Even long-time critics 'giving the industry a qualified thumbs-up'

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US-based business magazine Fortune says the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the global biopharmaceutical industry with possibly the best opportunity it has ever had to address issues with its reputation.

According to the article authored by Sy Mukherjee, in late 2019 the industry was the most disliked business sector in the US with 58 per cent of people polled by Gallup having a negative perception, more than twice the number who view it favourably.

Its net negative score of minus 31 was even worse than the federal government (minus 27).

"Enter the coronavirus," wrote Mukherjee. "As much as the pandemic has devastated many industries, it has offered Big Pharma a chance to shine as never before, winning back the trust of a public infuriated with years of soaring drug prices. Will they seize the moment?"

"One bit of good news: So far, even longtime cynics are giving the industry a qualified thumbs-up."

Mukherjee says the answer depends "in large part" on how fast the industry makes progress on tests to identify who has the disease but also who is no longer infectious, treatments and vaccines.

"Success in these three areas won’t put the pricing controversies to bed," says Mukherjee, adding the industry will be judged on patient access and pricing of any treatments or vaccine.

Gilead, which is developing remdesivir, has said it does not expect any financial return if it is approved for use against COVID-19. A leading analyst told Mukherjee the company will be "under tremendous pressure" to put a reasonable price tag on remdesivir.

Whether that’s enough to grant drugmakers a better grade than lawyers is another question.

The article said more than 75 new treatments are in development for the treatment of COVID-19 with another 40 already approved medicines being trialled against the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, there are around 70 vaccines in development, with those from China’s CanSino Biologics, Inovio, and Moderna already in human trials. 

Mukherjee says while Moderna's was the first to progress to human trials the Johnson & Johnson vaccines has "produced the most buzz." The company has said the vaccine could be in human trials in 2020 and on the market by early 2021.