From The Editor | February 3, 2020

Coronavirus: Pharma To The Rescue Too Simple


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma


I get a lot of my news about China via Japanese media.

For any skeptics of that route, I submit to you the news from that source is more balanced and informative than what I see elsewhere vis-à-vis China. That’s particularly because of the history between the two countries, as well as the geographic proximity, and the remarkable intertwining of these two enormous economies (despite periodic disputes).

An example is this video regarding the coronavirus, from ANN, a national television news network operated by the TV Asahi Corporation.

Japan has been monitoring the coronavirus pandemic as closely as any country, and the situation is worrying it immensely. Although the reporting is in Japanese, readers can clearly view the massive hospital (which, unfortunately and sadly, some say resembles a prison) built and become operational in 10 days.

Ten days.

Let’s at least start with an interjection of positive into this challenging coronavirus situation: Some hope springs from the fact the Chinese can accomplish such a feat …

Of course video of this hospital construction can be found elsewhere. But at the end of the ANN news clip, you will see reference made to chickens: There is now a new outbreak of H5NI (bird flu) in the area bordering Wuhan, adding to the misery and challenges of the people there, and potentially the world.

And further complications are on the rise.  

Masks, Markets, And The Olympics

China, Japan, and the coronavirus intersect at various points, all with global purport.

While just starting to circulate, there is a spreading dialogue in Japan that the Olympics – scheduled to start July 24th – will have to be postponed … or cancelled altogether.

Stock markets around the world are on edge, and with good reason. Uncertainty – the bane of markets –increases proportionally with the global spread of the disease.

There’s a long list of companies and industries that will be negatively impacted. There can be little doubt economies worldwide will take a hit in coming months. Governments are actively calculating reductions in GDP growth for 2020.

Elsewhere, it appears that in some Western cities, people who look of Asian decent are being harassed as “carriers.” The Japanese, for one, are cancelling trips to Europe. In fact, travel by most anyone practically anywhere is now questioned, or banned by governments, for good reason.

Finally, and incongruent to residents of Asian countries, the common wearing of masks – which while limited in effectiveness, at least represent a frontline and personal action to prevent spreading or contracting airborne illnesses – is seen in the West as a negative indicator. Instead of a sign of caution and concern on the part of the wearer, many see the mask as a sign of disease itself … and therefore can contribute to a decrease in their use.

That is, if you can still find a mask to purchase to begin with.

We may think we’ve been through this before with other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS … but this time it feels different, like a larger confluence of too many overlapping and unstable tectonic plates.

Pharma To The Rescue Too Simple

Therefore, the idea that the biopharma industry will swoop in, quickly and fundamentally mitigate the situation – an idea which takes hold in these real or near pandemics (e.g., Zika virus) – is naïve. If not naïve, historically shortsighted.

Great credit should indeed be given to the global biopharma companies – those very large and very small – for trying now to catch up to the spreading disease.

And to be clear: The vast majority of people fully recover from the coronavirus.

But there is in fact no vaccine. I believe most all readers are aware that for decades the research, development, and particularly manufacture of vaccines have been greatly curtailed.

A most important reason for that is sadly ironic: the rise of extremely low-cost manufacturing outside of the U.S. and Europe – with China as the epicenter.

In the U.S., this has (after too long) led to a focus on the hollowing out of U.S.-based development and manufacturing per se, on the safety of cheaply made medicines, and the role of governments and free-enterprise theory in healthcare systems.  

Pharma to the rescue? That’s just too narrow a thought process.

But To The Rescue, Nonetheless

As stated on one website recently, this pandemic has in fact now “catalyzed the development of novel vaccines across the biotech industry, both by pharmaceutical companies and research organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), US.”

Clincial Trials Arena reports a total of 30 therapies from companies around the world that as of today are planned for testing by Chinese scientists.

Good news for this immediate and acute need.

We started this discussion in Japan, a neighbor of China. From Japan and China we quickly moved to the U.S., and the rest of the world. For good and bad, we are, as they say, in this together.

And once again, somehow above all, biopharma stands as the great hope for humanity (to put it in the grandest of terms).

The role of government, from local to national and international, is large, and although I can’t devote more space to this subject at this writing, its importance cannot be underestimated.

But the knowable truth has been long evident: We have long-term, globally systemic challenges to overcome before we can snuff out situations like we now find ourselves in with this coronavirus. Some governments, and political and economic systems are much better at helping here than others.

For now, yes, let’s pray that once again, the world and all individual patients find healing and prevention – largely provided by biopharma companies, and all the contract research, development and manufacturing organizations serving them, and all of us around the world.