The role of the pharmaceutical industry in the COVID-19 crisis

By Deborah Nicholson

The emergence of the new type of coronavirus at the end of 2019 put significant pressure on the pharmaceutical industry. As health professionals were figuring out how to treat the virus, pharmaceutical providers set out to investigate what existing drugs might help treat patients with COVID-19, potential new medicines to help mitigate the symptoms and long term effects and the production of a vaccine. Alongside this, they also needed to ensure that regular production of other medicines was able to continue to ensure treatments for other conditions were not impacted.

Aside from responding to the immediate threat, organisations have had to adapt quickly to ensure that they can be resilient to disruption and work in more agile ways, both in a post-COVID environment and in preparation for a possible second wave of the virus. Preparing for multiple possible scenarios is key to ensuring continuity and the management of risk no matter the situation.

Vaccine development

We previously looked at the steps needed to be taken to produce a vaccine for COVID-19. Since then, there have been numerous different projects looking at developing a coronavirus vaccine, counting around 130 by the end of June. [1] One particular study at the University of Oxford has recently had positive results in producing a strong immune response. This study is being conducted in partnership with the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in order to manufacture and distribute the vaccine when it’s ready.

Professor Pollard from the University states: “The immune responses observed following vaccination are in line with what previous animal studies have shown are associated with protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, although we must continue with our rigorous clinical trial programme to confirm this in humans.”

Due to the unprecedented nature of the virus, studies such as these have accelerated faster than usual, with priority government funding and support in order to develop a vaccine and ensure public safety as soon as possible.

COVID-19 treatments

Looking at treatments for individuals infected with COVID-19 has also been a priority activity for pharmaceutical companies since the virus appeared and began to spread internationally in January 2020. The RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY) trial was set up in March 2020 to test a range of existing treatments to find ways to treat patients with COVID-19.

In mid-June, the trial had a breakthrough with the drug dexamethasone, which is a low-cost, widely available steroid treatment used to treat asthma and other inflammatory conditions. The trial found that dexamethasone helped reduce deaths by one third in hospitalised patients with respiratory complications. [2]

Pharmaceutical company Gilead have also produced a drug called Remdesivir which can help patients recover quicker from COVID-19. It was found to have positive results on two older forms of coronavirus, MERS and SARS, which have a similar structure to COVID-19. However, the treatment looks to be in short supply outside the US, after a deal was struck to purchase all available stock of the patented drug for the US. [3]

Innovation and recovery

Business continuity is essential for the pharmaceutical industry in order to keep operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritise COVID-19 treatments. Thorough risk assessments and reviewing previous procedures are key to building resilience and enabling critical work to continue during the pandemic.

Digital solutions provide the necessary backbone to streamlining these processes. Our software provides quality management and document collaboration solutions for pharmaceutical companies, allowing them to maintain operations and work remotely with colleagues during this unprecedented time.

Find out more about how our software can support the pharmaceutical industry in maintaining a key role within the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Sources:

[1] The Association of British Pharmaceuticals, What are pharmaceutical companies doing to tackle COVID-19?: https://www.abpi.org.uk/medicine-discovery/covid-19/what-are-pharmaceutical-companies-doing-to-tackle-the-disease/

[2] Recovery, Low-cost dexamethasone reduces death by up to one third in hospitalised patients with severe respiratory complications of COVID-19: https://www.recoverytrial.net/news/low-cost-dexamethasone-reduces-death-by-up-to-one-third-in-hospitalised-patients-with-severe-respiratory-complications-of-covid-19

[3] The Guardian, US secures world stock of key COVID-19 drug remdesivir:  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/30/us-buys-up-world-stock-of-key-covid-19-drug

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