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.