How Far Will European Drug Industry ‘Commitments’ on COVID Resonate?

April 1, 2020
Peter O'Donnell
Peter O'Donnell

Peter O'Donnell is a freelance journalist who specializes in European health affairs and is based in Brussels, Belgium.

Applied Clinical Trials

The European medicines industry has released a series of 'commitments' promising to “work collaboratively across the research and healthcare communities, utilizing our world-leading science, people and resources to tackle this outbreak.”

Amid the daily competition for attention in a public space overwhelmed by messaging about Covid-19, the European medicines industry has released a series of ‘commitments’ to demonstrate how hard it is working towards solutions.

EFPIA, which represents the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Europe, has published its promises to “working collaboratively across the research and healthcare communities, utilizing our world-leading science, people and resources to tackle this outbreak.”

According to Jean-Christophe Tellier, EFPIA president and CEO of UCB Pharma, the industry is “continuing to donate money and in-kind support to health systems, governments and organizations on the ground”, “pulling out every stop to ensure the safe supply of medicines to the patients that need them”, and “working around the clock to find new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.”

The announcement-released on 1 April-will have to find an audience among the public and the media that are ceaselessly battered by statements, strategies and scenarios from governments, international organizations, health professionals and patient representatives all vying to offer the definitive view of where we are, where we are going, and what we should be doing.

The drug industry itself has been in overdrive, offering details of the latest scientific and medical advances that may or may not constitute progress towards a solution. The European Union, facing the prospect of a renewed migrant crisis and the meltdown of the continent’s economic and fiscal stability, has been meeting in almost continuous emergency mode at the highest level, pouring out a string of contradictory communiqués that alternate between reassurance and dire warnings. And the background drumbeat swells all the time with repeated demands for more muscular cooperation-at times akin to a form of dirigisme-at EU level.

The industry commitments include “bringing together the best scientists from industry and academia through the Innovative Medicines Initiative to accelerate the development of new diagnostics and treatments”, and “sharing the learnings from clinical trials in real time with governments and other companies to advance the development of new therapies.” It says it is launching clinical development of potential vaccines against the coronavirus, screening its global libraries of medicines to identify potential treatments, and running “numerous clinical trials” to test new and existing therapies. And it is “coordinating with governments and diagnostic partners to increase Covid-19 testing capability and capacity.”

Industry is expanding its manufacturing capabilities and sharing available capacity to ramp up production “once a successful medicine or vaccine is developed”, and in the meantime it is directly linking with regulatory authorities to provide information about stock, manufacturing capacity and market tensions so as to head off potential disruptions or shortages. At the same time, it is-it boasts-“protecting our workforce and the communities where we live and work, having employees working from home whenever possible.”

But the industry commitment most likely to strike a chord with many of the industry’s inveterate critics, who have not ceased to push for patent limitations and price controls in a post-Covid world, is “working with governments and health systems to ensure that when new treatments and vaccines are approved they are available and affordable.” That rather timid commitment could turn out in a year’s time to be a Trojan horse inside the industry’s hitherto impregnable citadel.