Agree to disagree: the toll of COVID-19 and IP role

On 9 April 2021, I participated in very lively debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, and moderated by John Donvan, Putlizer Prize Finalist and America’s best recognized moderator of live event debate and four-time Emmy Award winner. I agreed to disagree with Brook Baker, Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law on the future of vaccine patents.

More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that this global health crisis has impacted the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the globe beyond all recognition. Now, as we consider the role played by the biopharmaceutical industry in combating this public health crisis, we must not lose sight of the people who have lost their lives.

Expertise, innovation, and resources

When the virus was first shared, few would have believed possible having not one, but several safe and highly effective vaccines available after less than a year. Few would have also hoped to be witnessing an unprecedented delivery of approved COVID-19 vaccines doses to countries all over the globe. And now, thanks to concerted actions and solidarity, over 100 economies have received them.

We must acknowledge the fact that today, in these unprecedented times, innovation has brought us multiple vaccines in record time, and they are more effective than anyone could have hoped for. This has been achieved thanks to historic collaborations between academics, biotechs, big pharma, developing world vaccine makers, and suppliers, all coming together to make the almost-impossible happen. To make the world feel safer.

This kind of collaboration has also been fundamental to scale up vaccine manufacturing. In pre-COVID-19 times, the total capacity for producing vaccines was 5 billion doses for all vaccines. These include flu, polio, hepatitis, measles, shingles. Now, for COVID-19 vaccines alone, manufacturers have scaled up new capacity from zero to 10 billion doses. In a matter of months, not years, we are looking to double the world vaccine capacity. And to meet this goal, in the past year alone, our member companies have established more than 260 manufacturing and production deals for COVID-19 vaccines around the globe.

Bumps along the road should not surprise us, both in the manufacturing process itself as well as strains on the whole supply chain. Producing a vaccine does not entail simply pushing a button. Therefore, such a complex process will inevitably lead to bottlenecks that will however be urgently addressed and handled.

Collaboration to get us through

In a deadly pandemic, time is never on our side. We are at war against a virus, who, if uncontrolled, can continue to undo hard-won progress in global health and in making lives healthier. In a deadly pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is. Thanks to decades of investments in science and R&D, we’ve been able to mount a fast response against the virus and working with others has helped deploy essential tools in record time.

This couldn’t have been done without innovation enablers.

These are the key points that I shared in a very lively debate hosted by Intelligence Squared, which I invite you to listen here.

COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing in Africa: Identifying a Pathway Forward

Increasing manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines is one of the biggest challenges we need to address in our common goal to bring this pandemic to an end.

Science has delivered not one but several vaccines that are safe and effective and the goal is ensure fair and equitable delivery to vaccines to those who most need them across the world. However, a worldwide scale up in production is not simple and vaccine technology is highly complex.

I had the opportunity recently to participate at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference during the plenary session “Build Back Better – Health Security Beyond COVID 19”. Seen as key to the future health security for the Continent is increasing local manufacturing capacity in Africa. As a panel we discussed the multiple barriers to quickly ramping up production to meet pandemics including issues relating to the speciality of vaccine manufacturing sites, specific skills needs, needs for incentives for investment, and unknowns around long-term demand for COVID-19 vaccines.

Technology transfer is clearly part of the solution – and R&D pharmaceutical companies have already engaged in the process of transferring know-how for production to local manufacturers in developing countries. Collaborations are taking place on a significant scale. Examples include licensing and tech transfer agreements between AstraZeneca with the Serum Institute in India and Fiocruz in Brazil and between Johnson & Johnson with Aspen Pharmacare Ltd. in South Africa and Biologic E. Ltd. in India.

However, knowledge transfer alone will not solve the problem. Technology transfer cannot operate in a vacuum. What is needed is an established sustainable eco-system for local vaccine production. Many challenges to creating such an eco-system are the same as those that the Continent has faced in advancing local production for small molecules. But three specific issues need to be emphasized in case of vaccine manufacturing:

Firstly, the need for highly specialised equipment. Vaccine manufacturing is a complex process requiring high performance equipment for each stage and for each type of vaccine, that meet strict quality standards. Not forgetting that production sites also need to acquire the necessary GMP standards. What’s more, is not possible to simply repurpose an existing production line, each vaccine requires its own line. This means that should a country have an existing vaccine manufacturing capacity, it does not necessarily mean it can easily retrofit a plant to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Furthermore, in current pandemic situation scaling up the number of manufacturers would not resolve the global shortages of 100 plus raw materials that are needed to make the vaccines and it might just exacerbate these shortages as well as those of vials, syringes and stoppers, etc.

Secondly, the need for skills and human resources. There are also issues around securing a highly trained workforce. Building teams of highly skilled technicians that can interpret the technology transfer, perform the multiple quality checks, keep the machines and production running at maximum yields, takes time, which is unfortunately something that the pandemic does not afford us. As Sai Prasad, President of the DCMVN said recently: “It’s a constant race to have more expertise. And we can never have enough. […] When we are talking about increasing capacities and expertise, it is a futuristic concept, maybe we should think about building it in the years to come. But you know, during 2021, and maybe early 2022, we need to go to where the existing capacities and our existing expertise is”.

Thirdly, creating the right investment environment. Regarding the investment needed to create vaccine production, large amounts of capital are required upfront. However, at the moment there are not enough incentives for investors because of uncertainty around long-term sustainability, policy incoherence between countries and within countries and a lack of common regulatory frameworks. What’s more, vaccines are often produced in large quantities at low prices, creating the necessity of large markets to encourage investment. Therefore, it would be necessary for Africa to take a regional approach to ensure vaccine production was viable. The challenge is exemplified by previous experience. In 2005, the World Health Organization supported the expansion of production capacity for seasonal flu vaccines in 14 countries, including Egypt and South Africa. But the high cost of production relative to demand has meant that many of those plants have shut down since then. This is why it is important to look at the sustainability of investments, to not end up with a lot of dormant sites.

Overall there is a critical need for prioritization of the African national health systems themselves, including investing between 5% of GDP and 15% of public expenditure in health. Government coherence that promotes innovation and developing more skilled manufacturing and innovative workforce will be equally important.

Identifying a pathway forward

There have been some significant recent signs of progress which can help towards creating a positive eco-system on the Continent. These include significant improvements in regional regulatory harmonization, the implementation of an African Continental Free Trade Area, the African Development Bank support for purchasing vaccines for the African Union and the exceptional leadership demonstrated by the African CDC in the COVID-19 response. Hopefully the soon to be established African Medicines Agency will add a further important milestone.

The challenges to broad vaccine manufacturing and potential solutions will be discussed further during the African Union’s upcoming virtual conference, which will focus on creating road map for the continent.

Africa remains key to solving the global pandemic. In the short term, we need to see COVAX rolling out its doses as countries are ready and are able to confirm they are ready to do so. In the medium term activities such as “fill and finish” for vaccines provides an important option for African industry which can be developed further. In the longer term, to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity across Africa, we need to spare no time in developing viable strategy now to put in place a secure and sustainable eco-system for vaccine manufacturing in order to address future pandemics.

Charting the course of the industry for the coming three years

2020 witnessed a decade of scientific progress compressed into just 12 months. And as a result we now have, ahead of all predictions, a number of C-19 vaccines that can protect the heroic healthcare workers, the elderly and the vulnerable; and hopefully society as a whole as long as we can keep the mutations in check.  We also have treatments that are helping many more by saving lives of people who contracted the coronavirus.  I am gladdened to see how my peers across the biopharmaceutical industry have contributed to the global efforts in society’s hour of need.  Many companies forged new collaborations to develop COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, while at the same time making sure patients suffering from other conditions continued to receive their treatments.  It has not been plain sailing – some companies have seen the risks they have taken rewarded with highly effective and totally new vaccine technology, others have gone back to the drawing board, or even abandoned.  But that’s the nature of our business, taking risks in the hope that we can make a difference to people’s lives.

Tough months maybe years of an “unstable crisis” lie ahead

The challenges ahead are many-fold; not least to make sure that COVID-19 solutions are distributed equitably.  In such a febrile environment where our politicians and institutions are under pressure like never before, we need to show our business model has a social business mindset in addition to a financial mindset.

Environmental, Social and Governance drives positive and purposeful action

We have our work cut out for us, as an industry and therefore for IFPMA too.  But as the Chinese word for crisis also means opportunity: there has never been a time when the economic and financial damage of ignoring public health have been starker.  Now investors as well as politicians and policy makers are looking at us, the biopharmaceutical industry needs to show how it meets the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria.   We need to demonstrate the contribution we make to access to medicine and health for all, and that these are key factors to support economic growth and stability.

An IFPMA strategy in sync with our business and patients today and in the future

IFPMA has an important role to play here – to inform and explain how the biopharmaceutical business model can integrate availability & accessibility while still striving to push the barriers of science to offer hope and better lives for people wherever they live. But this on its own is not sufficient, not least because, if COVID-19 has taught us one thing – it is that we are all in this together. IFPMA is in a privileged position to listen and co-create solutions to societies’ global health challenges.  It can create platforms for key stakeholders to engage with our industry. It can be a force for change by co-creating sustainable solutions to strengthen health systems and address global health challenges in particular pandemic preparedness.  IFPMA has already gotten off to a great start in this area with the creation of the Access Accelerated, and more recently the AMR Action Fund.

Responsibility, ethics and sustainability at the heart of the business model

I look forwards as the incoming IFPMA President to help IFPMA steer this course.  I intend to work to ensure that “ethics” and “sustainability” is at the centre of our work.  Ethics without living up to our values, we will lose the trust of patients and healthcare professionals, without which our innovations will serve no purpose.  Sustainability in terms of our contribution to the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and more specifically the health SDGs such as Universal Health Coverage and contributing to strengthening health systems who need a “shot in the arm” to get back on track to meet the needs of patients. But also, sustainability in terms of how financial markets look at the viability of our balance sheets and our governance systems, as well as our contribution to society and our environmental footprint.

Learning from COVID-19 – from panic to preparedness

This blog was originally published on Media Planet Infectious Disease campaign on 24 March 2021. 

Whilst we are still in the midst of COVID-19, the worst pandemic since 1918 which is affecting every part of our lives, we can draw some lessons that will allow us to be better prepared for the future.

The first lesson of the pandemic is the importance of translational research; applying basic science and research into scalable solutions for patients. Known for almost 20 years, with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, we have witnessed the first successful application of mRNA to vaccines.

Drawing on decades of scientific research into vaccine science and technology, and experience in fighting other outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola, we have compressed a decade of normal development times into just ten months.

Today, we have several vaccines already approved and in use, with more on the way. This is a remarkable achievement. The evolution of the virus is a stark reminder that we will have to adjust our scientific approaches. So continued innovation will be key.

Importance of a common system

During the past months, we have also realised the critical role that diagnostics play to identify, slow and prevent the spread of viruses. The lesson here it that we need to continue to invest into the development of accurate, fast diagnostics that can also be produced in large volumes.

The swift, timely and unrestricted pathogen sharing has proven to be critical in this crisis. To prepare for future pandemics, we must remove bilateral barriers to accessing pathogen samples and agree on a common system.

Equally, we need to share best regulatory practice and harmonise in more efficient approaches; this is inclusive of clinical trials, testing and approving efficacious, quality vaccines. Such regulatory convergence does not mean cutting corners, it is setting gold standards.

A collaborative mindset is key

The real heroes of this pandemic have been the healthcare workers, be it in ICUs or those involved in testing and vaccinating entire communities. Resilient primary healthcare systems with qualified personnel are the best defence against the spread of infectious diseases.

To control the spread of diseases we need to invest in healthcare infrastructures and frontline health workers so that we will be better equipped to contain unpredictable outbreaks and deliver life-saving tools.

Last but not least, we have seen the importance of partnering; not just partnerships in R&D or manufacturing, but also partnerships in deployment. Governments, health organisations, scientists, businesses, civil society and philanthropists are collaborating like never before. If we want to be better prepared for future crises, we need to retain this collaborative mindset.

Two days to discuss bottlenecks that must be urgently tackled for COVID-19 vaccine output of manufacturers to reach its full potential

A summit was convened in a matter of weeks by Chatham House, in collaboration with COVAXIFPMADCVMN, and BIO, took place on 8-9 March 2021. A discussion document helped inform participants, gave an overview of the current COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing supply chain and identified emerging challenges. While the meeting was conducted under Chatham House rule to facilitate an open discussion, a media briefing followed the summit gave a readout of the key topics discussed. In addition, two key speakers at the event, the new DG of the WTO, Dr Okonjo-Iweala and Secretary of State Matt Hancock of Great Britain published their statements.

A year since the WHO declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic, we are deeply aware that we are not only in a war against the virus, but also in a war against time: we know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

We have reason to look back and feel proud of the valiant efforts made over the past twelve months to ensure science delivers. This has been achieved through unprecedented partnership between and across the private sector from industrialized and developing countries, international organizations, philanthropists, governments, academia and civil society. We’ve seen a game-changing breakthrough for a new technology – mRNA vaccines; more than half a dozen safe and highly effective vaccines developed in record time and already administered to hundreds of million people around the world, and light at the end of the tunnel to retrieve us from pandemic fatigue.

The unprecedented scaling up of vaccine manufacturing, from zero to billions of doses in record time, has led to shortages that are impacting the entire vaccine supply chain. To put the challenge in perspective: pre-COVID-19 global vaccine manufacturing capacity was 3.5 billion doses per year, 5 billion if seasonal flu shots are included. This year, for COVID-19 alone, we talk about a capacity of almost 10 billion, likely to be higher if booster shots to deal with new variants are added.

We should not be surprised that this scale up of biological processes has its difficulties and there will be bumps along the road.  Not least, because when scaling up exponentially the number of doses, it put a huge strain on the productive and yields produced by the new manufacturing lines put in place for these new vaccines. More than doubling of worldwide annual vaccine production puts a huge strain on the hundreds of raw materials and components such as lipid nanoparticles for the mRNA vaccines, the adjuvants to boost the vaccines, the giant plastic bags for single use bioreactors, glass vials, or the single use filters. These strains on the whole manufacturing supply chain can be further challenged by scarcity of expert technicians, by scarcity of materials, compounded by the interdependencies of materials needed for other biologicals, vaccines or cancer drugs.

We see the impatience of people and governments around the world who are eager to get their COVID-19 jab today and not tomorrow. The summit was an opportunity to discuss bottlenecks that we need to tackle urgently to expand manufacturing capacity. During the 2-day event, I saw the willingness of everyone involved to leave no stone untouched. Manufacturers, suppliers, international organisations, regulators, governments, are working together in a new and creative way, and I’m confident we will see new players coming in with their manufacturing know-how and capacities.  Going forwards, we will be eager to explore what we can do to address the areas identified as needing action:

  1. Free flow of goods and workforce;
  2. Continue technology transfer and manufacturing partnerships between innovators and manufacturers to scale up and scale out COVID19 vaccine capacity;
  3. Better demand forecasting and inventory management of raw materials and critical consumables;
  4. Support from the highest political level is needed;
  5. Value of regulatory harmonization and streamlining to accelerate manufacturing capacity and supply;
  6. Better production, demand and supply, forecast and visibility;
  7. Give consideration to the potential impacts of COVID-19 production on non-COVID products.

We will be unstinting in our efforts as the goal is clear for all: we need to expand capacity and in a way that promotes equitable access and leaves no one behind.

New principles on incentivizing antibiotic R&D

Antibiotics have transformed healthcare. But today, the ubiquitous use of these live-saving drugs has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Once-treatable diseases like common infections of the bloodstream, urinary or respiratory tracts are becoming more difficult to treat using these tools. Combating drug resistance means facing a silent pandemic that could dwarf the impact COVID-19 has had on health systems and economies around the world.

The threat of antimicrobial resistance is not new – it has been on the agenda of politicians for several years already, but there has been little action to address the enduring economic puzzle we see at play in antibiotic R&D.

The current pipeline is widely recognized as insufficient. For example, there are currently approximately 40 antibiotics in clinical development, of which only a handful are considered novel, and only one new class of antibiotics has been launched in recent decades. Another 21 non-traditional antibacterial products and 12 antifungal agents are currently in clinical development. Because bacteria continually develop resistance to our existing antibiotics, we will always need a robust pipeline of new ones – so it is critical to have sustained investment to keep pace with growing resistance. More investment is also needed into vaccines and diagnostics to help prevent infections and support appropriate use of antibiotics.

Now, more than ever, we need to accelerate the creation of a vibrant and sustainable innovation ecosystem to support R&D for new antibiotics and other antimicrobials addressing pathogens prioritized by leading public health bodies.

2025 will mark ten years since the adoption of the WHO Global Action Plan (GAP) on AMR: we need to accelerate progress to address the ‘sustainable economic case’ objective of the GAP before then.

That’s why we are calling on countries to take steps now to deliver a clear implementation roadmap by the end of 2021 that addresses:

  1. New economic incentives, giving confidence to the private sector to invest in R&D at the level needed to create a robust antibiotic pipeline.
  2. Bespoke valuation of antibiotics, assessing and recognizing the full value antibiotics deliver to society and correcting their current under-valuation.
  3. Reimbursement reforms, to maintain availability of antibiotics on the market and to enable patient access to the most appropriate antibiotic to treat or prevent their infection.

The solutions to these challenges will look different in different countries – there is no ‘one size fits all’ – but this supportive policy framework is necessary to drive long term investments in innovative antibiotics, throughout the discovery, development, and product lifecycle.

#TeamVaccines is all of us

This blog was originally posted on Pharma Boardroom on 23 February 2021

The story of COVID-19 vaccines is one of incredible collaboration. Never before has there been such an effort on a mass scale to solve a global health crisis.

We’ve seen a decade of normal vaccine development compressed into just ten months. From the outset of the pandemic, our industry committed to do all it could to bring its knowhow to bear. We’ve seen some amazing breakthroughs with new technologies, we’ve seen some companies experience set backs, and others despite doing their utmost, have thrown in the towel. That is how tough and unpredictable our pharma world is. So this makes it all the more impressive that in less than a year after the global pandemic was declared, we have vaccines available. Vaccines that have been through the same safety checks all vaccines go through and tested with thousands of people. Vaccines that are already starting to protect those most at risk and continue to be monitored for safety as the roll out continues across the world. No opportunity to move quickly has been missed. But no corners have been cut in making sure the vaccines meet the same rigorous standards as any other biological product.

This is nothing short of miraculous. I believe it’s one of the greatest achievements of our age.

COVID-19 has affected all of us. Similarly, people working on the vaccines have like many others lost family members and friends to the disease, have experienced the strain of loved ones working on the front line, and have suffered themselves from the isolation. Those same people have worked tirelessly to develop the vaccines and get them out to the people who need them most. They are united by a shared goal: end the suffering, protect the ones they love, and help the world get back to normal.

This is what our #TeamVaccines campaign focuses on. We want to show the world that the people behind the science, also want the vaccines to be safe for their families and ours. We’d like to thank those who have shared their personal stories as part of our campaign to help people understand the vaccine development process better. They are just some of the tens of thousands of people who have been working around the clock to make the vaccines we so urgently need. And we are grateful to every single person who has put their life on hold to join this incredible effort across the world.

None of this would have been possible without collaboration. Never before have governments, health organisations, scientists, businesses, civil society, and philanthropists come together in such a concerted and collaborative way. A collaborative mindset has made the impossible happen, and it’s something we must carry forward to help shape the health of future generations.

The pandemic has been a time of breakthroughs and of bravery, especially from those who volunteered for clinical trials. And this is only the beginning. We are continuing to develop vaccines, adjusting our scientific approaches, working on potential vaccine boosters, and to find new ways of producing them quickly. We are continuing to learn more about the virus, so we can end the pandemic. We are continuing to make sure that the most vulnerable people, wherever they are in the world, are safe from COVID-19. The virus will be a threat everywhere until it’s a threat nowhere.

There will be challenges ahead. We’ve always known tackling the virus wouldn’t be easy. But we’ve shown it’s not beyond us. Since the beginning of this pandemic, industry has spared no efforts to speed development, production, registration, and equitable access to of high-quality vaccines. IFPMA members have submitted their vaccines for regulatory approval requesting WHO Emergency Use Listing (EUL), paving the way for procurement by COVAX and their commitment to different strategies to expedite launch and address access barriers in low-and-middle income countries. It is the first pandemic where vaccines reach people in a number of poor countries less than three months after WHO approval, but we know that the process of striving for equity will be challenging. Only through innovative collaborations between governments and vaccine makers and well-planned deployment plans we will overcome the virus.

When the pandemic is over, we hope to be inspired to find answers to build more resilient healthcare systems and address other unmet medical needs. We have seen science and collaboration bring an end to global crises before. I can only imagine what other breakthroughs we will achieve, as we build on the foundations of this incredible team effort.

The road to building trust in COVID-19 vaccines

This oped was originally published on Media Planet Vaccine Awareness Campaign on 22 December 2020

Vaccines are one of the most cost effective interventions we have to safeguard public health and yet during this pandemic we have seen a decrease in public confidence. The latest World Economic Forum/Ipsos survey found that the number of people willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine has dropped to 73% from 77%. This is a major concern as we cannot achieve a global herd immunity if too many people opt-out of receiving the vaccine due to mistrust. COVID-19 anywhere remains a threat everywhere and so a global concerted effort is a prerequisite to overcoming the pandemic.

The survey highlighted the biggest vaccine confidence concerns among responders were around side effects and fears that clinical trials were moving too fast. Responding to the concerns underscores the importance of trusted voices to explain how vaccines work, how the clinical trials for COVID vaccines are just as thorough than for other vaccines, and how regulatory agencies must and are scrutinising all the data and where possible sharing them widely.

Since the start of the pandemic, vaccine makers have voiced their strong commitment to rigorous scientific and regulatory standards for approval of COVID-19 vaccines and have committed to publish all the clinical trials in peer reviewed publications, publishing details to an extent like never before; whether they are good or bad. By doing this, we hope to address concerns of people who are vaccine hesitant. It is to nobody’s advantage that either vaccine manufacturers, or regulators for that matter cut corners. It will only serve to undermine the unprecedented efforts of all involved.

COVID-19 has made us realize the critical role that healthcare professionals (HCPs) play to tackle the global pandemic, but also to continue to provide essential health services. They are the backbone of any health systems and without them, hospitals, primary care centres and outpatient facilities would come to a grinding halt. It will be paramount that HCPs feel confident about COVID-19 vaccines, first as individuals, but also because HCPs are usually the first port of call for people either receiving or enquiring about vaccines. They are a pillar in their communities and a trusted platform to quell fears or worries patients may have surrounding the vaccine.

Controlling this pandemic is ultimately about vaccinations, not vaccines, and we need to start planning vaccination campaigns now. When COVID-19 vaccines will start to be deployed, we must respect that some people might be anxious about getting them, and it will be important that we can answer all their concerns and demonstrate that safety and effectiveness has never been compromised. As countries take on the huge task of rolling out immunization programs, HCP will be called upon again. We thank them, we applaud them; and we want to support them in helping answer those questions that we can. Vaccine makers and the biopharmaceutical industry as a whole, will be on the front foot, explaining how vaccines are produced, distributed, and monitored. It is in all of our best interest.

COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines: Progress achieved in 2020 and insights into 2021 and beyond

Last week, IFPMA hosted the fifth and last CEO COVID-19 media briefing of 2020 with CEOs and top executives from Eli Lilly and Company, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Roche.  I joined the CEOs as they shared their take on progress achieved in 2020 and insights into 2021 and beyond. With this blog, I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of the briefing.

Leading the charge against COVID-19

Over the past 10 months, life as we knew it came to a grinding halt. From the onset of the pandemic, the biopharmaceutical industry sprinted into action and began mobilizing its resources and partnering like never before to develop COVID-19 technologies to help provide solutions. From repurposed and new treatments, to novel vaccines and diagnostics, the industry’s top priority became, and still is, devoting its resources, expertise, know-how, and intellectual assets to fight COVID-19.

2020 has been a year for the history books.  Our latest media briefing on 8 December, was witness of how we have walked the talk – how we have lived up to our responsibilities – how we have worked in partnership like we have never done before. For the first time since the virus was shared, we see light at the end of the tunnel.

Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer said during the briefing “if I look back from March to today, one lesson that stands out is the power of science. And that applies to the entire spectrum of COVID, and that applies also to us. Without our science, we wouldn’t be able to do anything in such a short period of time”.

The unprecedented collaboration from the industry has already proven fruitful with three vaccines in the process of being approved by regulators. In the coming months, this number could increase to as many as ten, proving much needed comfort and hope of finding a lasting solution for the pandemic. As Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer of Johnson & Johnson said, “with a both stable and transportable vaccine, we’ll be able to make a big difference in the world”. To ensure that vaccines developed are suitable for the global population, vaccine makers have ensured that clinical trial participants are diverse and addresses high-risk populations such as the elderly, people with co-morbidities and certain ethnic groups in parts of the world.

What has gotten us here is the ability to work towards a common goal. Paul Stoffels stressed that high regulatory standards are being upheld and maintained and “no corners are cut” as vaccine hesitancy rates increase, in part due to a parallel pandemic of misinformation. He explained that process as “a huge amount of work in a small amount of time with extreme supervision from regulators which is very transparent but also very fast”. Vaccines makers are able to work in parallel, speeding up the overall time needed, and regulatory bodies have also increased their turn around time and in some cases are able to respond within 24 hours, cutting a lot of time out of the process.

The road ahead

We still have a long road ahead. As we take in the good news about the first persons being vaccinated, we must also think how to best ensure that no one is left behind. As long as COVID-19 exists in one corner of the world, it will continue to pose a threat to us all. Equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics is paramount. The industry stands by its commitment to fair and equitable access to COVID-19 products, working in partnership with the ACT-Accelerator. Several major companies have pledged to offer their vaccines on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic. Others are considering differential pricing for different countries. As of last month, four major pharmaceutical companies had already agreed to eventually produce at least three billion vaccine doses for low- and middle-income nations.

The way to do this cannot be, as some have suggested, to pull the rug under the feet of research scientists.

Take “messenger RNA,” the technology platform that supports the vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. A technology that being explored more than more than 25 years ago, successfully used for the first time against COVID-19.

Intellectual property is the blood of the private sector. I echo what industry representatives have said on the call with journalists: IP is what brought the solution to this pandemic. Patents and intellectual property remain the lifeline for future pandemic preparedness and allow companies to operate at never-before-seen speeds and invest heavily in risky research without any guaranteed reward.

Vaccines are here. Now for the hard part … we still have a great uphill battle to manufacture and distribute them across the world. The reality is that we will still have to live with this pandemic for some time. David Ricks, Chief Executive Officer of Eli Lilly discussed that production capacities of vaccines and treatments remains a barrier. Both David Ricks and Severin Schwan pointed out that a key constraint to providing enough monoclonal antibodies is the manufacturing capacity. Both Roche and Eli Lilly are leveraging any capacity they can find within their networks to increase the specialist production of monoclonal antibodies.

COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are part of the solution, but Severin Schwan, Chief Executive Officer of Roche & Vice-President of IFPMA stressed that “diagnostics will remain important – not only for the months to come, but for the years to come”.

No one entity alone can bring an end to the pandemic and the successes we have seen thus far is by in large attributed to the engineers, scientists and everybody working on this. I have a tremendous amount of great respect to the health care workers on the front line, who truly deserve to get those vaccines early on.

How vaccinations help protect all ages of the population

This oped was originally published on Media Planet Value of Vaccines Q4 2020 Campaign on 10 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us how vulnerable the world is in the face of deadly pathogens.

Vaccines have been an essential tool offering protection from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pneumonia, and polio, diseases that once harmed or killed thousands of children every year.

Thanks to these essential tools, over the past decades, while often forgotten, adults can also benefit from vaccines. The benefits of a life-course approach to immunisation have been heavily documented and endorsed in a new vision of immunisation globally.

But COVID-19 is having a detrimental impact on the delivery of essential immunisation services, threatening to reverse hard-won progress to reach people of all ages with a wide range of vaccines.

The WHO and UNICEF warn that 2020 could be the first time in 28 years that the world sees a reduction in the annual childhood immunisation coverage rate. Gavi estimates that at least 13.5 million persons will miss out on vaccinations due to postponement of campaigns and interruptions in routine vaccinations in the short-term, and millions more will miss out in the longer-term.

Public health officials have also been sounding the alarm that adults also need to stay up-to-date on recommended and catch-up vaccinations for infectious diseases. As we approach winter, we need to ensure we do not overwhelm healthcare systems, already dealing with COVID-19, with vaccine preventable diseases, such as influenza.

The unique circumstances brought about by the current situation call attention to the importance of investing in vaccination coverage across the life-course to improve population health, promote health system sustainability, and strengthen pandemic preparedness and responsiveness.

Now is the time for stakeholders in the healthcare system to come together and put in place the necessary building blocks to recover from the negative impacts of the pandemic.

Building vaccines delivery platforms

 

One the key aspects will be strengthening public health systems for future mass vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines. This will be implemented by expanding vaccination delivery channels to include pharmacies, community delivery points and other non-clinical settings such as schools and residential homes.

Providing a more convenient access point to immunisation, closer to home, has been found to both reduce inequalities in access to healthcare and to help counter vaccine hesitancy.

Encouraging catch-up campaigns for all interrupted vaccine schedules not just the childhood ones will be as critical to prevent an overall great number of deaths in older adults and to contribute to longer, healthier lives.

Stakeholders need to collaborate across the board to ensure that COVID-19 and routine vaccines are delivered and administered in a timely and safe manner.

Getting serious about life-course vaccination in countries around the world will help make that a reality.

This #UHCDay, the Confederation of Meningitis Associations, the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), the Global Coalition on Aging, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the International Federation on Ageing and the International Longevity Centre UK join forces to show how governments can strengthen pandemic preparedness and responsiveness by taking a life-course immunization approach which will expand access to vaccines, improve uptake, and help #ProtectEveryone.