While the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the prowess of the pharmaceutical industry, it should also “serve as a major wake-up call,” said Dr. George Yancopoulos, co-founder, president and CSO of Regeneron (NSDQ:REGN), at a panel at the virtual USA India Chamber of Commerce meeting.
COVID-19 has underscored the importance of preparing for infectious pandemics and addressing the burden of all diseases, Yancopoulos added.
Society needs new strategies for addressing the disease burden. “By the year 2050, there will be 10 to 20 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease with no treatment,” Yancopoulos said. While Biogen’s (NSDQ:BIIB) recently-approved aducanumab could be the first disease-modifying therapy, it remains unclear if the drug is effective.
Added to the disease burden are growing rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease — “not to mention the potential of seeing these sorts of infectious disease pandemics, with increasing frequency,” Yancopoulos added.
The total cost of treating the cumulative disease burden from such conditions is poised to “cripple our economy to a greater degree than COVID has,” Yancopoulos said.
The pandemic should also serve as a reminder to drive a more coordinated mass-vaccination plan that extends across the globe, said Dr. Barry Bloom, professor at Harvard School of Public Health. “Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating,” Bloom said. Developed countries remain “subject to reinfection from those individuals and countries” lacking vaccine access.
“We cannot end the pandemic in one country at a time,” agreed Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Hatchett also described the current pandemic as “an existential threat” for “our economies if not to the global population.” Therefore, society should “use the tools that we have in a very directed, targeted, focused and prioritized way to end the pandemic,” Hatchett added.
But vaccinating the world is “impossible to do if the United States continues to withdraw its funds and participation in the World Health Organization,” Bloom added.
In terms of addressing cumulative disease burden, part of the solution is to view the problem as an existential threat to our world in line with climate change, Yancopoulos argued. Addressing the burden, however, would require “orders of magnitude more long-term investment in the ecosystem that brings us cures, starting with the NIH and academic environments,” he added. Industry, too, should make aggressive investments in research to counter the threat of future pandemics and the rising cumulative disease burden.
The success of companies like Moderna (NSDQ:MRNA) and Regeneron (NSDQ:REGN) during the pandemic resulted from “enormous amounts of effort and resources [invested] in developing new technologies,” Yancopoulos added.
While healthcare research can have an exorbitant cost, the pandemic alone could cost the U.S. $16 trillion by this fall, according to an estimate published in JAMA. By contrast, the 2021 budget for NIH this year is around $43 billion.`
Filed Under: clinical trials, Drug Discovery, Infectious Disease, Metabolic disease/endicrinology, Neurological Disease, Oncology