With the race to develop an effective vaccine becoming intense, how has the coronavirus pandemic changed the pharmaceutical industry, and what can we expect in the long- and short-term? Let’s see….
The year 2020, and the new decade as a whole, has definitely got off to the worst possible start – and we have a pandemic to blame for that. Since planting its roots in China right at the end of 2019, the coronavirus has blazed its trail across every continent, every country, and left hundreds of thousands dead, and many more fighting for their lives. Worse still, it has created a level of fear and anxiousness among citizens that have never been seen before, with their fears of contracting the disease being compounded by economic uncertainties. However, at the end of it, whenever that will be, the world is expected to turn up stronger and more aware. This cannot be truer than in the medical and pharmaceutical settings, which have become synonymous with the pandemic.
The pharmaceutical sector is being looked up to as the savior of mankind, what with the number of drugs and vaccines that have been proposed and put into trial by major manufacturers. In fact, the pandemic has brought the world closer in this regard, enabling industry leaders to supply critical medicines across borders, strengthen the supply chain, as well as ensure workforce safety, all this while adhering to governmental norms and restrictions. We will now see how ‘The New Normal’ will look in the context of this sector.
- Companies are expected to face numerous disruptions in the coming months in the context of supply chain and logistics, as well as workforce disruptions in the form of acquiring new skillsets and redistribution of talent. Companies are also expected to reconsider and re-evaluate their partnerships with contract manufacturing organizations in order to mitigate cost risks, while there will also be intensive considerations as to the requirement of excess capacity, along with geographic expansion and diversification.
- The importance of transparency in the realm of risk mitigation will have a big say in the growth and utilization of digital and analytics tools. The full automation of facilities is expected to become a major point to ponder over for business leaders, as a way to avoid disruptions for any similar extended circumstances in the future. Additionally, the use of agile models will become critical in expediting processes such as quality checking, validation, and approval of new medical equipment or material, in case of any future emergencies.
- The readiness of major companies to come together for developing an answer to the pandemic is expected to continue in the long run. Organizations such as GSK, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer, among others, have understood the delicate scenario and have pooled in their resources in order to accelerate the drug and vaccine development. GSK and Sanofi joined forces in April to develop a vaccine, and have very recently started testing their protein-based vaccine on humans for the first time.
- GSK has also partnered with the University of Queensland in Australia with the objective of early vaccine development. ‘Coopetition’ is expected to gain more mileage in the coming years, as companies experience the advantages of combining their expertise and knowledge, even though a bit of competitiveness would still be at play. The coming years, thus, can be expected to see a continuation in the collaborative nature between the trinity of the industry, academia, and the government. Case in point – more than 12 organizations, which include Gilead (USA), Novartis (Switzerland), and WuXi AppTec (China) have been conducting tests and sharing their knowledge regarding treatments, as well as clinical trial designs.
- In continuation of the above point, the pandemic has seen testing and early diagnosis become of paramount importance to combat COVID-19, with the US FDA has issued norms and regulations that allowed for earlier than the usual implementation of diagnostic tests. In due time, relaxations were also made with regards to clinical trials, imaging modifications, ventilators, and food labeling rules, which have had a positive impact on the development of the pharmaceutical industry.
- More recently, the FDA also relaxed norms regarding viral transport media, which would effectively handle the dwindling supplies. It is to be noted that these measures and developments are there for the short term and that these norms and regulations would be tightened again, once the pandemic goes away, whenever that is. However, pharmaceutical companies are expected to remain busy in the coming months, especially since a sure-shot vaccine is still at a nascent stage.
- Virtual clinical trials have been a very promising concept as complementary to physical trials. The pandemic is expected to result in more awareness about this system, which hopefully will translate to widespread adoption. With stay-at-home orders expected to be in place for quite some time, companies have put paid to hopes of conducting in-person trials; however, with telemedicine gaining huge popularity among consumers, industry players have made significant changes to their trial models, with a survey by ERT in May showing that 82% of the respondents are already on this path. As they say, the future is virtual!
- mRNA technology has witnessed rapid acceptance in the pharmaceutical community, with McKinsey noting in April 2020 that approximately 80% of the pharma companies predicted strong growth for mRNA and other technologies in the coming months and years. The same could be the scenario for conventional biologics-drug-substance capacity, which is expected to be repurposed for supporting the fight against COVID-19.
The pandemic has severely stressed the healthcare industry, but as we see in the above points, there are many opportunities for companies to shine in this scenario, and there are uncountable more areas that will be explored in the coming months by companies that have not been touched upon here. Here’s hoping that adversity brings out the best in the industry!
Source: Grand View Research