Pharmaceutical Research: Demystifying the Innovation Puzzle for Emerging Markets

While all industrial sectors are suffering the impacts of COVID-19 and its economic downturn, and many businesses worldwide strive to provide solutions to employees, customers and partners, one sector has been at the epicenter of the current pandemic – the healthcare industry. As a whole, the healthcare industry is on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 crisis. From medical practitioners to providers, insurers and drug manufacturers, the world is looking to this industry to bring real solutions to bear in an unprecedented time. The most promising hopes for a long-term solution reside squarely with drug manufacturers, a group that is no stranger to being the center of attention.

Global pharmaceutical leaders have already taken strong steps to address increasing public health demands and are moving quickly to answer the global call for help – this includes providing experimental treatments through “compassionate use” processes; identifying the potential of existing treatments to address COVID-19 (about 70 medicines are being tested already as possible treatments); and rapidly pursuing large-scale efforts to find a long-term solution, ideally a vaccine. But timing remains a question mark – as is common in scientific pursuits, there is no telling which approach will be the first to deliver the best results. For instance, when it comes to infectious disease treatments, data from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization put the success rate of new medicines just entering clinical development at 1 in 5.

In other words, manufacturers are doing what they do best: producing science. But the pursuit of science can be tricky, slow and somewhat of an enigmatic puzzle for those not intimately familiar with the process. Furthermore, science and advanced innovation are, for the most part, concentrated in a handful of geographies. While innovation happens globally, the US, Europe, Japan, and increasingly, China, have historically been at the epicenter of scientific development. But the geographic dynamics of scientific innovation add a challenge for this industry: during these critical times, how well do global communities understand the time and rigorous testing required to bring a safe and efficacious treatment to market?

We emphasize global communities for a reason: COVID-19 is a global issue, and markets big and small will be watching with bated breath for a solution. For global corporations there is no one-size fits all approach to COVID-19. During this pandemic, which many healthcare experts predict could last up to 18 months, effectively communicating around science will be critical. Emerging markets, in turn, become a focal point of industry’s dilemma. These markets have historically been reticent to foreign pharmaceutical development and, because most are not hubs of scientific innovation, demystifying the innovation puzzle becomes even more prudent.

To do so across emerging markets, industry must:

  • First, communicate that manufacturers do not innovate on their own. There is an ecosystem of important players that must work together including, patients, academic institutions, and governments. Furthermore, it’s a global effort with significant inter-country collaboration. This is true, regardless of geography.
  • Science is, by definition, experimental, and developing effective medicines takes significant time. On average, it takes at least ten years for a new medicine to go from discovery to commercial availability, and clinical trials alone take six to seven years on average. Additionally, the average cost to research and develop each successful treatment is estimated to be $2.6 billion.
  • Furthermore, in desperate times like these, marginalized and vulnerable communities across the globe will look for alternative answers, most likely in the form of self-medication, making them easy targets for counterfeit medicines; there are obvious and serious health risks associated with these “solutions.” To help stem these risks, the innovation puzzle must be properly explained.
  • Last but not least, demystifying the puzzle in these areas needs to begin now. In a matter of days, about half of global biopharmaceutical innovators have already engaged partners and begun exploring potential solutions (existing treatments, vaccines, new medicines, etc.) to fight the spread of COVID-19. Likewise, efforts to demystify the innovation puzzle worldwide need to keep pace. Without an early and clear line of communication, innovators could, unfortunately, end up being the villains of their own epic story.

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