Mistake 2017: global pharmaceuticals underestimated the threat of the coronavirus
25 May , 17:05
In 2017, the European Union came up with a proposal to accelerate the development of vaccines against pathogens such as coronavirus - this would allow us to meet new outbreaks fully equipped. However, leading pharmaceutical companies rejected the idea, reports The Guardian.

Irina Ziganshina

The search for those responsible for the fact that mankind was not ready for the coronavirus pandemic is increasingly leading to accusations against the pharmaceutical industry, which is of little interest in developing new methods of treating infections while there is such a rich market as chronic diseases.

New evidence of Big Pharma’s indifference to pandemics is contained in a report published by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a research center that studies the spending of EU funds to prevent corporate lobbying. According to the report, three years ago, representatives of the European Commission participating in the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a project designed to support advanced medical research, came up with a proposal to accelerate efforts to develop vaccines. Such studies could “help regulators develop and approve vaccines against major pathogens before an outbreak occurs,” members of the European Commission explained their initiative. However, representatives of pharmaceutical companies also included in the IMI rejected this idea.

The IMI project exists with EU money and private donations, and its governing council, in addition to European Commission officials, includes representatives from the European Federation of the Pharmaceutical Industry (EFPIA), which brings together some of the largest companies, including Glaxo Smith Kline, Novartis, Pfizer, Lilly and Johnson & Johnson.

The bio-readiness project, which the European Commission tried to carry out in 2017, included the improvement of computer modeling and analysis of animal testing models - this would contribute to faster approval of vaccines in regulatory bodies. Trying to convince Big Pharma representatives to accept the offer, European Commission members emphasized that for the industry this would mean “huge cost savings, as IMI projects duplicate the work that individual companies would have to do anyway.”

However, as follows from the minutes of the IMI Governing Council meeting, the proposal was not accepted. In addition, IMI abandoned the idea of financing projects together with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an organization that deals with diseases such as MERS and SARS (both of a coronavirus nature), again demonstrating that it is more market oriented.

According to Bloomberg Intelligence, last year the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world carried out about 400 new research projects. About half of them focused on cancer treatment, and only 65 on infectious diseases.

According to a new report, the impact of Big Pharma on IMI has led its industry interests to finally become a priority: 17 current IMI projects are related to Alzheimer's disease, 12 - to diabetes, 10 - to cancer. Given market potential, it is not surprising that huge investments are being made in these studies. Moreover, developments in the field of many diseases, the treatment of which does not bring any special dividends - related to poverty or unpredictable outbreaks like coronavirus - have faded into the background.

As for the new coronavirus, at least eight potential vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials, but this does not guarantee success. So, for example, one of the most promising vaccines, one that is being developed at Oxford University, has a fifty-fifty chance that it will be approved for use, experts say.