Five considerations for the pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry is grappling with impacts of COVID-19 that cut across sectors and industries: shutdown labs, empty factories and offices, staff working remotely, and investment plans put on hold. All of this is happening while pharma-companies are tasked with finding solutions to the crisis, in the form of testing, treatments and eventually a vaccine.

Right when this industry is most needed to address the outbreak, pharmaceutical companies are in some ways hamstrung. Some of the world’s top infectious disease experts say that widespread testing (coupled with isolating infected people quickly) is the best way to stop the spread of the virus, until a vaccine can be developed. But the outbreak is hampering supply lines and reducing the industry’s ability to deliver products needed for testing, like swabs and plastic test tubes. As the Swiss company Roche has just learned, demand for testing components is so high that it’s sometimes necessary to relinquish proprietary rights (in this case to the formula for their lysis buffer, which is used to break open cells and study their contents) so as to not stand in the way of the pressing need to address this crisis.

There is also a lot of talk about extant drugs and therapies that may well be helpful in treating the seriously ill, giving them a better chance of surviving the infection. But these medicines still need to be tested for their efficacy relative to COVID-19 and the safety of using them on coronavirus patients. The current economic shutdowns around the world certainly aren’t helping pharmaceutical companies develop treatments quickly.

Ultimately, a vaccine against COVID-19 is needed to truly stop the spread of the virus, but experts say it will be 2021 at the earliest before such a vaccine has been proven safe and can be manufactured and distributed. That said, grants from governments and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates are helping. Already 35 companies say they are working on a vaccine and there are estimates that the COVID-19 vaccine market may be worth $35 billion dollars (USD).

Clearly though, the financial benefits a company can gain, from delivering testing components, treatments or a vaccine, pale in comparison to the alarming spread of COVID-19 and the lives and livelihoods the virus is destroying. The pharmaceutical industry has a moral imperative to do everything it can to rapidly manufacture and distribute these medicines and vaccines once they are available. And if the industry fails to act quick enough, then it risks governments stepping in and taking over their markets. Though this has not yet happened to the pharmaceutical industry, in the US, President Trump has already invoked the Defense Protection Act to require General Motors to produce hospital ventilators. There is nothing stopping the US or other governments from taking similar steps relative to pharma-companies.

So, here are five smart moves that pharmaceutical companies should consider when ramping up:

  • Identify the most appropriate facilities to re-purpose or upgrade in order to enhance production capacity, including redundant footprint, in which infrastructure and data could be quickly scaled up.
  • Plan and design new production facilities that can be built quickly. Consider Modular, Podular and Autonomous shells (PODS), which are already prevalent in pharma manufacturing, to achieve speed, flexibility and scalability.
  • Adapt and upgrade supply chain networks to deliver supplies, treatments and vaccines by having multiple sites around the globe doing this work
  • Rethink supply chain dependencies: focus on supply chain resilience and establish a more robust network of strategic suppliers.  
  • As nobody knows which virus will hit next time, learn all the lessons from the pandemic crisis and work together with authorities to establish ways create quicker access to testing material, medication and vaccines.

Martijn Karrenbeld

Global Director Industrial Manufacturing +31 (0)6 2706 0599 Ask me a question
Share on Wechat
"Scan QR Code" on WeChat and click ··· to share.