Ending the pandemic will require innovation and access

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Long after the sun goes down, the work of America’s biopharmaceutical companies continues deep into the night.

Steve Ubl

Researchers and scientists labor around the clock, developing new ways to diagnose, treat and cure COVID-19. While they do, so many of the people they’re working to help stare at the ceiling and wonder how they will afford their family’s next trip to the pharmacy.

To beat this pandemic, we’re going to have to solve both challenges. America’s biopharmaceutical companies are just as committed to developing innovative solutions that help patients access the medicines they need as we are to creating treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus.

Let’s start with the virus. Biopharmaceutical experts are attacking it from four angles.

Because this is a new virus, we need a new suite of tests that can properly diagnose patients who might be infected. Our industry is working closely with life science companies to create reliable ones. Since April, Roche, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson have collaborated and shared resources and clinical trial data with governments and one another to help increase testing capacity for COVID-19. And to protect those fighting this pandemic, Eli Lilly and Co. has launched a drive-thru testing facility at its corporate headquarters for active frontline health care workers and first responders in their community.

Second, our researchers and scientists are scanning vast global libraries of existing medicines to find potential treatments for the virus. We’re getting those medicines to patients as quickly as possible through clinical trials and the Food and Drug Administration’s compassionate use policies, and we’re seeing real progress. For example, a few months ago, we were discussing the promise that remdesivir, a product from Gilead Sciences, held to treat coronavirus patients. This treatment has always been a promising medicine, and now it’s proven to be true as it is progressing through more structured clinical trials and has received emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Third, our companies are working on new therapies unlike anything that exists, which is what an unprecedented disease like this calls for. For example, we know that the plasma in people who have recovered from the coronavirus contain antibodies, and technology can help us get those antibodies to infected patients. Our member companies are also pursuing monoclonal antibodies, which are molecules developed in a lab that can mimic the antibodies in a person’s own immune system. Two of them are in clinical trials already, with more to follow in the coming months.

And fourth, of course, we have to develop a safe and effective vaccine as quickly as possible. A vaccine’s job is simple: It trains our immune system to recognize a pathogen like COVID-19 and neutralize it before it can harm us. The immune system is incredibly complex, so it is imperative to have as many shots on goal as possible, and several different types of vaccines are advancing in clinical trials.

COVID-19 poses an immense challenge, but I am confident our industry can rise to the ­occasion.

One reason is the remarkable collaboration we’re seeing across the industry and with public officials. Our industry is intensely competitive by nature — every company wants to be first in the race to help patients live longer, fuller, healthier lives. This makes what we’re seeing today nothing short of inspiring: Companies have made arrangements to appropriately share information from clinical trials with their industry competitors. Platforms developed by our industry are being used to share patient summaries and patient-level data along with real-world evidence. And when the time comes, companies are preparing to collaborate to share production capacity to ramp up production of successful medicines and vaccines.

We’re also seeing collaboration between companies and the government from the newly formed Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV), a public-private partnership between a number of leading biopharmaceutical companies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH). This framework can help advance vaccine and drug candidates, streamline clinical trials and coordinate regulatory processes.

Inside the lab, the speed at which our companies are making progress is mind-blowing. But outside the lab, the challenges faced by Americans dealing with this pandemic and the economic fallout are mind boggling. Almost everyone knows someone whom this disease has hurt physically or financially. And until there is a treatment or vaccine, every one of us could be next.

Our industry feels a solemn responsibility to advocate for solutions that help ensure patients can afford the medicines they need, and we’ve been hard at work to fix the health care system, so it works better for patients. We also recognize that for many patients, the economic consequences of this pandemic have made it more difficult to afford their medicines.

This is where PhRMA’s Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT) comes in. MAT.org is an online platform that provides information about the potential cost of medicines and the cost assistance resources that are potentially available from America’s biopharmaceutical companies.

While these companies work to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, they are also expanding efforts to help patients access other medicines they need. And as soon as we have new treatments and an FDA-approved vaccine, we will work with governments and insurers to ensure that they will be available and affordable for patients.

The men and women who power the biopharmaceutical industry are not immune to the new concerns and stress that COVID-19 has caused. Like the rest of the world, we worry for our family’s health, safety and well-being, and we care about our communities. That’s what motivates us to keep working nonstop to beat this disease.

Steve Ubl is president and chief executive officer of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).


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