Since the beginning of 2020, witnessing the rapid spread of Covid pandemic with very high global fatality rate – virtually the entire global populations – directly or indirectly, have been looking up to the health care industry for help. This, of course, includes the drug industry – with high expectations of people on deliverables, blended with palpable apprehensions on what’s happening around.
Amid the wave after wave attack of Covid-19, many have realized that there will neither be any quick-fix or immediate solution to tame the virus. As India goes through the Covid 2.0 catastrophe, while waiting for Covid 3.0, a similar situation prevails in the country – with a sense of lurking fear for future uncertainties, slowly but steadily creeping in.
Thus, an unprecedented public expectation for speedy disentanglement of Covid-19 disruptions, confer a huge responsibility to all health care providers and entities, such as, the drug industry, which will be my key focus in this article. Just as any extraordinary situation calls for extraordinary initiatives, this national tragedy also demands from pharma professionals to start a new and proactive conversation, driven by ‘out of-box’ thinking.
I shall explore in this article, in which areas pharma needs to roll out a new conversation to meet with new expectations of its stakeholders, formed during the Covid Pandemic. This engagement needs to go beyond drugs and vaccines, spanning across key contemporary developments that are bothering pharma customers. The aim should be to help customers visualize a brighter horizon based on scientific reasons, in not-too-distant future, such as:
- How several pharma companies are taking novel initiatives, as a part of their corporate objectives to save lives and livelihoods, faster.
- How pharma players are thinking ‘out of the box’ to allay Covid related public apprehensions and neutralizing gross misinformation on Covid cure – based on scientific reasons, often selectively deploying their staff members.
In this regard, let me start with a recent advice of a top pharma veteran of global repute, especially on political and public expectations of ‘the endpoint’ for successful prevention and effective treatment of Covid-19 infections.
When focus is on ‘the end point – the price point’, it needs pharma’s attention:
Former CEO of Novartis Joe Jimenez – Ex-Novartis CEO and CEO & Cofounder of Aditum Bio, advised the same in an interview with Reuters Events, published on April 06, 2021. Although this was against the backdrop of the United States, the same is applicable to India, as well.
There, Jimenez said: “And I think the political focus in the United States is too often on the end point, the price point, which definitely needs attention, but not enough on the whole pipeline. And that absolutely needs attention and can bring down the price point at the end of the day.”
“It’s the pharmaceutical industry’s responsibility to show how their drug can lower total costs through the system, whether it’s reducing hospitalization or whether it is reducing other health care costs and comorbidities that lead to ever increasing budgets. If the industry focuses on that, I think I think that’s going to result in better launch success in the next few years,” he added.
However, there is another endpoint – of equal importance, especially in the Covid-19 prevention and the treatment process.
The other end point is equally important, as there may be an extended need for Covid vaccines:
Wider access to Covid drugs and vaccines is another political and general public’s ‘end point’ of expectations, besides price. As I wrote in my previous article, on October 02, 2021, India and South Africa had proposed at the WTO about an IP waiver for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines to resolve the issues of access and affordability for these products.
Thereafter, on May 05, 2021, the United States also issued a statement supporting the IP waiver for Covid-19 vaccines at the WTO, in its ‘service of ending this pandemic.’ As reported on May 13, 2021, even China now backs the drugs and vaccine IP waiver at the WTO.
Patent waiver for Covid drugs and vaccines make sense for the coming years, especially, in view of the reports that ‘Pfizer, Regeneron CEOs see extended need for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments as pandemic enters the next phase.’ Adding that the data stressed a “need” for re-vaccinations, the Pfizer CEO said, while protection remains high for those six months, it does “go down by time.” Thus, the need for Covid vaccine may continue to remain as important as of date, to prevent the pandemic over, at least, a couple of years, if not beyond.
That apart, some interesting developments followed soon – coincidentally or otherwise.
Meanwhile, some pharma companies responded with laudable initiatives:
Presumably, for wider availability and affordability of Covid drugs and vaccines, several pharma players alone or in association with governments, took some laudable initiatives. A few examples are, as follows:
- On May 10, 2021, BioNTech, which has partnered with Pfizer to produce its COVID-19 vaccine, said it plans to set up a new manufacturing site in Singapore, with a capacity to produce several hundred million doses of mRNA-based vaccine.
- As reported on the same day, as above, Eli Lilly promised to supply India with thousands of tablets of baricitinib for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. It also pledged to sign a royalty-free, non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements with Cipla, Lupin and Sun Pharma—to expand baricitinib’s availability in the country. Notably, in this month itself, the DCGI has authorized baricitinib plus remdesivir combo for emergency use of ‘hospitalized patients requiring supplemental oxygen, invasive mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).’ Baricitinib has also faced a shortage of during the Covid 2.0 surge.
- As per reports of May 12, 2021: ‘The US is looking at joint production of Johnson and Johnson’s Covid vaccine in India and ways to help manufacturers like Serum Institute of India (SII) to boost production,’
Pharma’s new role to allay public apprehensions in many Covid related areas:
In this complex scenario, various public apprehensions on Covid vaccines and drugs, need to be explained with scientific evidence – in a common man’s language. These include frequent changes in the dosage interval between two doses of some vaccines, whereas for other vaccines there isn’t any change in this area. Or why in India even within a group of fully vaccinated individuals, wearing masks or maintaining social distancing norms are necessary, when these requirements have been relaxed for fully vaccinated people in the United States. Or, when reports like: ‘Covid Cases Double In World’s Most-Vaccinated Nation, Raising Concerns,’ add fuel to the fire of public apprehensions in this regard.
Drug companies, especially those who are engaged in the global battle against Covid-19 – in their research lab, product development process, including clinical trials, can play an additional stellar role in this area, too. With ‘out of the box ideas’ for Covid related public engagement, they can scientifically respond to all public apprehensions with scientific reasons, in a simple language, on what is happening around most people, nowadays. Selective deployment of their own staff members can also make the initiative more meaningful.
This conversation may also include, science-based response to some bizarre claims of ‘Covid cure’ – from religious leaders having significant followers, and even by Union Ministers, without hurting their feelings or sentiments. These ‘advices’ were widely circulated by the mainstream global and local media, including the Wall Street Journal.
For example, one such report said: The president of a century-old religious organization declared that “consuming cow urine and cow dung will stop the effect of infectious coronavirus.” The swami added that a “person who chants ‘om namah shivay’ and applies cow dung” on his body “will be saved.” However, it was also reported that ‘Indian doctors warn against cow dung as Covid cure.’ Similar advice in different forms, even by elected politicians, keeps misguiding many unsuspected members of the public.
A series of Covid related contemporary needs and apprehensions, besides the traditional ones are surfacing. These are to be mitigated, on an ongoing basis. Pharma players – individually and collectively, instead of being always reactive, may wish to volunteer to proactively address these issues to help people move in the right direction.
As Covid appears to be a medium to long-haul battle – unlike most other pandemics, pharma companies need to think ‘out of the box’ to create innovative – new – and proactive conversation models in this space. In turn, the initiatives will help them win long-term trust and loyalty of customers – that will always remain as invaluable assets, fueling sustainable growth in business.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.