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Coronavirus shows our reliance on biopharma

04 March, 2020

The industry is devoting all its resources to finding a vaccine, but we should not be complacent about the need to invest in future innovation, says Bernard Mallee.

As the health authorities deal with the first case of Covid-19 in Ireland, the global biopharmaceutical industry is racing to find a treatment for the potentially deadly virus.

The major companies that make up the industry — GSK, AbbVie, Roche, Bayer, Gilead, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson — are working to contain the outbreak and develop resources to tackle future public health emergencies.

The industry is fast-tracking collaborative research and identifying suitable assets to develop diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments. It is working closely with public authorities.

Companies have been donating investigational compounds that may be able to treat coronavirus, including compounds formerly tested on other viral pathogens, such as ebola and HIV. Some companies are researching vaccine candidates for prevention and undertaking inventories of their existing research portfolios to identify potential treatments.

The industry has made millions of euros available in monetary and in-kind contributions in supporting organisations at the heart of the crisis. In China, companies donated crucial supplies, such as advanced surgical equipment, antibiotics, disinfection equipment, batch virus-testing devices, vitamins, protective clothing, goggles, masks, and gloves.

As the situation evolves, the industry is prioritising the continuity of its supply chains. It is working to prevent and mitigate potential shortages, through close co-ordination with the European Medicines Agency and other global stakeholders. Manufacturers have not so far reported any shortages or delays in production.

Vaccines are hard to develop. However, with the exception of access to clean, safe drinking water, vaccination is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions ever. Vaccines have rid the world of smallpox, almost eradicated polio, and has eliminated measles, diphtheria, and rubella in many parts of the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that vaccines save 3m lives every year.

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