Enhanced collaboration across the pharmaceutical industry and beyond could unlock significant potential in the life sciences sector, an article in the Pharma Times suggests. It refers to a report by Novatis UK titled the New Possible, which examined the response to the Covid-19 pandemic across multiple sectors.

The report found that the collective response by the government, regulators, academia and the pharmaceutical industry was collaborative and opens up potential new ways of working. This enhanced level of communication could expediate future medical breakthroughs and lead to a more ‘patient first’ approach to healthcare.

The pandemic led to the rapid discovery of new uses for existing medicines, for example. A trial, led by a team at Oxford university in June 2020, found that the widely available steroid dexamethasone cut the risk of death from 40% to 28% for patients on ventilators. It also cut the risk of dying for people on oxygen from 25% to 20%.

Meanwhile, the UK is running the world’s largest clinical trial, named ‘Recovery’, into drugs which treat or cure Covid-19, involving 12,000 patients. It is hoped that the new innovative approaches will lead to the discovery of treatments and cures for other diseases, and will be of particular use in the field of rare disease research.

Chinmay Bhatt, managing director of Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK, Ireland and Nordics, commented: “COVID-19 and our collective response to it brought greater innovation and health service transformation than witnessed in generations.”

The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine breakthrough was enabled by a joint enterprise involving multiple other contributors. The result was a vaccine (which by normal procedures would have taken several years to develop, trial and rollout) that was widely available within 12 months and being administered to large sections of the UK population.

The remarkable achievement has led to the construction of the UK’s Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire, which is backed by £158m of government funding. It is intended to provide security for the UK to manufacture its own vaccines and guard against future shortages, should the virus mutate or require annual booster jabs.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, comments: “Patient involvement in decision-making relating to their health is really important, particularly as the health service rebuilds for the long-term.”

“The ongoing COVID-19 emergency has shown the need to ensure the NHS and its partners are continually considering the impact of their actions on patients and involving them in decisions about their care.”

Beyond the UK, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has wholly endorsed the efficacy and safety of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, defending it against criticism from Europe and the US. The cheap and easily distributed vaccine will be important worldwide, especially in poorer countries who lack the facilities to store medicines at very low temperatures.

British scientists have performed strongly throughout the pandemic, discovering treatments, developing vaccines, and also carrying out the lion’s share of work into virus variant sequencing across the planet, for which UK geneticists have received worldwide acknowledgement.

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