The world is under the current COVID-19 pandemic spell, and a lot of action is happening in the pharmaceutical industry. In the circumstances of the present time, pharmaceutical companies around the world are working towards developing the most effective vaccination and treatment for the novel deadly virus.
The drug companies are quickly working towards getting the medical cure for coronavirus, which has created so much destruction around the world. All of a sudden, it seems we have gone back to the primitive era, as the doctors are helpless, and there is no cure yet found for this deadly and highly infectious virus.
With so much action going on in the pharma companies, from working towards developing new treatments to the increase in the sale of hand sanitisers, gloves, and other PPE kit, the industry is all set to be revived.
There is a race among all these companies for developing the drug first. In the last few weeks, dozens of labs have increased their research and innovation activities. However, experts say the solution is not coming anytime soon.
As per University of Queensland, virologist, Kirsty Short, there will not be any breakthrough in treating COVID- 9 infection in at least for a year. There are promising vaccinations in development, one even made by the University of Queensland. Still, it will take time to reach the patients as these vaccination needs to pass the safety testing successfully, he added.
There are three main requirements – one for vaccination to prevent the COVID-19 infection, medicines that can treat infected patients, and more testing kits to test more and more people.
Ethical dilemma for drug companies
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Developing new drugs involves considerable investments in terms of funds. Typically, once a company develops a medicine, they seek patent rights to get a monopoly on medicine. Once they receive the patent right, they can charge high prices for the created medicines.
That said, the coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in nature, and such a crisis calls for a collective work by these drug companies. For COVID -19 treatment, the demand is arising to waive off proprietary rights on drugs and devices used to treat the coronavirus infection.
It is a humanitarian crisis and needs to be treated differently. Going by these sentiments, US firm AbbVie has taken the initiative and stopped enforcing its patent on HIV medicine Kaletra, which is under trial for its effectiveness in treating the coronavirus infection.
However, many companies are still fighting for exclusive rights. Wuhan Institute of Virology in China is seeking patent rights for remdesivir. The US-based pharmaceutical company Gilead first developed the drug. Remdesivir is an experimental anti-viral drug under trial for treating COVID-19 infection.
Gilead also applied for the orphan status of remdesivir, but after the public backlash, the Company has withdrawn its application.
Pharmacists get the authority to prescribe emergency drugs in Australia.
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Health Minister Steven Miles has said that the changes in Australia drug therapy protocols authorise pharmacists to offer more services during the ongoing pandemic.
He further added that as per the changes in protocols, pharmacists would get more supply for emergency medications and a wider range to substitute drugs, so that individuals have access to immediate medical assistance.
He also mentioned that as soon as a vaccine develops for the COVID-19, pharmacists would also be allowed to deliver it and communities everywhere in the state will get immediate access to the vaccination. However, it is not expected to be developed at least in the next 12 months.
Deloitte on the COVID-19 impact on the biopharma industry
Pharmaceutical R&D is experimenting with nearly 40 vaccinations. Still, it will take up to 18 months for the vaccine to undergo testing and trials and to get approved as an effective vaccine for COVID-19.
In the meantime, companies could repurpose some of the already existing drugs and anti-viral treatments for treating COVID-19 patients.
Two anti-malaria drugs - hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine appeared to be promising to provide a potential therapy for the coronavirus cases. These medicines were given an emergency-use authorisation (EUA) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The ongoing pandemic is affecting all pharmaceutical processes such as research and development (R&D), commercial operations, and supply chain. In a usual scenario, these companies are mostly stocked up with sufficient supply to stay immune to any supply chain disruptions.
However, this is an unprecedented time where nobody knows what is going to happen next.
So, the main question arises, how will this period shape the future pharma industry? It is expected that once the pandemic period gets over, the pharmaceutical industry will be more advanced. The ongoing response to the pandemic is bringing several changes to the industry. Some of these are as followings-
- With the ongoing research for coronavirus, the companies will be more focused on the prevention of infectious disease, and they will shift their R&D investment to prevention and vaccination. After the next twenty years, it is expected that pharma industries will be evolved for early detection and prevention of the illnesses as the companies are developing more anti-virals and vaccines.
- Drug companies are working with the revolutionary technology Artificial Intelligence (AI) to aid the discovery of the drug rapidly. Research organisations have released open research data on coronavirus. These data include around 40,000 machine-readable articles on COVID-19 research. The AI could mine the data and analyse it effectively to speed up the drug finding processes.
- Pharma companies are learning how to work remotely with fewer employees on site. Manufacturing sites are following social distancing, and also considering working in shifts to get fewer employees onsite at the same time.
- Clinical trials to go digital/virtual using the internet and connected digital devices. During the crisis, patients for clinical trials must not be exposed to the virus. Hence, this pandemic time calls for digital clinical trials. It is also suitable for the patient, as they need not reach the facilities. Deloitte is optimistic that after the crisis, the pharma industries will adopt the technologies faster to make digital clinical trials a reality.
- Regulatory bodies for clinical trials are getting flexible to get the possible therapies quickly. FDA launched Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP), and US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working with Johnson & Johnson on COVID-19 treatment.
The current pandemic has created an immediate need for advancement of the pharma industries, and necessity always paves the way for invention. The drug companies have no way out but to work with new technologies and come up with more effective solutions to prevent future pandemics.