Expert insight

Chatham House: Weekly COVID-19 Pandemic Briefing – Perspective from the Pharmaceutical Industry

30 July 2020
  • Thomas Cueni Director General

Published on Thomas Cueni’s LinkedIn profile.

Last Wednesday, I sat down with @Chatham House’s @Emma Ross (moderator) and epidemiologist Professor @David L. Heymann to discuss the latest science and developments in the #COVID19 pandemic.


During the interview, we discussed how the pharmaceutical industry is collaborating on an unprecedented scale to develop COVID-19 technologies and tools, the challenges and concerns the industry faces and the best approaches to adopt to ensure equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines for all.


What clearly emerged from the interview is that there is a strong sense within the biopharmaceutical industry that the pandemic is not business as usual and the unshakable belief that solidarity and collaboration are vital during these challenging times. Everybody understands that the industry is in a unique position thanks to its scientists and engineers and proven expertise developed over decades in delivering transformative and innovative products.


Nationalistic responses to the pandemic, including hoarding by richer countries,  were aired during our discussion, and this can undoubtedly make accessible and affordable distribution of an effective COVID-19 vaccine (and therapies) problematic. But, as I mentioned, ‘we have to remain cautiously optimistic that we will see at least a mix of nationalism and solidarity.’ And richer countries will have to subsidize vaccines for poorer ones as well as enable them better to respond to this dreadful pandemic.


The COVAX facility developed with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, can play a major role in increasing solidarity, potentially facilitating the vaccination of 20% of the population, predominantly healthcare workers and vulnerable people. But we may need to provide as many as 15bn doses globally and talk of vaccines being available en masse by Christmas may be over-optimistic. Next summer is more realistic. We cannot afford to push too fast and cut corners, especially on safety.


Our industry is not only committed to support COVAX but is also a founding partner of the ACT Accelerator (ACT-A) designed to speed up the discovery and production of equitable, available and affordable COVID-19 products. Our members would not have ​been able to investigate solutions against COVID-19 without the innovation ecosystem that relies on intellectual property, or without the collaborative spirit we have seen. Without them we would be unable to scale up at-risk production in the way we have done. It is also worth highlighting that our industry is committed to helping individual countries scale up their know-how and manufacturing to meet challenges relating to equitable, available and affordable access.


What matters, certainly now and in future, is pandemic preparedness. The biopharmaceutical industry has the necessary R&D know-how and expertise to set up large-scale manufacturing. So, post-pandemic we will have to reflect on what went well and what went wrong, because there definitely is a role for the industry to support the world in being better prepared. The private sector needs to be involved early on in discussions to prevent future pandemics and to bolster new initiatives and partnerships in areas that need urgent attention, not least neglected tropical diseases and AMR.


See the full interview and Q&A here:


Check out what IFPMA members are doing to fight COVID 19: