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Infectious Diseases 2021

Learning from COVID-19 – from panic to preparedness

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Boyloso

Thomas B. Cueni

Director General, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA)

Whilst we are still in the midst of COVID-19, the worst pandemic since 1918 which is affecting every part of our lives, we can draw some lessons that will allow us to be better prepared for the future.

The first lesson of the pandemic is the importance of translational research; applying basic science and research into scalable solutions for patients. Known for almost 20 years, with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, we have witnessed the first successful application of mRNA to vaccines.

Drawing on decades of scientific research into vaccine science and technology, and experience in fighting other outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola, we have compressed a decade of normal development times into just ten months.

Today, we have several vaccines already approved and in use, with more on the way. This is a remarkable achievement. The evolution of the virus is a stark reminder that we will have to adjust our scientific approaches, so continued innovation will be key.

Importance of a common system

During the past months, we have also realised the critical role that diagnostics play to identify, slow and prevent the spread of viruses. The lesson here it that we need to continue to invest into the development of accurate, fast diagnostics that can also be produced in large volumes.

The evolution of the virus is a stark reminder that we will have to adjust our scientific approaches. So continued innovation will be key.

The swift, timely and unrestricted pathogen sharing has proven to be critical in this crisis. To prepare for future pandemics, we must remove bilateral barriers to accessing pathogen samples and agree on a common system.

Equally, we need to share best regulatory practice and harmonise in more efficient approaches; this is inclusive of clinical trials, testing and approving efficacious, quality vaccines. Such regulatory convergence does not mean cutting corners, it is setting gold standards.

A collaborative mindset is key

The real heroes of this pandemic have been the healthcare workers, be it in ICUs or those involved in testing and vaccinating entire communities. Resilient primary healthcare systems with qualified personnel are the best defence against the spread of infectious diseases.

To control the spread of diseases we need to invest in healthcare infrastructures and frontline health workers so that we will be better equipped to contain unpredictable outbreaks and deliver life-saving tools.

Last but not least, we have seen the importance of partnering; not just partnerships in R&D or manufacturing, but also partnerships in deployment. Governments, health organisations, scientists, businesses, civil society and philanthropists are collaborating like never before. If we want to be better prepared for future crises, we need to retain this collaborative mindset.

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