What we’ve learned from three years of fighting COVID-19

Learn more about our industry's COVID-19 efforts, including how companies responded to the pandemic.

Portrait of Andrew Powaleny
Andrew PowalenyMarch 20, 2023

What we’ve learned from three years of fighting COVID-19.

Three years ago, amidst an unprecedented public health crisis, biopharmaceutical industry made a commitment to fight COVID-19. Leveraging decades of research and investments in emerging technologies and scientific expertise, we dedicated ourselves to finding medical solutions to prevent, diagnose and treat those impacted by the coronavirus.

Working around the clock, biopharmaceutical researchers conducted hundreds of clinical trials to identify potential treatments and vaccines and bolstered investments into new technologies to speed the manufacturing of safe and effective medicines. Biopharmaceutical manufacturers also partnered with community groups and local governments to spread awareness about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and increase access.  

In a new resource, we spotlight how the industry responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, roughly 81% of Americans have at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. We now have bivalent vaccines authorized by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to further address two strains of COVID-19 and over 16 billion doses of vaccines have been manufactured and delivered across the globe. COVID-19 treatments and vaccines have saved millions of lives and billions of dollars.

In fact, between December 2020 and March 2022, U.S. vaccination efforts prevented: 

  • 2.3 million deaths
  • 66 million infections
  • Saved $899 billion in health care costs

Biopharmaceutical companies are continuing to research and develop ways to fight COVID-19, including helping explore medical solutions for patients suffering from long-COVID symptoms. And we’re also continuing research in order to be prepared for the next pandemic. 

As we mark three years of fighting COVID-19, here are three things to know about how the biopharmaceutical industry has responded to this pandemic:

  • Partnerships and intellectual property protections enabled the unprecedented R&D and manufacturing required to deliver vaccines and treatments in record time
    America’s biopharmaceutical companies collaborated with hundreds of key health stakeholders at state, national and international levels to address the pandemic. Together, they joined forces on everything from building production capacity to partnering with community organizations to address health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic. Three years later, there are multiple diagnostics, treatments and vaccines and unprecedented manufacturing to meet global demand. Intellectual property (IP) protections enabled biopharmaceutical research companies to move quickly and effectively to research, develop, manufacture and deliver treatments and vaccines to combat COVID-19. Strong IP protections are the foundation for collaboration and our industry’s ongoing efforts to help ensure global access to therapeutics and vaccines.

    Even before a COVID-19 vaccine was authorized, biopharmaceutical companies were scaling up manufacturing capacity, a decision that usually happens later in the drug development process. Understanding the need for ongoing manufacturing efficiency to produce vaccines, companies continue to identify and partner with other manufacturers with the appropriate expertise, technical capabilities and facilities to maximize the capacity across the health care ecosystem. These collaborations and agreements are created with specific considerations in mind and are highly technical, for example addressing aspects of mRNA-based manufacturing, and are often focused on a single step or stage of the overall manufacturing process. 

  • The biopharmaceutical industry led the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines 
    America’s biopharmaceutical companies are at the heart of a robust R&D ecosystem that led the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While each player in the ecosystem contributed to the rapid response to get safe and effective vaccines and treatments to patients, the fact is that the government simply does not research, develop and manufacture vaccines and other new treatments on its own. The industry’s unique role in the research ecosystem is to utilize its scientific and industrial expertise to take the necessary risks to build on and further develop basic science research into safe and effective treatments that can be made available to patients. In 2021 alone, our members’ R&D investment was $102.3 billion compared to the National Institutes of Health whose entire budget was $45 billion with only around 10% directly related to the research and development of new medicines. The Congressional Budget Office summed it up when they found that public-sector research and private R&D “are complements, not substitutes.” 

  • Decades of biopharmaceutical investment facilitated COVID-19 vaccines 
    America’s biopharmaceutical industry has deep scientific knowledge gained from decades of experience with viruses such as Zika and related viruses causing MERS and SARS, even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. It took several key advances in mRNA treatment engineering and extensive investment from the private sector to develop the technological advances to overcome early technical challenges for mRNA vaccines in particular. Biopharmaceutical knowledge combined with decades-long investments in mRNA and other advanced vaccine technologies by the private sector allowed the industry to collaborate with its partners in government and academia to respond in record time to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we continue to fight COVID-19, it is important to catalog and recognize innovative approaches to drug development that have been successfully deployed during the global pandemic and can be used beyond COVID-19. We must also acknowledge the operational, technological and regulatory considerations that pose unique challenges to biopharmaceutical companies, one of which is the need for strong IP protections to foster and sustain continued investment in development of innovative medicines. To preserve a robust U.S. biopharmaceutical research ecosystem and meet the needs of patients who need innovative treatments, we should look to policies that will support patient access and affordability without undermining the development of tomorrow’s life-saving medicines. 

Biopharmaceutical companies will continue to work with stakeholders, including regulators, to assess the extent innovative approaches and durable learnings should be utilized routinely in medical product development and pandemic preparedness and health resiliency in the future. The lessons we’ve learned over the past years will have positive implications lasting long beyond our fight with COVID-19 to future health threats.

To learn more about our industry's COVID-19 efforts, including how companies responded to the pandemic, visit here

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