Pharmaceutical industry ‘is working around the clock’ on COVID-19

This is a new image of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the disease that flared in Wuhan, China, in late December and has killed thousands of people worldwide. (Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)

By Dr. Michael Ybarra

As an emergency physician, I’m watching each day as COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus, continues to impact patients and our entire country. Ensuring that individuals who become sick seek care and take proper steps with their health care professionals to limit spread of the disease is key.

And everyone must do their part to limit spread by practicing good hand hygiene, staying home when feeling sick, and making timely and tough decisions about social distancing.

In addition to my clinical work, I also work for America’s innovative biopharmaceutical research companies and was dismayed to hear some say the biopharmaceutical industry is attempting to capitalize on this public health emergency. These comments couldn’t be further from the truth and negate the role we are actively playing now to tackle COVID-19.

The biopharmaceutical industry is working around the clock to develop a safe, effective and affordable vaccines to prevent infection as well as developing new and testing existing therapies to help those infected with COVID-19.

In addition to applying their scientific expertise to find ways to diagnose, treat and prevent infections, the biopharmaceutical industry is providing financial support and in-kind donations to organizations and collaborating with U.S., Chinese and global health authorities to combat this global public health emergency.

In fact, more than 50% of the members we represent are:

  • Researching and developing potential new treatments and vaccines and testing possible medicine candidates for infected patients.
  • Donating millions of dollars and crucial supplies, like surgical equipment and protective clothing, to on-the-ground organizations.
  • Collaborating with key stakeholders, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, international health organizations and more.

The biopharmaceutical industry is optimistic about our ability to develop effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, but we have much work to do.

We have an unparalleled advantage because of decades of scientific research cultivated from experience with viruses such as MERS, SARS, Ebola and influenza. This knowledge increases our chance of success in developing effective vaccines and treatments. This work is incredibly complex, challenging and slow, so we need as many shots on goal as possible.

Biopharmaceutical companies have also invested billions in technologies that are dramatically shortening the time it takes to decode viruses and develop potential vaccine candidates. As a result, PhRMA companies were able to act swiftly to deploy their extensive expertise in infectious diseases and harness new technologies to accelerate vaccine development.

Our companies also are investing significantly to assess and conduct clinical trials on whether existing medicines can effectively treat infected patients. In fact, there are more than 80 clinical trials and studies under way for new medicines and vaccines to treat COVID-19.

Finally, biopharmaceutical companies have the advanced manufacturing knowledge and capability to quickly ramp up capacity to meet potential demands, and have already begun doing this.

Developing vaccines and treatments for pandemics is challenging but it’s a challenge we are up for. While the biopharmaceutical industry is well-positioned to find an effective vaccine and treatment and is working to do just that, we also continue to collaborate with government agencies, like the NIH and BARDA, to better understand the trajectory of the virus and work collectively to address this public health emergency.

This type of collaboration between the government, academia, industry and investors is happening here in the United States. Our drug development system is the envy of the world. It’s important not to diminish the role of the biopharmaceutical industry or the government in finding solutions to this public health challenge.

The women and men who work at our companies dedicate their lives to discovering and developing medicines that enable patients to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. They are applying this knowledge, experience and dedication to delivering new treatments and vaccines to patients quickly and affordably.

You can find out more about what PhRMA companies are doing to help those affected by the coronavirus here and follow www.phrma.org/coronavirus for updates on actions being taken by the biopharmaceutical industry. And, for the best public health information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Dr. Michael Ybarra is an emergency physician practicing clinically in Washington, D.C. He also serves as vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.