Global health challenges

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe is a major public health threat for all. The industry is fully supportive of efforts that will ensure the scientific community can respond quickly to the challenges this pandemic represents.

A novel coronavirus – a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans – first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. Throughout January 2020, the number of cases in China increased substantially, while first cases in neighbouring countries and ultimately Europe and the United States were confirmed. Having spread to 19 countries and first confirmed human-to-human transmission outside of China, the WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020. On March 7, the global number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, affecting over 100 countries. On March 11, given the global spread of the virus with particularly escalating outbreaks in Iran and Italy, and sharp increases in other European countries, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The declaration of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 is of major concern to the biopharmaceutical industry. The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe is a major public health threat for all affected countries; and is of particular concern for those countries with weaker health systems who could be disproportionately impacted.

As a science-driven industry that aims to address some of the world’s biggest healthcare challenges, the research-based biopharmaceutical industry is uniquely positioned to respond rapidly to COVID-19. It has deep scientific knowledge gained from decades of experience working on developing solutions for combatting a range of infectious diseases such as MERS, SARS, Ebola and influenza, as well as experience working with health authorities and regulators to find a fast-tracked approach to bringing safe and effective medicines to market for patients.

Biopharmaceutical companies are committed to developing solutions to help diagnose, treat and prevent COVID-19. As of March 2020, there are a number of therapeutics currently in clinical trials and more than 20 vaccines in development for COVID-19.

The rapid virus sequencing by the scientific community enabled researchers to characterize and begin to understand the new threat posed by COVID-19. Biopharmaceutical companies with potentially relevant knowhow were thereby enabled to get their scientists to check their R&D libraries for potential assets that could fight coronaviruses.

The Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data or GISAID Initiative, an open access platform partly funded by the private sector, played a critical role in sharing the first genome sequences of the novel coronavirus and centralizing their collection. This has proven vital in speeding up the sharing of information among scientists as well as public health authorities.

IFPMA and its member companies are monitoring the coronavirus situation closely. Currently, IFPMA member companies are not aware of any near-term impacts on the availability of medicines and vaccines. They are continuously monitoring and proactively handling the situation as it develops and do not expect, furthermore, any long-term impact on the availability of medicines and vaccines, unless any disruption caused by the pandemic is sustained over the next several months.

R&D biopharmaceutical companies are working to prevent and mitigate any shortages through close coordination with national regulatory authorities and other global stakeholders, including the World Health Organization.

The biopharmaceutical industry leads the way in making diagnostics kits, developing new vaccines and treatments to contain COVID-19. Find out more about their R&D efforts here.

When the novel coronavirus first emerged in China, the biopharmaceutical industry also accelerated their efforts on the ground by sharing their expertise with the Chinese health authorities, and donating medicines, medical equipment and financial resources. Find an overview here.

IFPMA will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and will update this information accordingly.

Last updated: 17 March 2020.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause light illnesses, such as the common cold, to more severe diseases, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Virus genetic sequence

shared in January 2020

COVID-19 was declared a

global pandemic by the WHO on March 11

190 countries

have been affected by the virus as of 23 March 2020

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