With focus on Covid-19, there is little preparedness for next pandemic: Access to Medicine Foundation

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on January 27, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred an increase in experimental drugs and vaccines in the pipeline to treat coronavirus. But that effort is “alarmingly low” when it comes to other priority emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), says the Access to Medicine Foundation.

“The pipeline of medicines and vaccines has filled up for coronavirus patients (from zero to 63 projects), yet is virtually empty for other pathogens that pose a pandemic risk, such as Nipah, Zika and SARS,” the ATM Index (2021) report said, on the lack of preparedness for the next pandemic.

But this could hold out research opportunities that Indian drug companies could step-up to, says Netherlands-based ATMF’s Executive Director Jayasree K Iyer, speaking to BusinessLine. A case in point was Bharat Biotech’s efforts on a vaccine against the debilitating Chikungunya, she said.

The non-profit Foundation evaluates 20 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies on 33 indicators that facilitate getting medicines to more people across the world. And its latest report comes even as stark global inequities in healthcare become visible in the way affluent nations procure and roll-out Covid-19 vaccines, while economically weaker nations wait their turn.

Access planning

“The 20 companies have empty pipelines for 10 of the 16 EIDs identified by WHO and others,” the report said.

Companies need to plan early in their research and forge technology-sharing and distribution pacts in regions they will not be able to supply for various reasons, she explains, pointing to the AstraZeneca alliance with Serum Institute of India (SII) on the Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine. SII will supply a section of low and middle income countries. Similar deals were seen with anti-viral Remdesivir as well, where Gilead Sciences gave voluntary licenses to some companies in India and Pakistan to supply certain countries. But did these partnerships ensure that African countries got the product, she asks.

Sharing IP

The model for the future involves greater sharing of intellectual property (IP), early technology partnerships and Government support, she says.

Index 2021

Topping the Index across indicators was GlaxoSmithKline, followed by Novartis, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and Sanofi. It was funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust and AXA Investment Managers.

Published on January 27, 2021

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