Pharma collaboration in the fight against COVID-19

09 September 2020

Pharma collaboration in the fight against COVID-19

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Pharma collaboration against COVID-19 has never been more vital. The pandemic has brought unprecedented change, from nationwide lockdowns to new working patterns. And it’s now fallen to the international science community to find a way out.

The global societal challenge of COVID-19 presents a key opportunity for different strands of the pharmaceutical world to integrate and collaborate – both between and within businesses. Here’s why that’s so important.


Research has seen increasing levels of pharmaceutical collaboration. Outsourcing pharmaceutical and biotechnological research to a third-party contract research organisation (CRO) made sense before the pandemic. But the role of CROs is now more important than ever – and more and more CROs are understanding the advantage of pooling resources and working in tandem.

In May, four co-located CROs at BioCity Nottingham, the UK’s largest bioscience centre, built a shared initiative to continue their COVID-19 therapeutic research in the face of the restricted movement of personnel and supplies.

CROs offer crucial additional bandwidth to pharma organisations performing research and development activities during the pandemic – and many are now combining forces with each other to augment their efficacy.

‘Big Pharma’ is also getting in on the game. R&D heads of 10 major pharma companies began meeting several times a week from the very beginning of the pandemic. Bristol Myers Squibb became the latest organisation to join the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator initiative kicked off by the Gates Foundation. And Eli Lilly and AbCellera have joined forces to co-develop antibody products.

With virtual healthcare becoming increasingly significant in the pandemic too, we can expect more initiatives like Telemedicine Technologies’ ‘CRO Alliance’ to take off. The CRO Alliance offers its members a central digital network to share:

• Best practice
• Centralised monitoring
• Patient Support Programs
• A common QMS

Simply put: collaborative, outsourced ‘open science’ research with shared resources has been identified as a key measure in the development of COVID-19 treatment – with digitisation a helpful antidote to the barrier of widespread institutional shutdown.

National supply

The pandemic has placed new emphasis on the manufacture and supply of pharmaceuticals at a national level.

The creation of a ‘Life Sciences Hub’ by the Welsh government is one example of this new attempt at collaboration, inviting pharma businesses and medical device, infection control product and digital solution providers to provide a collaborative supply to NHS Wales.

More flexible, open supply chains with multiple contributors help control the risk of disruption to supply while strengthening business continuity.

The development and supply of that Holy Grail of the COVID age, an effective vaccine, has also seen high levels of collaboration, with inter-university activity increasing markedly. In April, two Ideagen customers – Imperial College London and the University of Oxford Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility – teamed up to commence trials of the promising vaccine developed at Oxford, before a third customer, biomanufacturing giant AstraZeneca, stepped in to sign an agreement for further development and large-scale manufacture.

Better business processes

CROs, pharmaceutical operations and even ‘Big Pharma’ are all working more closely with each other in the fight against COVID-19.

But what about collaboration within pharmaceutical businesses?

As organisations scramble to develop COVID-19 treatment, or even just remain operationally sound during a period of intense disruption, inter-departmental collaboration and business-wide visibility is a key advantage which pharma operations shouldn’t neglect.

COVID-19 has presented a string of operational demands, including:

• The need for nimble, agile manufacturing processes which can be quickly tweaked and scaled for new drug production
• The need to quickly and reliably get under the skin of operational data to pinpoint risks and opportunities
• The need for closer collaboration between departments to quicken the route to market and streamline the supply chain while guaranteeing patient safety

It’s small wonder that more and more pharma businesses are turning to electronic quality management systems to align and centralise their operations.

Cloud-based, workflow-led platforms are helping pharma organisations build single sources of truth and turn their quality management systems into analytical, collaborative systems of engagement which all staff contribute to.

Sharing documentation, acting quickly on audit findings and building standardised, repeatable processes are all major advantages of the pharma industry’s collaboration with the quality software world. Risk officers, auditors and laboratory staff are now capable of accessing a common, connected business-wide QMS from anywhere.

Pharma collaboration is the key to the COVID problem. But concerted, data-driven action within those same organisations is how the leaders of the field will embed a quality-centric approach to get them to their objective.

Next steps

Looking to increase collaboration within your business?

Learn more about pharmaceutical quality management software

Written by

Alexander Pavlović

Alex produces targeted content to help Ideagen’s readers and customers navigate the complex world of quality, governance, risk and compliance.

Alex has worked with brands such as BT, Sodexo and Unilever and is passionate about helping businesses build a cohesive, collaborative culture of quality.

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