The Pandemic Diaries
We ask medicine makers around the world to tell us how their professional and personal lives have changed over the course of the COVID-19 crisis
Erik Haeffler, Don O’Callaghan, Amélie Boulais | | Opinion
By Erik Haeffler, Vice President, Manufacturing Services & Head of Sustainability at Recipharm
COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. At the start of the year, no-one could have predicted an extended crisis like this – with society lockdowns, supply interruptions, and big challenges to overcome to continue business operations. Thankfully, the supply of medicines has largely been maintained and pharma companies seem to have coped well.
At Recipharm, we have adopted the relevant authorities’ recommendations across all countries in which we operate. As the pharma industry is considered critical in almost all countries, we have been able to continue operations everywhere. At the start of the outbreak, preventive measures, such as PPE, encouraging remote-working, and appropriate travel restrictions, were all introduced. For us, I think the biggest challenge has been dealing with employee absence – not necessarily because staff have been ill, but because of other factors, such as the closure of schools and the need to provide childcare.
We have also been able to continue activities and virtualize our meetings on an international level. But, in my view, in-person interactions cannot be fully replaced by virtual meetings.
On a personal level, I have found the experience of the past few months both challenging and rewarding in many ways. From a business perspective, I have had to plan and prepare my day more rigorously as I have had to adapt to communicating with my colleagues virtually. But working from home has allowed me to spend some much-needed time with my family and I am grateful for that.
By Amélie Boulais, Vaccine Platform Marketing Manager at Sartorius
At the conferences I attended in the past, a topic that came up frequently was, “Are we ready for a pandemic?” The answer now is obvious: no. We were not ready enough.
As a supplier to the biopharma and vaccine industry, Sartorius has witnessed the impact of COVID-19 on our sector first-hand, and we are seeing reallocation of biopharmaceutical pipeline priorities in record time. On the one hand, we are working with scientific teams globally to provide technology to help them develop their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates at unprecedented speed. On the flip-side, many companies are slowing down development as their clinical trials are put on hold. And that means readjusting priorities, product roadmaps, and manufacturing capacities.
For me, the crisis is shining a light on why organizations such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) are vital in today’s vaccine industry landscape. It also highlights the value of disruptive vaccine technologies, such as mRNA and viral vectors; I am incredibly interested in seeing how these potential game-changers perform in clinical trials.
Despite the underlying competitive spirit among biopharma companies to be the first to create a vaccine, I believe this pandemic demonstrates the importance of collaboration among different industry members. Many of the front runners for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate come from diverse teams that are benefitting from pulling together complementary areas of expertise. And this includes small biotechs or universities that have developed promising candidates working alongside established vaccine developers, with a well-rounded history of managing clinical trials and regulatory knowledge. These companies, in turn, are collaborating with contract manufacturing organizations, life science suppliers, and funding organizations. The real challenge is the speed with which vaccine developers are trying to create COVID-19 vaccines: 12–18 months instead of 10 years. And that is where great teamwork is proving vital.
From this pandemic, we are learning that we must set up protocols to facilitate communication between vaccine developers, vaccine manufacturers, and regulatory bodies. We must facilitate the dissemination of the right information at the right time to the right people. We also need to retrospectively analyze which parts of existing processes failed (if they were in place) and strengthen industry associations, such as the CEPI, as well as non-profit organizations, and expert groups working on pandemic preparedness. We need to fund them properly and give them more power, as it will help us all be better equipped to deal with any future pandemics.
By Don O’Callaghan, Vice President European Operations at West Pharmaceutical Services
COVID-19 is a unique and challenging time marked by the need for unprecedented leadership and navigational skills for all of us. As a leader, I truly never expected to be in a situation where I was forced to activate the company’s Regional Pandemic team – it’s something you plan for but hope to avoid. But I have been hugely inspired by our teams at West and everyone’s ability to stay focused during these difficult times. Our employees have demonstrated enormous strength of character and have been working at a steadfast pace to rally and deliver to the cause. I feel my colleagues and I shoulder an enormous burden to respond to the global need brought about by COVID-19. We are committed to supporting solutions, including both the development of much needed treatments and vaccines, and ensuring supply of the critical components and devices needed for the healthcare industry.
From the outset, my top priority has been – and will continue to be – the health and safety of West’s team members and their families. This pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our communities. Our families have lost friends and loved ones, and we’ve faced disruption in every aspect of our lives. Navigating successfully through challenging times has given me a unique insight into our teams and shown how strong we are when we support one another.
I’d say the pharmaceutical industry’s response to the pandemic has been exceptional. I believe global collaboration is vital in the treatment and cure of COVID-19. New relationships and ways of working have been forged with business customers within the industry and my hope is that the work we do here at West will go some way to helping with the development and delivery of new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.
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