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Spotlight on Science Gives Public New Perspective


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-06-01-2020
Volume 40
Issue 6

As government turns to the pharma industry not just for therapies or a vaccine but for tests and data to evaluate these treatments, people are receiving an education.

The public may appreciate seeing pharma’s softer side as a result of the industry’s pandemic outreach efforts. But it is also getting some new perspectives on what exactly goes into drug development. The industry’s improving reputation suggests people are gaining a better understanding and newfound respect for what pharma actually does.

“When you look at the polls, the public is really counting on the government and the industry during this time of crisis, and the biopharmaceutical industry can play and is playing a really important role,” said Bristol Myers Squibb Chairman and CEO Giovanni Caforio during CNBC’s Healthy Returns summit last month. “That’s who we are and this is what we do.”

Two aspects of biopharma that have come to the forefront as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are how important the discovery of potential new vaccines and therapies is and how difficult it is to develop them.

As government turns to the pharma industry not just for therapies or a vaccine but for tests and data to evaluate these treatments, people are receiving an education. They’re learning about the complexities of clinical trials and how different tests can yield different results. They’re realizing the painstaking process from discovery to clinical trials to regulatory approval and manufacturing, and why it traditionally takes 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine.

“I think that’s not something that people had top of mind before this,” says Thomas Kendris, US country president at Novartis. “I think they’re now probably more aware than ever that the pharmaceutical industry does play an important role in finding solutions to a crisis like this.”

Though there is no vaccine yet for the novel coronavirus and many therapies remain unproven, people have taken notice that the industry has moved quickly and is working tirelessly to get there. And much of the information is coming from a neutral third party, the media, giving more weight to the message.

“We can say what we do, but I think nothing demonstrates it better than this situation where they’re hearing news reports that don’t come from the companies themselves,” says Kendris. “It’s the media covering the work that the companies are doing. And I think people are probably appreciating that more now than ever before.”

In fact, in a Pew Research Center study conducted April 29 to May 5, 83% of US adults said there will probably or definitely be an effective treatment or cure for COVID-19 in the next 12 months. It also indicated that 73% of respondents felt there will probably or definitely be a vaccine to prevent coronavirus in the next year. Around 72% of those surveyed said they would get a coronavirus vaccine if one were available.

The Pew Research Center study found that 83% of adults expect another coronavirus outbreak within the year, and 69% expect the focus on the disease to delay progress on other treatments for non-COVID-related conditions.

“With its new-found reputational credit, the pharma industry will certainly get the benefit of the doubt as the search for treatment continues,” says Sven Klingemann, director of RepTrak. “That should buy it some time. [But] it is critical that they continue to reinforce their actions around corporate responsibility as a foundation that will endure outside of major health crises.”

This certainly is not a time for pharma to rest on its laurels. It’s time to continue putting the focus on the power of science and promoting that idea in a very public way.

“I hope that this crisis could reset the perception about the valuable position that the industry is bringing to society,” said Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla during the CNBC summit. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to set it where it should be. I know that reputation is earned in drops, but you can lose it in buckets. And I hope that we will earn it drop after drop.”


Elaine Quilici is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at equilici@mjhlifesciences.com

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