Expert insight

The global biopharmaceutical industry’s united front against COVID-19

25 March 2020
  • Thomas Cueni Director General

In recent weeks, we have seen an unprecedented rapid response from governments, international organisations, health care professionals, the biopharmaceutical industry and many others to respond to one of the biggest global health crisis the world has experienced in recent decades: the novel coronavirus, or so-called COVID-19. Both professionally but also personally I think it’s remarkable how far we have come in two months.

R&D efforts

The extremely rapid sharing of the genome sequence of the novel coronavirus helped to develop diagnostic tests as well as enabled us kickstart R&D efforts to discover effective treatments or a vaccine. We have also been able to build on the valuable lessons learned of recent virus outbreaks such as SARS, MERS, Zika, and Ebola. The testing of medicines and the development of vaccines for COVID-19 is therefore not starting from scratch. We have a range of medicines, such as HIV or malaria treatments, which are currently undergoing clinical trials for their effectiveness and safety in treating COVID-19. Not all of them will turn out to be successful to treat COVID-19 but I’m hopeful that we will see positive trial results in the weeks ahead.

Solidarity, leadership and collaboration

A pandemic of this scale requires solidarity, leadership and collaboration involving governments, international or national agencies, such as CEPI, and the private sector. Everybody has been coming together in the past two months to respond to this health crisis and everybody understands that this is not ‘business as usual’. The impact of COVID-19 on health systems, the global economy, the tourist sector, production and trade can already be felt now. If the virus spreads more widely in lower-income countries, with weaker health systems and poor infrastructure, the consequences will be devasting. Only united, we will be able to contain the spread of COVID-19 which so far has reached 190 countries and infected over 330,000 people globally.

Last week, five high-level pharma executives from Takeda, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi and Roche joined me in a virtual media press briefing to highlight the industry’s commitments to respond to COVID-19. This marked an unparalleled milestone. I don’t recall that the industry was ever as united in fighting a public health threat as with COVID-19.

The reason is that we are all in this together. COVID-19 affects everyone, everywhere. Be assured: we won’t rest until we find the solution to lift the burden of COVID-19 on our families, on our friends, on our patients, on our societies and the economy

Industry’s commitments

We have come far in the past two months but now is the time to boost efforts and to work closer together than ever. The biopharmaceutical industry is strongly committed to accelerate its efforts to use its skills, technology and resources to bring safe, effective diagnostics, treatments and vaccines to patients around the world as a matter of urgency.

These are our commitments and we won’t stand down until COVID-19 is contained:

  • Rapidly screen the industry’s vast libraries of medicines to identify potential treatments and undertake numerous clinical trials to test new and existing therapies.
  • share real-time clinical trial data with governments and other companies around the world to advance the development of additional therapies.
  • use our expertise and know-how to speed up the development of safe and effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in partnership with others.
  • use our medical expertise to support global healthcare systems to manage the unprecedented increase in pressure they are experiencing.
  • share tools and insights to test potential therapies and vaccines as well as to develop and scale up the capacity of diagnostics testing for COVID-19 patients as much as possible.
  • increase our manufacturing capabilities and share available capacity to ramp up production once a successful vaccine or treatment is developed.
  • work to secure continuity of supply for all essential medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics for patients with other life-threatening diseases, urging governments to implement policies and decisions that facilitate access for all those in need.

What is needed now, is a one-team approach across the entire pharmaceutical industry which demonstrates our willingness to act. Society needs to know it can count on the biopharmaceutical industry to not only develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 but that those will be accessible for everyone.