Heavy lies the corona

March 29, 2020
Pharma’s biggest therapeutic area is not immune to COVID-19 challenges

This column was not supposed to be about the novel coronavirus. Each March, we write a “state of the industry” story that discusses a buzzing area in the pharma space. This month’s cover story details pharma’s frenzied pursuit of innovative oncology drugs — and the remarkable progress that has been made. With massive investing throughout the industry, it is clear that in pharma, oncology is king.

But lately, all conversational roads lead to COVID-19 (and given the gravity of the situation, rightfully so).

Before all industry discussion was about treating a global pandemic, oncology was the word on everyone’s lips. The biggest therapeutic area in pharma, oncology is exploding. PwC estimates that over one third of the 15,000+ pharma assets in development are related to cancer. Advances in immunotherapies and cell and gene therapies have yielded a next generation of cancer treatments that are smarter, more targeted and potentially more curative than ever before.

Currently, as all eyes are on antiviral and vaccine manufacturers as they rush for COVID-19 treatments and cures, the rest of the industry is trying to do its part to help, while also juggling the trickle-down effects of a global pandemic — and oncology is no exception.

Patients with cancer are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus — so the oncology sector has a heightened responsibility to disseminate information and keep treatment supplies stable.

The growing pandemic has brought business travel to a standstill. In areas where the epidemic is particularly prolific, governments have imposed stringent restrictions on movement. Two top U.S. cancer centers have announced they will halt employee travel, which means that lead experts from the oncology field can’t attend upcoming conferences — if these meetings happen at all. In oncology, these events are a crucial way for doctors to learn about the latest innovations and study data from researchers and drugmakers.

The outbreak has also restricted sales reps from visiting health care providers. While the public may not have the highest opinion of pharma sales reps, within the oncology space, they are heavily relied on as clinical resources for doctors.

As you will read in our cover story, oncology therapies evolve quickly. Getting new information to doctors is complicated if they are unable to meet at conferences or with sales reps.

In some cases, vendors are stepping in to help. Veeva, for example, has given away over 12,000 free licenses to its software product (Engage Meeting)  so that health care providers and sales reps can virtually communicate and share vital oncology updates.

Oncology powerhouses have also offered assistance. Roche has donated diagnostic tests, medical supplies and financial support. Pfizer and J&J are digging through their inventory of previously developed antiviral compounds to see what might prove effective as a COVID-19 treatment. Novartis has publicly pledged to keep prices “stable” for certain essential drugs and antibiotics amid the crisis.

In the industry’s quest for the proverbial “cure for cancer,” failure has been always part of the process. Pharma’s oncology momentum is decades in the making — so while COVID-19 is currently causing serious obstacles — overall progress likely won’t be stymied. Fortunately, for the millions of cancer patients around the globe, oncology will continue to reign supreme.

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

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

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing 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.'