The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique challenge that is a combination of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the Great Depression of 1929, severely impacting people’s health and the global economy. The Philippines is not spared with more than 56,200 confirmed cases, coming second to Indonesia in South East Asia.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not business as usual, and is far from over. This is why there is need for strong commitment to work in innovative ways, to collaborate with each other, and to enter into public and private partnerships.
These partnerships are coming from the research pharmaceutical industry’s deep scientific knowledge gained from decades of experience working on developing solutions for combatting a range of infectious diseases such as MERS, SARS, Ebola and influenza, as well as experience working with health authorities and regulators to find a fast-tracked approach to bringing safe and effective medicines, vaccines and diagnostics to patients.
“As a science-driven industry that aims to address some of the world’s biggest healthcare challenges, we have a deep sense of responsibility and are uniquely positioned to respond rapidly to COVID-19,” said Mr. Thomas Cueni, Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA), whose members are involved in the research for COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and diagnostics. IFPMA’s sole member in the country is the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing the research-based providers of medicines and vaccines.
In the Health for Juan and Juana Forum: The Innovation Imperative Forum hosted virtually from Manila, Mr. Cueni said that the pharmaceutical industry is sharing real-time clinical trial data with governments and other companies around the world to advance the repurposing of existing treatments and developing new therapies for COVID-19.
IFPMA members are working with governments, research institutes and each other to speed up R&D of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19. According to Mr. Cueni, these include, among many others, the Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline collaboration to develop a vaccine with an adjuvant, a vaccine ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response; the Pfizer partnership with German biotechnology company BioNtech to develop an mRNA-based vaccine; AstraZeneca joining forces with the University of Oxford to develop a recombinant adenovirus vaccine; Johnson & Johnson collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for a vaccine candidate; and the MSD partnership with nonprofit scientific research organization IAVI to develop a recombinant vaccine.
“The biopharmaceutical industry and our partners are united by one purpose: to develop a vaccine or several vaccines against COVID-19 sometime next year,” Mr. Cueni said while stating that the industry is a founding partner of Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
In the Wallace Business Forum: Reimagining Healthcare virtual event, PHAP President Dr. Beaver Tamesis referred to this kind of partnership as “coopetition” where pharmaceutical companies cooperate with each other in the search for COVID-19 treatments, vaccines and tests even when they are business competitors.
With regard to the Philippine response to COVID-19, Mr. Cueni stressed the need for “a resilient health care system” and a “government that understands the value of innovation”.
Speaking in the same Wallace Business Forum, PHAP Board Member Ms Kara Brotemarkle said that pooled procurement would work in both pandemic and non-pandemic situations when bringing in innovative medicines, vaccines and tests in the Philippines.
Pooled procurement combines several buyers into a single entity that purchases vaccines on behalf of buyers, the World Bank and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) explained. For example, several government agencies could combine their resources, and gather the needs for medicines or vaccines. Due to larger volumes in pooled procurement, there is generally lower price.
In the Philippine experience, an innovative medicine was priced 66% lower than the original price when the government purchased it in bulk. Given the effectiveness of the government in lowering medicine prices through pooled procurement, such can then be expanded to cover more medicines that can in turn be given to more people.
Dr. Tamesis said that once a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, a national strategy that recognizes public-private partnerships and the value of innovation will be important. Both partnerships and appreciating innovation will be key strategies instead of imposing price regulation that further burdens the industry which is in the forefront of partnerships to contain the pandemic.
As observed by Ms Brotemarkle, such public-private partnerships were demonstrated when pharmaceutical companies continued to bring in life-saving medicines into the country. PHAP Member companies chartered flights and hurdled sea and land transportation challenges during the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon at the backdrop of global lockdowns.
Indeed, it is high time for both the government and the private sector to dialogue on country strategies in preparation for the time when a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is discovered.
TEODORO B. PADILLA is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP and its member companies represent trusted providers of medicines, vaccines and diagnostics in the country today. Its Members are also in the forefront of research and development for COVID-19.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.