COVID-19 – How the global pandemic has impacted the Pharmaceutical industry


While the world experiences a global pandemic caused by COVID-19, how are the market leaders in the pharmaceutical industry responding and what specialist skill sets are high in demand?

While the world experiences a global pandemic caused by COVID-19, how are the market leaders in the pharmaceutical industry responding and what specialist skill sets are high in demand?

With the world eagerly waiting for a vaccine to be developed that prevents people becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus, the role of global pharmaceutical companies – and the talented life sciences professionals they employ – has never been more crucial. Significant efforts are underway globally to diagnose, treat and prevent infections from the virus, while and pharmaceutical companies are working tirelessly to leverage their expertise to combat it.

How has the pharma industry responded to COVID-19?

Developing treatments for COVID-19

By the middle of May, there were more than 1,000 clinical trials ongoing with over 150 treatments being tested according to ABPI.  In the same report, ABPI share insights on how some of the major pharmaceutical companies have contributed so far to treatment development during the pandemic.

Novartis are currently evaluating it existing products to see if any could be utilised beyond their approved use. GSK are exploring compounds from its libraries that can be used for screening against COVID-19 and are also evaluating pharmaceutical products and medicines in development to determine if any could be used beyond their current indications in response to the pandemic. Johnson and Johnson too have an expansive archive of existing drug compounds with many of its top researchers combing through this molecular storehouse in pursuit of a possible drug breakthrough.

Vaccinations research

According to ABPI, by the end of June there were 129 confirmed vaccine projects in development globally with thirteen of these at clinical trial stage. 72% of confirmed vaccine projects were being led by the pharmaceutical industry with the remaining 28% by academics, public sector and other Non-Profit Organisations. Currently there are eight vaccines in phase two or three of clinical trials, while another 120 or so are in pre-clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With this level of research underway, experts are hoping it will take as little as 12 to 18 months before a vaccine could become available.

As part of this research, GSK and Sanofi have joined forces to combine their innovative technologies with an aim to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, which is expected to enter clinical trials in the second half of 2020 and could be available by the second half of 2021; significantly faster than typical timelines for vaccine production.

Pfizer and BioNTech have also entered into a partnership to develop a vaccine which could prevent patients from developing COVID-19 at all and it is already reported to be in clinical testing.

Diagnostics and testing

In addition to vaccination research and drug development, many of the major players in the pharma industry are utilising their technological capabilities to develop diagnostic tools and instruments to help medical staff assess if a patient currently has or has previously had the COVID-19 virus. One key example of this is being led by GSK, AstraZeneca and the University of Cambridge, who have formed a joint collaboration to create a new testing laboratory that will be set at the University’s Anne McLaren laboratory. The facility will be used for high throughput screening for COVID-19 testing and to explore the use of alternative chemical components for test kits in order to help overcome current supply shortages. Alongside the new testing centre they are also exploring their capabilities in automation and robotics to support national testing systems and to continue to expand capacity over the coming weeks.
Helping the health service workers on the ground

The pharmaceutical industry has also played a major part in supporting patients and local national health services directly. Companies like Boehringer Ingelheim and Takeda UK have allowed their staff to take additional days paid annual leave to volunteer to support their local health service. Others are getting involved with equipment donations and funding support with Johnson and Johnson donating £250,000 of hand sanitiser products to local health service workers and 30,000 bottles of essential toiletries to a charity which distributes consumer goods to not-for-profit organisations and social enterprises. Many companies have also been involved in the manufacture and distribution of equipment such as masks, disinfectants, inhalers and medicines.

Specialist skill demand 

As pharmaceutical manufacturers work to develop a Coronavirus vaccine, according to a COVID-19 impact analysis report released by global talent mobility provider Randstad Sourceright, demand for Clinical Research Associates and Trial Managers has risen by nearly half (46 percent). Demand has also risen for Clinical Trials Pharmacists to oversee open studies and there are also widespread opportunities for Manufacturing Associates, Project Managers and Quality Control Supervisors – making pharmaceuticals one of the few industries to increase its hiring since the start of the pandemic.

The sector has also become an attractive proposition for tech talent in the wake of the widespread adoption and scaling of digital technologies. A survey carried out by Novartis found that nearly half the tech professionals surveyed (49%) would consider switching in to healthcare or pharmaceuticals and almost the same number (48%) were drawn to the life sciences sector for the opportunity to solve ‘real world problems’.

Talent attraction

Despite the pharmaceutical industry playing a central role in COVID-19, it has been impacted like so many other areas of the economy, not least when it comes to attracting the best talent. With demand for specialist skills outstripping supply, businesses must align their talent attraction strategies to ensuring that they offer competitive rewards and benefits packages as well as the right environment for people to fulfill their potential. And as with all recruitment right now, employers must work in an agile fashion and embrace new virtual screening, interviewing and on boarding techniques to snap up the best talent quickly ahead of their competitors. 

The fight to find a vaccine for the Coronavirus will require continued investment in the right talent to ensure that the pharmaceutical industry can continue to provide the innovation and scale of drug production that will be needed to support public health in the post-Pandemic world. As we head in to the second half of 2020 it is likely that the Pharmaceutical industry will continue  to remain buoyant and it will be key for employers in this industry to both think and act strategically to ensure that they can attract and retain the best talent on the ground to continue to respond to the heightened demands in a pandemic and post pandemic world. 

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