pipelines, suspending oil and gas leases, and putting up regulatory roadblocks—all of which has reduced new investment in American oil and gas production.

Last week, Biden stated that the spike in oil prices was “an incredible transition that is taking place that, God willing, when it’s over, we’ll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels.”

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said last week that rising oil prices were “an exclamation point” for the need to transition to wind and solar and “build homegrown clean energy.” Granholm previously stated that “if you drive an electric car, this would not be affecting you.”

With natural gas prices now hitting a 14-year high, Biden’s Department of Energy recently posted “a few tips on how you can prepare your home and office to safely navigate a blackout.”

Samantha Power, head of Biden’s Agency for International Development, said the solution to rising fertilizer prices is “natural solutions like manure and compost, and this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interest of farmers anyway. Never let a crisis go to waste.”

“That’s not the real world,” Overman said. “We are in the highest density for hog production in the nation and there’s not enough hog manure or turkey manure or chicken manure to fertilize our crops. We tried this fall to lock in some chicken and turkey litter to spread on our crops and there’s none to be had. There’s just not enough animals to produce the amount of fertilizer we need.”

“Energy is a very capital intensive business and we’re basically down to about half the level of cap-ex within energy that we had a couple years ago,” Lavorgna said. “A lot of that has to do with the fact that oil companies are not tone-deaf to what shareholders want, or more importantly what the regulators and politicians want.”

Gasoline prices are posted at a gas station in Washington on May 26, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s incredibly curious that of all [Biden’s] rhetoric, I have yet to hear anything along the lines of ‘we will do everything to increase production in America.’” Turner said.

“They are comfortable with the current state because of their green philosophy, and we’re just necessary casualties.”

Together with ruptures in global supply chains, oil and food prices are a key reason why many economists think the Fed will have a particularly hard time taming inflation. “There is a real risk the price [of gas] could reach $6 a gallon by August,” Natasha Kaneva, head of global oil and commodities research at JPMorgan Chase, told the press. “U.S. retail price could surge another 37% by August.”

The higher prices climb, the more aggressive the Fed will need to be to contain inflation.

“We think the risks are skewed towards a much more significant recession, as inflation proves more persistent than is generally expected … the moves from the Fed currently envisioned by markets will be too slow to restrain inflation,” stated economists from Deutsche Bank in a research report titled “Why the coming recession will be worse than expected.”

“A mild recession would be a relatively small increase in the unemployment rate,” Lavorgna said. “If, however, the Fed feels that it needs to compress demand further, then we are looking at a much deeper recession, with the unemployment rate perhaps doubling, if not more.”

One of the unique features of the current economic crisis is the extent to which it is driven by government actions, as opposed to a market failure. This includes trillions of dollars in federal spending to prop up an economy reeling from draconian government lockdowns that now appear to have had little success in containing the coronavirus. This spending was compounded by the Federal Reserve holding interest rates near zero while expanding its balance sheet to $9 trillion, flooding America with cash. These problems were then further exacerbated by the Biden administration’s re-regulating of the economy and its antipathy toward America’s fossil fuel industry, together with a western boycott of Russian oil and fertilizer exports following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Inflation is the result of too many dollars chasing too few goods, and, in this case, it has been a “perfect storm” on both sides of the equation. As the Fed works to cool demand by raising rates, some economists say the Biden administration must reverse the policies it has put in place that are undermining productivity and holding back supply.

“If you want to address the inflation problem, you do it through the painful way of Federal Reserve action and higher interest rates and borrowing costs,” said Jonathan Williams, Chief Economist at the American Legislative Exchange Council. But simultaneously, “you do it through the supply side, which reduces taxes and gets productivity back up across the United States.”

Given the federal government’s reluctance thus far to take the necessary steps, some states have stepped up with their own solutions, Williams said. Since March, four states—Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arizona—have gone from progressive income tax rates as high as 8 percent to flat tax rates in the range of 2–4 percent. North Carolina eliminated business income tax, and nine other states currently have no state income tax at all.

On May 17, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) and other GOP Republicans introduced the ONSHORE Act, which would give states the power to manage oil and gas production on federal lands within their borders. They simultaneously introduced the Lease Now Act, which would require the Department of Interior to resume the sale of oil and gas leases.

Asked what Biden could do to help farmers, Allen said “lower the fuel prices. It will save the middle-class people. It will help them when it comes to buying food.”

Tyler Durden Wed, 06/01/2022 - 16:20

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Gonorrhea became more drug resistant while attention was on COVID-19 – a molecular biologist explains the sexually transmitted superbug

The US currently has only one antibiotic available to treat gonorrhea – and it’s becoming less effective.

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The _Neisseria gonorrhoeae_ bacterium causes gonorrhea by infecting mucous membranes. Design Cells/iStock Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

COVID-19 has rightfully dominated infectious disease news since 2020. However, that doesn’t mean other infectious diseases took a break. In fact, U.S. rates of infection by gonorrhea have risen during the pandemic.

Unlike COVID-19, which is a new virus, gonorrhea is an ancient disease. The first known reports of gonorrhea date from China in 2600 BC, and the disease has plagued humans ever since. Gonorrhea has long been one of the most commonly reported bacterial infections in the U.S.. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which can infect mucous membranes in the genitals, rectum, throat and eyes.

Gonorrhea is typically transmitted by sexual contact. It is sometimes referred to as “the clap.”

Prior to the pandemic, there were around 1.6 million new gonorrhea infections each year. Over 50% of those cases involved strains of gonorrhea that had become unresponsive to treatment with at least one antibiotic.

In 2020, gonorrhea infections initially went down 30%, most likely due to pandemic lockdowns and social distancing. However, by the end of 2020 – the last year for which data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available – reported infections were up 10% from 2019.

It is unclear why infections went up even though some social distancing measures were still in place. But the CDC notes that reduced access to health care may have led to longer infections and more opportunity to spread the disease, and sexual activity may have increased when initial shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

As a molecular biologist, I have been studying bacteria and working to develop new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant infections for 20 years. Over that time, I’ve seen the problem of antibiotic resistance take on new urgency.

Gonorrhea, in particular, is a major public health concern, but there are concrete steps that people can take to prevent it from getting worse, and new antibiotics and vaccines may improve care in the future.

How to recognize gonorrhea

Around half of gonorrhea infections are asymptomatic and can only be detected through screening. Infected people without symptoms can unknowingly spread gonorrhea to others.

Typical early signs of symptomatic gonorrhea include a painful or burning sensation when peeing, vaginal or penal discharge, or anal itching, bleeding or discharge. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause blindness and infertility. Antibiotic treatment can cure most cases of gonorrhea as long as the infection is susceptible to at least one antibiotic.

There is currently only one recommended treatment for gonorrhea in the U.S. – an antibiotic called ceftriaxone – because the bacteria have become resistant to other antibiotics that were formerly effective against it. Seven different families of antibiotics have been used to treat gonorrhea in the past, but many strains are now resistant to one or more of these drugs.

The CDC tracks the emergence and spread of drug-resistant gonorrhea strains.

Why gonorrhea is on the rise

A few factors have contributed to the increase in infections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, most U.S. labs capable of testing for gonorrhea switched to testing for COVID-19. These labs have also been contending with the same shortages of staff and supplies that affect medical facilities across the country.

Many people have avoided clinics and hospitals during the pandemic, which has decreased opportunities to identify and treat gonorrhea infections before they spread. In fact, because of decreased screening over the past two and a half years, health care experts don’t know exactly how much antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has spread.

Also, early in the pandemic, many doctors prescribed antibiotics to COVID-19 patients even though antibiotics do not work on viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Improper use of antibiotics can contribute to greater drug resistance, so it is reasonable to suspect that this has happened with gonorrhea.

Overuse of antibiotics

Even prior to the pandemic, resistance to antibiotic treatment for bacterial infections was a growing problem. In the U.S., antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea infections increased by over 70% from 2017-2019.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a specialist at picking up new genes from other pathogens and from “commensal,” or helpful, bacteria. These helpful bacteria can also become antibiotic-resistant, providing more opportunities for the gonorrhea bacterium to acquire resistant genes.

Strains resistant to ceftriaxone have been observed in other countries, including Japan, Thailand, Australia and the U.K., raising the possibility that some gonorrhea infections may soon be completely untreatable.

Steps toward prevention

Currently, changes in behavior are among the best ways to limit overall gonorrhea infections – particularly safer sexual behavior and condom use.

However, additional efforts are needed to delay or prevent an era of untreatable gonorrhea.

Scientists can create new antibiotics that are effective against resistant strains; however, decreased investment in this research and development over the past 30 years has slowed the introduction of new antibiotics to a trickle. No new drugs to treat gonorrhea have been introduced since 2019, although two are in the final stage of clinical trials.

Vaccination against gonorrhea isn’t possible presently, but it could be in the future. Vaccines effective against the meningitis bacterium, a close relative of gonorrhea, can sometimes also provide protection against gonorrhea. This suggests that a gonorrhea vaccine should be achievable.

The World Health Organization has begun an initiative to reduce gonorrhea worldwide by 90% before 2030. This initiative aims to promote safe sexual practices, increase access to high-quality health care for sexually transmitted diseases and expand testing so that asymptomatic infections can be treated before they spread. The initiative is also advocating for increased research into vaccines and new antibiotics to treat gonorrhea.

Setbacks in fighting drug-resistant gonorrhea during the COVID-19 pandemic make these actions even more urgent.

Kenneth Keiler receives funding from NIH.

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Measuring the Ampleness of Reserves

Over the past fifteen years, reserves in the banking system have grown from tens of billions of dollars to several trillion dollars. This extraordinary…

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Over the past fifteen years, reserves in the banking system have grown from tens of billions of dollars to several trillion dollars. This extraordinary rise poses a natural question: Are the rates paid in the market for reserves still sensitive to changes in the quantity of reserves when aggregate reserve holdings are so large? In today’s post, we answer this question by estimating the slope of the reserve demand curve from 2010 to 2022, when reserves ranged from $1 trillion to $4 trillion.

What Are Reserves? And Why Do They Matter?

Banks hold accounts at the Federal Reserve where they keep cash balances called “reserves.” Reserves meet banks’ various needs, including making payments to other financial institutions and meeting regulatory requirements. Over the past fifteen years, reserves have grown enormously, from tens of billions of dollars in 2007 to $3 trillion today. The chart below shows the evolution of reserves in the U.S. banking system as a share of banks’ total assets from January 2010 through September 2022. The supply of reserves depends importantly on the actions of the Federal Reserve, which can increase or decrease the quantity of reserves by changing its securities holdings, as it did in response to the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 crisis.

Reserves Have Ranged from 8 to 19 Percent of Bank Assets from 2010 to 2022

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Federal Reserve Economic Data, FRED (“TLAACBW027SBOG”); authors’ calculations.

Why does the quantity of reserves matter? Because the “price” at which banks trade their reserve balances, which in turn depends importantly on the total amount of reserves in the system, is the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate targeted by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) in the implementation of monetary policy. In 2022, the FOMC stated that “over time, the Committee intends to maintain securities holdings in amounts needed to implement monetary policy efficiently and effectively in its ample reserves regime.” In this ample reserves regime, the Federal Reserve controls short-term interest rates mainly through the setting of administered rates, rather than by adjusting the supply of reserves each day as it did prior to 2008 (as discussed in this post). In today’s post, we describe a method to measure the sensitivity of interest rates to changes in the quantity of reserves that can serve as a useful indicator of whether the level of reserves is ample.

The Demand for Reserves Informs Us about Rate Sensitivity to Reserve Shocks

To assess whether the level of reserves is ample, one needs to first understand the demand for reserves. Banks borrow and lend in the market for reserves, typically overnight. The reserve demand curve describes the price at which these institutions are willing to trade their balances as a function of aggregate reserves. Its slope measures the price sensitivity to changes in the level of reserves. Importantly, banks earn interest on their reserve balances (IORB), set by the Federal Reserve. Because the IORB rate directly affects the willingness of banks to lend reserves, it is useful to describe the reserve demand curve in terms of the spread between the federal funds rate and the IORB rate. In addition, we control for the overall growth of the U.S. banking sector by specifying reserve demand in terms of the level of reserves relative to commercial banks’ assets.

There is a clear nonlinear downward-sloping relationship between prices and quantities of reserves, consistent with economic theory. The chart below plots the spread between the federal funds rate and the IORB against total reserves as a share of commercial banks’ total assets.  When reserves are very low, the demand curve has a steep negative slope, reflecting the willingness of borrowers to pay high rates because reserves are scarce. At the other extreme, when reserves are very high, the curve becomes flat because banks are awash with reserves and the supply is abundant. Between these two regions, an intermediate regime–that we refer to as “ample”–emerges, where the demand curve exhibits a modest downward slope. The color coding of the chart reflects the shifts in the reserve demand curve over time. In particular, the curve appears to have moved to the right and upward around 2015 and then moved upward after March 2020, at the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Reserve Demand Has Shifted over Time

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Federal Reserve Economic Data, FRED (“TLAACBW027SBOG,” “IOER,” and “IORB”); authors’ calculations.

This chart highlights two of the main challenges in estimating the slope of the reserve demand curve. First, the curve is highly nonlinear, which means that a standard linear estimation approach is not appropriate. Second, various long-lasting changes in the regulation and supervision of banks, in their internal risk-management frameworks, and in the structure of the reserve market itself have resulted in shifts in the reserve demand curve. A third challenge is that the quantity of reserves may be endogenous to banks’ demand for them. Therefore, to properly measure the reserve demand curve, one must disentangle shocks to supply from those to demand. As we explain in detail in a recent paper, our estimation strategy addresses all three of these challenges.

Estimating the Slope of the Reserve Demand Curve

Our approach provides time-varying estimates of the price sensitivity of the demand for reserves that can be used to distinguish between periods in which reserves are relatively scarce, ample, or abundant. The chart below presents our daily estimates of the slope of the demand curve, as measured by the rate sensitivity to changes in reserves. Although we do not have a precise criterion for when reserves are scarce versus ample, during two episodes in our sample, the estimated rate sensitivity is well away from zero. The first episode occurs early in our sample, in 2010, and the second emerges almost ten years later, in mid-2019. In two other periods—during 2013-2017 and from mid-2020 through early September 2022—the estimated slope is very close to zero, indicating an abundance of reserves. The remaining periods are characterized by a modest negative slope of the reserve demand curve, consistent with ample (but short of abundant) reserves. The overall pattern of these estimates is robust to changes in the model specification, such as including spillovers from the repo and Treasury markets or measuring reserves as a share of gross domestic product or bank deposits (instead of as a share of banks’ assets).

Rate Sensitivity Changed over Time, Following the Path of Reserves

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Federal Reserve Economic Data, FRED (“TLAACBW027SBOG,” “IOER,” and “IORB”); authors’ calculations.

Interest Rate Spreads Alone Are Not Reliable Indicators of Reserve Scarcity

As we discuss in our paper, the time variation in the estimated price sensitivity in the demand for reserves is based on observations of small movements along the demand curve due to exogenous supply shocks. The location of the curve itself, however, also changes over time. That is, there is not a constant relationship between the level of reserves and the slope of the reserve demand curve.  

In our paper, we find evidence of both horizontal and vertical shifts in the reserve demand curve, with vertical upward shifts being particularly important since 2015. This finding implies that the level of the federal funds-IORB spread may not be a reliable summary statistic for the sensitivity of interest rates to reserve shocks, and that estimates of the price sensitivity in the demand for reserves provide additional useful information.

In summary, we have developed a method to estimate the time-varying interest rate sensitivity of the demand for reserves that accounts for the nonlinear nature of reserve demand and allows for structural shifts over time. A key advantage of our methodology is that it provides a flexible and readily implementable approach that can be used to monitor the market for reserves in real time, allowing one to assess the “ampleness” of the reserve supply as market conditions evolve.

Gara Afonso is the head of Banking Studies in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

Gabriele La Spada is a financial research economist in Money and Payments Studies in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.   

John C. Williams is the president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  

How to cite this post:
Gara Afonso, Gabriele La Spada, and John C. Williams, “Measuring the Ampleness of Reserves,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics, October 5, 2022, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2022/10/measuring-the-ampleness-of-reserves/.


Disclaimer
The views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author(s).

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Vir awarded $1 billion multi-year BARDA influenza contract

The US Government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has made an initial investment of approximately $55
The post Vir awarded…

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The US Government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has made an initial investment of approximately $55 million for rapid development of VIR-2482, the Vir Biotechnology’s investigational prophylactic monoclonal antibody (mAb) for seasonal and pandemic influenza viruses.

Its purpose being to support pandemic preparedness for influenza and other infectious disease threats, this is the first award from BARDA – part of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) – for pre-exposure prophylaxis for influenza.

VIR-2482 is an investigational intramuscularly administered influenza A-neutralising mAb. It has been shown in vitro to cover all major influenza A strains that have arisen since the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic and is designed as a universal prophylactic for influenza A.

Furthermore, VIR-2482 could have the potential to overcome the limitations of current flu vaccines and result in higher levels of protection, given it does not rely on an individual to create their own protective antibody response. Additionally, the incorporated Xencor Xtend Technology is half-life engineered, meaning a single dose could potentially last an entire flu season.

Seasonal influenza (or flu) is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications. In just the past few years, seasonal influenza has resulted in around 4 million hospitalisations and circa 500,000 global annual deaths.

Pandemic influenza, by contrast, is a contagious airborne respiratory disease with unpredictable timing and severity and against which humans have little or no immunity. Four such pandemic influenzas have occurred in only the past century, with the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ alone having resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide.

Given the past two years’ and ongoing experience with SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, the BARDA multi-year contract – potentially an investment of up to $1 billion in total – aims to continue the Authority’s efforts in preparing for and responding to public health emergencies. Currently, there is a significant unmet need to address shortcomings in preventative and therapeutic options for influenza, the efficacy of the present options that do exist ranging from only 10% to 60%.

Therefore, this initial $55 million investment aims to address these shortcomings. It includes for a phase 2 pre-exposure prophylaxis trial, to begin this second half of the year, with initial data expected by mid-2023. The balance of the award is subject to up to 12 options being exercised by BARDA in further support of the development of pre-exposure prophylactic antibodies, including and beyond VIR-2482.

This extended area, beyond prevention of influenza illness, will potentially be for supportive medical countermeasures for up to 10 “other pathogens of pandemic potential”, whether they be “chemical, biological, radiological [or] nuclear”.

Dr Rajesh Gupta, vice president, global health portfolio and public-private partnerships at Vir Biotechnology, said: “COVID-19 reinforced the ever-present global threat of infectious diseases, and the critical need for readily available solutions in advance of the next pandemic.”

A commercial-stage immunology company, Vir Biotechnology’s current development pipeline includes product candidates targeting hepatitis B and hepatitis D viruses and human immunodeficiency virus, in addition to influenza A and COVID-19, the latter of which Vir (together with GSK) previously delivered the antibody sotrovimab (Xevudy) for. The company also co-discovered ansuvimab-zykl for addressing the Ebola crisis.

Bolyn Hubby, PhD, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at Vir Biotechnology, said: “Just as the COVID-19 pandemic required unprecedented cross-sector collaboration around the globe, tackling the outbreaks and pandemics of tomorrow will require an ‘all hands on deck’ approach that unites a broad array of public and private organisations.”

Under a collaboration agreement signed with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 2021, GSK holds an exclusive option to lead post-phase 2 development and commercialisation of VIR-2482.

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