By Vladimir Tkachenko
The Covid-19 pandemic has swept the world by storm, stretching healthcare suppliers, organisations and individuals to their very limits and placing unprecedented strain on an industry that in many countries was already under immense pressure. But while there is still a threat of a second wave on the horizon, we are now witnessing positive signs. Deaths and infection rates are declining and the recent discovery of dexamethasone as a viable treatment for the sickest patients has been greeted with enthusiasm by the scientific community. Similarly, Oxford University appears to be making some progress on the vaccine front, with a drug developed that’s safe and triggers an immune response.
With such a focus on drug development and also on searching for existing drugs that can help the fight against Covid-19, the pharmaceutical industry has been central and will continue to play a leading role in the months to come. However, leaders and governments across the world have come under fire for the time taken to respond, so it’s imperative that leaders in the pharma industry can learn from the past few months to ensure we can respond quickly and definitively to the next pandemic.
Speed and collaboration
Once the existence of Covid-19 was confirmed, the scientific community and pharmaceutical organisations have mobilised to come up with ways to protect against the virus at a speed never seen in our lifetimes. Teams around the world are working furiously to develop an effective vaccine, with promising results seen already.
The bottom line here is that speed and collaboration have been hugely beneficial in turning the tide against Covid-19, and will continue to be so in the ongoing battle. Any future pandemic will only be successfully beaten if pharmaceutical companies, experts, scientists and governments are willing to spring into action and work together for the common good.
Big data analytics
Data gathering, and analysis has grown in importance in recent years for all businesses, aiding everything from customer interactions, to HR functions. But when it comes to identifying the right treatments and approaches in a future pandemic, data should be playing a leading role.
Of course, data already provides the basis for the treatment of many diseases. Before a new medicine is approved for use, huge amounts of data from clinical studies will be examined and compared, before a final decision is made. However, there is more we can do to make data analytics processes sharper. When independent studies on a particular drug are carried out in one country, experts in other nations may be unaware that these studies exist if they do not have the ability to find and process vast amounts of data.
This is where emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will make their mark. By automating data analytics and applying AI capabilities where possible, the management of large datasets becomes considerably easier, and insights can be drawn from this information much more readily.
One of the unfortunate lessons learned from the current pandemic was that, at the beginning of the crisis, many nations and their health services were underprepared when it came to having the right equipment and infrastructure in place to respond quickly.
Logistically, the production of medicines is a major operation even outside of a pandemic. For example, a drug may be produced in India with raw materials developed in Japan, before being sent to a warehouse in Europe from which it is then distributed. This all needs to be carried out with the medicine’s short shelf life in mind.
To prevent these struggles from becoming a major issue in a future outbreak, pharmaceutical leaders need to be prepared to act quickly to scale up production of key resources – such as specialised testing kits and new medicines as soon as they are needed. Maintaining healthy stockpiles of established treatments is also key as there is always a possibility that an older medicine might be effective against a novel disease – as has been seen with dexamethasone.
Flexibility and efficiency
Finally, the need for rapid action to tackle Covid-19 has underlined how increased flexibility and efficiency are the name of the game, both in terms of regulatory approval for new treatments, and logistical considerations that ensure that medicines can be manufactured and delivered in double-quick time.
The pharmaceutical industry, by necessity, is a heavily regulated one. While the challenges of the pandemic have created a need for regulatory processes to be expedited in many cases, lockdown restrictions have made it more difficult for this to be done efficiently. There are also inconsistencies across geographies in terms of if and how a state regulator will approve a particular treatment. For these problems to be ironed out, the pharma industry and the agencies responsible for regulation need to work more closely together to ensure responses can be better coordinated in future.
Ultimately, if and when we face another pandemic, it’s crucial that the pharmaceutical industry has learnt from the lessons taught by Covid-19: innovation, efficiency, data analysis and collaboration will be key, and leaders in the sector should be focusing their efforts now on how to ensure the processes are in pace to facilitate this should we find ourselves amidst another worldwide pandemic.
Vladimir Tkachenko is General Manager of Amaxa Pharma.