These unprecedented timelines

May 19, 2020
Pharma’s bumpy race towards a vaccine could offer a fresh start
You may have noticed that this issue’s cover contains no artwork, no callouts, no color, no clever concepts. It’s rare for our publication to hand over an entire cover to a single topic. But as you’ve likely heard ad nauseam, these are unprecedented times.

Never before has the entire pharmaceutical industry focused so quickly and collaboratively on one virus and one disease. But pharma’s singular focus on the novel coronavirus isn’t the most notable aspect of the current situation.

A return to normalcy hinges on vaccines — and, more specifically, pharma’s ability to meet an extraordinary timeline. The industry is being asked to develop, test, scale-up, manufacture and distribute billions of vaccine doses — in a matter of months.

Not surprisingly, anxious onlookers have a lot of questions. Even within the industry, there are uncertainties. Can pharma safely fast-track a process that can normally take a decade? Does the industry have the manufacturing capacity to hit the billion vaccine mark many companies are aiming for? Or are pharma companies over-promising on what they can deliver?

To extend the line of inquiry even further: Assuming everything goes as planned and pharma finds a way to halt the current pandemic — then what? Will lessons learned from this pandemic enable us to be more prepared for future health emergencies?

As our editors quickly discovered, the answers to many of these questions are not definitive.

Unanswered questions are frustrating. But as a journalist in the pharma space, I’ve learned that it’s important to not equate uncertainties with failing scientific progress. In reality, the opposite is true. Progress in the pharmaceutical industry wouldn’t exist without unanswered questions. Answering one question typically opens the door to a dozen more. Research and development builds, continues, improves.

This is the most attention those outside of the industry have likely ever devoted to understanding the path of pharmaceutical progress. It may be the most attention the public has ever devoted to exploring science in general.

For pharma, an unplanned byproduct of this situation is the opportunity to not only demonstrate the essential role of the pharmaceutical industry and more broadly, science, in dealing with public health threats, but to educate through a rare display of transparency.

For vaccines, and drugs in general, the road from research to commercialization is often mired with complications, setbacks and unknowns. Let’s agree to admit this.

In terms of COVID-19, I don’t think these uncertainties will overshadow the industry’s incredible progress. Pharma’s rapid and unified response to meet expedited timelines and expectations has highlighted the depth of the industry’s scientific and technological strength — showcasing the true potential of an industry that, in less urgent times, has frequently drawn public ire.

After months of isolation, economic hardship, and heartache, many will emerge from this pandemic with a new outlook on life. Through vaccines, pharma can help deliver the world a chance for a new beginning. I’m hopeful the world returns the sentiment. 

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Formerly the editor-in-chief of Food Manufacturing magazine, Karen was particularly successful at eating all of the snacks that were mailed to her from food companies, as well as reaching readers by establishing her own unique voice and tone on the brand. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that B2B content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'