Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of PhRMA, outlines the unprecedented collaboration and speed with which the biopharmaceutical industry has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the solutions that PhRMA is proposing to lower patient costs while protecting innovation and access.
We know that our innovation and our collaboration only count if what we produce finds its way to the families who need it most. There is a right way to do that – and there’s a wrong way.
This year, we’ve heard countless stories about communities coming together to help those in need. We’ve seen the selflessness of frontline workers at hospitals and grocery stores and schools. And, as an industry, we’ve worked tirelessly to find treatments and vaccines to beat COVID-19.
Since early January, when the SARS-CoV-2 virus first appeared and was immediately sequenced, biopharmaceutical companies have made tremendous progress in this fight.
We rallied as an industry around increasing testing, developing new ways to detect the virus and even opening a testing facility in one of our companies’ parking lots to increase capacity.
We repurposed existing antivirals that failed in treating previous viruses, one of which resulted in the first FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19, reducing time patients spend in hospitals.
We quickly began developing new medicines, and today there are more than 1,600 clinical trials testing nearly 500 unique therapies. One promising approach uses monoclonal antibodies, and several potential therapies using this approach are already in late-stage clinical trials.
And the goal on each of our minds – bringing vaccines across the finish line – is closer than ever. More than 30 unique vaccines are in clinical trials at this very moment. Several of them are already in phase 3 trials and are currently being manufactured so that if they are given the green light by the FDA, they will be ready to ship as quickly as possible.
We’re ready to fight COVID-19 today because we’ve spent decades preparing for this moment– not just in terms of the science, but also industry culture. First, we have honed our experience with similar diseases – like hepatitis C, HIV, SARS and MERS – over many years. Second, we invested in key technology, long before we ever heard of the virus we’re working to solve today. And third, we invested in and built the ability to manufacture and disseminate medicines at scale.
There’s another reason we’re ready: This year, our industry banded together in unprecedented ways as a cohort of focused collaborators.
The collaboration we’ve witnessed is inspiring – and it’s going to save lives. For example, several of our member companies are sharing resources, research and technology to develop a potential vaccine. One of our bigger companies is partnering with a smaller biotech with expertise in the development of novel mRNA vaccines. Another is sharing a proprietary vaccine component known as an adjuvant. And platforms like Transcelerate are helping companies quickly share patient summaries, data and real-world evidence in nearly real time. Plus, our companies are talking to one another about combining manufacturing capacity so they can scale up as fast as possible when the time comes. And we’re working with governments and insurers to ensure that patients can afford and access the treatments and vaccines we’re working so hard to develop.
We’re also partnering with government through public-private partnerships, like the one involving 16 biopharmaceutical companies, NIH and other government agencies – including FDA – that is coordinating research strategies in a way that lets companies compare agents and treatments and data to figure out what works best. And we’re collaborating with public health authorities around the world, including the EMA and WHO. Our industry was a founding partner in the WHO’s ACT-Accelerator, which is going to speed up global access to safe and effective diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
These are significant developments, and they should give everyone in the country great hope. But while we’re working to find treatments and cures, we’re also facing a challenging policy environment.
Everyone in our industry is committed to helping patients. We’re all concerned about cost. We know that our innovation and our collaboration only count if what we produce finds its way to the families who need it most.
There is a right way to do that – and there’s a wrong way.
Right now, policymakers are pushing for fundamental change to our industry through harmful policies like government price setting, which would restrict access to medicines and likely sacrifice future innovation. Actions like tying US prices to what other countries pay would keep newer medicines out of patients’ hands, lead to worse health outcomes and shrink future investment in R&D. These bad ideas also include drug importation policies that would ignore the strong safety standards we demand as a country, inviting counterfeit and dangerous drugs into the United States.
It’s true that for many patients, America’s healthcare system falls short. We know that our industry’s innovations can’t benefit families if they can’t afford them. That’s why we continue to work with policymakers to help them understand how to lower patient costs while protecting innovation and access.
We support proactive policies that lower out-of-pocket costs, like sharing discounts and rebates with patients at the pharmacy counter, making cost-sharing assistance count toward deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and making sure insurance covers the true needs of patients during this pandemic and always. We also support giving patients more predictable cost sharing and covering medicines from day one so that patients aren’t forced to make the terrible choice between which pills to take and which to skip.
When we fight for the right policies, we’re fighting for patients’ health. When we work in the lab to make discoveries, we’re working to improve patients’ lives. When we come together to collaborate in unprecedented ways, we’re coming together because patients and their families can’t do this alone.