Partnership and collaboration: The new normal in the fight against COVID-19

Some problems are too big, too complex and the humanitarian need too great – to address alone. And, when time is of the essence, pooling knowledge and specialist skills is vital to success.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the public health challenge of our time. It demands a concerted effort and bold, new thinking to find solutions together. That is why the R&D ecosystem is responding in a spirit of partnership. Pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms, academic researchers, public health institutes, NGOs and others, are showing their commitment by sharing data, knowhow and ideas.

Existing partnerships – notably the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) – provide a platform on which new initiatives can be launched quickly. IMI received 144 proposals in less than a month in response to its fast track Call 21, specifically dedicated to the development of therapeutics and diagnostics against coronavirus infections. Up to €90 million, coming from the European Union and EFPIA members, will finance the successful consortia and projects.

New and expanded collaborations are also exploring the very latest technologies. For example, Eli Lilly is partnering with AbCellera to identify promising antibodies; Pfizer and BioNTech are building on their existing flu vaccine partnership to develop an mRNA vaccine candidate against COVID-19; just yesterday (14 April) GSK and Sanofi announced a partnership to develop a potential vaccine. Large companies are sharing proprietary libraries and working with philanthropic organisations – such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – to accelerate drug development.

Cross-sectoral partnerships such as EXSCALATE4CoV, facilitated by DG Connect, bring together Europe’s most advanced computing and data science with our drug development scientists and researchers to fight COVID-19.  It brings the power of Europe’s super-computers to run continuous in silico simulations followed by in vitro experimental validation that speedup the identification of active compounds to be tested in humans as novel treatments for COVID-19.

Driven by the humanitarian need, we are witnessing some creative, novel partnerships, that we would not have expected in a pre-COVID-19 world. Take innovative pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and drinks giant Carlsberg working together to convert ethanol into hand sanitizer for the Danish healthcare system.

Multiple vaccine research initiatives are also under way, with academic groups, start-ups and leading vaccine manufacturers working to find and test preventative tools. CEPI, a public-private partnership, is helping to coordinate a global response and working with GSK, CureVac, as well as early-stage companies and universities.

Meanwhile, researchers are evolving the process of publishing research results in journals and opting to share their data with the world in real-time.

Find out more about how EFPIA members are responding to COVID-19.

We are still a long way from solving this enormous challenge. But, while the scale of the problem is unprecedented in our lifetimes, it will be matched by the scale of our response.

You can play your part by following public health advice and buying the time we need for these partnerships to deliver diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. Nobody can say for sure when and how this crisis will end, but it is clear that innovation and collaboration will play a central role – and that we will emerge with a wide range of new tools for tackling pandemics.

Nathalie Moll

Nathalie Moll joined the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) as Director...
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