COVID-19: A world seeking normalcy waits to see if pharma can pull off the extraordinary

May 15, 2020

There was still a hint of optimism in the air when President Donald Trump called a special meeting at the White House with his newly formed coronavirus task force on March 2. The stock market was rebounding from a plunge the week before. The novel coronavirus had not yet been declared a pandemic, and in the U.S., there were just over 100 confirmed cases and six deaths, all of which were confined to Washington state.

But Trump, seeking to assemble a tangible response to the rising threat, was looking for a big win against the quickly spreading virus, and had turned to one of his long-standing foes — the pharma industry.

Seated at the table were executives from Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Gilead, Pfizer, Moderna, CureVac and others. The mood was congenial, all political jabs from the president set aside. Any existing rivalries among the major pharma companies were also put on hold. The focus was on how the industry could mobilize together to move — and move fast — to defeat the virus.

One by one, the pharma representatives went around the room, explaining the breakneck speed at which they were already working to develop treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus. After listening to each presenter, the president typically wanted to know just one thing: When will it be ready?

It’s a question that’s been hanging heavy over the entire industry ever since.

In the coming weeks, as much of the world came grinding to a halt, the pharma industry was asked to speed up. Now, the efforts to defeat a common enemy have brought about an unprecedented wave of collaboration throughout pharma, resulting in a remarkable surge of progress. Today, there are over 110 SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in development. Hundreds of potential treatments are also being tested across the globe. But the ability to truly get back to normal — and handle future outbreaks — hinges on effective vaccines.

“Antivirals will lower mortality,” says Barry Holtz, principal at Holtz Biopharma Consulting, “Vaccines will stop a pandemic.”

But if pharma is going to deliver on its ambitious timelines for producing enough vaccines to meet global demand, the industry will have to net a hat-trick of developing, testing and manufacturing a new drug product quicker than ever before.

When will it be ready? It’s a complex question, but the race is on to answer it. The first chapter of our COVID-19 coverage will dive into the emerging challenges pharma is facing as it works to get enough vaccines produced for the world.

Then if the industry succeeds, what comes next? Part two explores how pharma can gather up its “lessons learned” from COVID-19 and use them to become better prepared to meet pandemic challenges of tomorrow.

Read the two-part coverage here:

The billion dose dash

Can pharma meet its lofty goals for coronavirus vaccine production? 

Taking the lead

Pharma can use its pandemic response momentum to set the pace for a more prepared future