Biopharmaceutical companies leading way to develop COVID-19 vaccine

Executives from three of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical research and manufacturing companies said Wednesday that they are racing hand-in-hand to get a viable vaccine for COVID-19 out to the world by next year. 

They all said there has been “unprecedented” international cooperation to develop a vaccine. They also explained why it could come sooner than any other in history. 

“We want to have more than one vaccine. We want to have several vaccines that are approved so there are options and there are opportunities for everyone around the world to get vaccinated,” said Joaquin Duato, vice chairman of the Executive Committee for Johnson & Johnson. 

Duato was joined by the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, and the CEO of Sanofi, Paul Hudson, who spoke during a virtual town hall Wednesday to update the world on their progress. 

The forum was hosted by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which represents America’s leading biopharmaceutical research companies.

Of the 1,227 active clinical trials underway to fight the coronavirus, almost half — 47 percent — are using PhRMA member products, said Stephen Ubl, president and chief executive of PhRMA who moderated the event. Of those, there are 18 vaccines in clinical trials and 135 vaccines in clinical studies. 

Optimism about having a vaccine by 2021

At the town hall, the executives said their companies are working “24/7” to find treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus. They’re moving to human clinical trials as early as this month. 

Everything has been moving at breakneck speed to find a solution, Hudson said. In a matter of months, the international community has mobilized an effort that normally would take 10 years.  

“We’re now going again to set new records in less than a year,” Hudson said.  

The executives are optimistic their companies can create a viable vaccine, or at the least, more treatments to aid patients’ recovery by next year. A number of therapies are promising including anticoagulants, fusion proteins and antibodies. 

In the meantime, the companies are preparing to or have submitted approval from regulatory agencies like the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to manufacture hundreds of millions, and possibly billions of doses, ahead of time to prepare for the hope that one or more of the human clinical trials will succeed.     

They emphasized four key points:

Affordability for all

All three company executives stated emphatically that their mission is to put patients’ health first. That means the vaccine must be affordable and available for all, in both developed and developing nations. 

“We are committed to provide a vaccine for emergency pandemic use and on a not-for-profit basis to make sure price is not a barrier for anybody,’’ Duato said.

If patients and communities can be taken care of, then shareholder profits and economies will follow, he said. 

A vaccine can be developed more quickly today  

There are a number of factors helping their mission move at record speed, they said.

One is the unprecedented sharing of research and results. The industry is expanding and sharing vast global libraries to try to repurpose existing therapies and develop new ones.

“There are multiple vaccines out there. I wish success to all of them,” Bourla said. “This is not a competition among us. This is a competition against the virus.” 

New vaccine platform technologies is another reason companies are able to move at a faster pace. They can utilize the same building blocks to make different vaccines, and have proven particularly useful in vaccines that utilize genetic DNA and RNA. 

Finally, the government is also setting a precedent to speed up the process. The FDA released new guidelines June 30 to fast track treatments that are proven safe in trials. 

President Donald Trump’s new Operation Warp Speed aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine by January as part of the strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. 

Major public and private agencies, as well as public funding, are contributing to the effort.  

Clinical trials to include adults, diverse groups 

As the companies begin human clinical trials this month, testing and development of a vaccine will pull from diverse populations for clinical trial participants, including people of color, the elderly and people with underlying conditions. Clinical trials are now signing up participants, both with and without the virus. 

Once a vaccine is approved, the FDA and other regulatory bodies will determine who receives it first. It likely will appear in batches to be distributed to front-line health care workers and those at highest risk including the elderly and people with underlying conditions.

Centuries of experience should pay off 

With hundreds of years of experience, a vast amount of resources between the three corporations, there is hope one can succeed.  

“We have a significant amount of resources in science and manufacturing,” Bourla said. “If we put it to work, we can find a solution. If not us, who?” 

Biopharma supports 120,000 high wage manufacturing jobs

In Arizona, the biopharma industry is a major contributor to the economy with an estimated annual impact of around $9.1 billion. Since 2000, member companies of PhRMA have invested more than half a trillion dollars in the search for new treatments and cures, including an estimated $58.8 billion in 2015 alone, according to PhRMA.

Across the U.S., the biopharmaceutical sector directly employs more than 854,000 Americans, and invests more than $90 billion in research and development every year — more than any other industry in America. 

Because of its large supply chain, the biopharmaceutical industry supports more than 4 million jobs across the U.S. 

It also is becoming a larger force in manufacturing, according to PhRMA.The industry supports nearly 120,000 high-wage manufacturing jobs. In 2017, wages for biopharmaceutical manufacturing jobs were 72 percent greater than the average wage for all U.S. manufacturing jobs.

To read more about PhRMA and its members, go to:

Victoria Harker

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