Week of 16 March 2020
Biopharmaceutical companies make individual and collective commitments to tackle the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus – including launching joint R&D collaborations, providing grants to support healthcare systems, donating drugs and prioritising the development of vaccines and relevant manufacturing capabilities
There are a number of important priorities for the biopharmaceutical sector in the face of the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. These include prioritising the development of (1) treatment for those infected, (2) a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and (3) diagnostics kits to identify the disease – all while supporting global healthcare systems to face the major strain they are facing and continuing to supply essential medicines, vaccines and diagnostics for patients with other life-threatening diseases.
This week, we saw a number of biopharmaceutical companies come out with commitments that seek to address these priorities:
- Pfizer published a 5-point plan outlining the role the company will play to tackle COVID-19. Actions include (1) making tools developed to tackle the virus available on an open source platform, (2) creating a SWAT team to focus solely on addressing this pandemic, (3) sharing the company’s clinical development and regulatory expertise to support smaller biotech companies that are working on tackling the virus, (4) offering its manufacturing capabilities once a therapy or vaccine is approved, and (5) reaching out to federal agencies to build a cross-industry rapid response team to move into action immediately when future epidemics surface
- Novartis has created a COVID-19 Response Fund of USD 20 million to support public health initiatives designed to help communities manage challenges posed by the pandemic. The company has also joined two cross-sector collaborations bringing together pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions to accelerate R&D efforts: the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative coordinated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, and Mastercard, and a COVID-19 directed partnership organized by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI)
- Gilead Sciences has provided remdesivir to physicians for compassionate use to treat several hundred severely ill patients with confirmed COVID-19, in parallel to initiating two Phase 3 clinical trials of remdesivir. Remdesivir is a novel antiviral drug developed as a treatment for Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus infections. Update: Gilead Sciences has been criticised since for requesting ‘orphan status’ in the US for remdesivir which would give it exclusivity on sales and the right to set prices for seven years.
- Roche has donated nearly $2m-worth of Actemra to help China manage the COVID-19 outbreak. (Actemra which treats arthritis was approved by China this month to treat COVID-19 patients with lung complications). Roche is also prioritising the production of testing kits
- See this backgrounder compiled by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) for further examples on individual company commitments
On March 19th, biopharmaceutical companies aligned under the auspice of the IFPMA to issue a joint sector-wide commitment to “support the fight against the spread of COVID-19”. In this commitment, biopharmaceutical companies commit to screening their libraries of medicines to identify potential treatments, undertaking numerous clinical trials, sharing real-time clinical trial data with governments and other companies, dedicating expertise to speed up the development of vaccines, supporting global healthcare systems, scaling up the capacity of diagnostics testing for COVID-19 and increasing and sharing their manufacturing capacity once a vaccine or treatment is developed. They also commit to working to secure the continuity of supply for other essential medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.