It’s hard to describe the past year and a half. It has been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetime. One can hardly recall another event that has impacted almost every single person and every single industry at this scale. COVID-19 tested both our limits—and our prowess. And the signs today point toward a future of immunity and freedom. Everyone has played their part in getting us the path forward to tomorrow, and one industry, in particular, has helped deliver hope for the future: the pharmaceutical industry.
Today, COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered worldwide. The road to get here has been tough, but the pharmaceutical industry came through and has all but delivered us from this global crisis.
Last year, as COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we began the race against time to find a vaccine to fight the virus. The genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was published on January 11, 2020, triggering intense global research and development strategies to find a vaccine. Vaccine development is an arduous process, usually taking up to between 10 and 15 years. This was reduced to months through a rigorous approach led by science and data. The first COVID-19 vaccine candidate entered human clinical testing with unprecedented speed on March 16, 2020.
The pandemic pushed the healthcare industry to aggressively come together and engage in data-sharing and research, leading to three FDA-approved, emergency-use vaccines and three clinical-use therapies within months in the U.S. The sheer human and economic impact of COVID-19 accelerated vaccine development into warp speed and the first authorization for emergency use came for Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s vaccine on December 11, 2020.
Pharma companies quickly realized that competition needed to take a back seat to collaboration, sharing research, data, and technologies to accelerate timelines. BioNTech has long been working to develop mRNA vaccines to fight influenza, and while an mRNA-based vaccine hadn’t yet been developed or approved, they found the perfect partner in Pfizer to make and distribute their vaccines.
Partnerships and collaborations were the keys to help humanity fight against the virus. Meanwhile, Moderna worked with the government agency, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop its mRNA vaccine.
While new technology was embraced by some, others relied on tried-and-true vaccine development modalities (viral vectors and inactivated vaccines) with great efficacy. As a result of this herculean effort, we now have 16 approved vaccines on the market. And another vaccine—this time from Novavax—was approved in June 2021.
Looking to the future
The collaboration and partnership between pharmaceutical companies, health systems, and regulatory bodies in the interest of public health is a trend that many would hope endures after the pandemic. Research and data exchange gave scientists and researchers valuable and timely insights into disease symptoms and variants across geographies. This industry-public institution collaboration was a key enabler of the unprecedented efficiency of COVID-19 vaccine development. Another example of this collaboration is the ongoing clinical trial in Britain, where researchers are looking at combination doses of the vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca in a two-shot schedule to evaluate any boost in efficacy and coverage of variants. This is a first-of-its-kind trial that combines an mRNA shot and an adenovirus viral vector vaccine.
Bringing a vaccine or therapeutic to market is an intensive, laborious, and highly data-driven process. But the pharmaceutical industry’s commitment, innovation, and speed amid the pandemic was nothing short of awe-inspiring. To make this happen, clinical trials were conducted across the globe involving thousands of patients. Healthcare innovations like telemedicine and decentralized trials—considered to be at least a decade away—were accelerated, even as routine care visits and on-site clinical trials were halted due to pandemic-related shutdowns. Virtual patient engagement became the new normal and we embraced a more virtually connected world. It was about taking tough decisions, opening yourself up to new possibilities, and finding a way past every hurdle because the entire world had its hope pinned on a vial.
The pharmaceutical industry stepped up during the pandemic. But the job isn’t done, and trials are ongoing to expand the use of vaccines in pediatric populations. Continued R&D aimed at combating variants will likely continue for some time. But, for now, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Here at Innovaccer, our team would like to extend a big, heartfelt THANK YOU! to the pharmaceutical industry for leading us to hope through highly efficacious COVID-19 vaccines!