Pharmaceutical companies will need to show support or risk damaging global reputation

The unprecedented events of the past few months have upended societies and healthcare systems alike. With the increased need for medical innovation and research to kickstart plunging economies, pharmaceutical companies need to make strategic decisions that will provide financial benefit while showing strong commitment to global health and their patients. Monetary and drug donations have been the main tactics employed by drug developers, but there is now pressure to refuse royalties associated with development of COVID-19 fighting drugs, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

The highly publicized drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, developed by Bayer and Novartis respectively, have been increasingly quoted as drugs of promise. Both companies, although donating large volumes of tablets to the cause, are set to gain financially from the pandemic, an outcome that has been highly criticized by news outlets. Pfizer is also set to gain from the sales of its pneumonia vaccine, Prevnar-13, which has begun development of a coronavirus vaccine with BioNTech.

Heather Farrell, Health Analyst at GlobalData, commented: “The creation of a vaccine for COVID-19 is a highly lucrative endeavor and will have a global target population, irrespective of age or clinical status. It is no wonder that different collaborations and various companies are exploring the possibility of developing such an agent.”

Furthermore, Novartis has started a $20m response fund and has entered the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator headed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The group has designed trials of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, with a focus on prevention rather than treatment.

Farrell continues: “Unlike the trials assessing the use of chloroquine on COVID-19 symptoms, the Therapeutics Accelerator is trialing the preventative efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. As exit strategies from global lockdowns are so imperative, a preventative treatment would be one of the most important assets against the coronavirus pandemic.”

Gilead’s remdesivir and AbbVie’s Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) are also being trialed in treating the virus, with remdesivir showing great promise in the health crisis so far. However, criticism over orphan drug designation has proven the immense pressure on pharmaceutical companies to forego profits in exchange for reputable gains. After AbbVie denounced orphan drug status and all royalties associated with Kaletra’s use in coronavirus patients, GlobalData believes that many drug companies will follow suit to deter criticism and reduce damage to their reputations.

Farrell adds: “There is a change in the tide regarding pharmaceutical companies’ place in a pandemic of this scale. In a time of such urgency, pharmaceutical companies will have to reconsider their priorities and approach so that desperately needed innovation continues without complete dependence on the financial revenue attainable.”

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