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Coronavirus: A 5-point plan for pharmaceutical companies

Albert Bourla says he's feeling optimistic. He explains why to Know Your Value.
Albert Bourla, chairman & CEO of Pfizer Inc
Albert Bourla, chairman & CEO of Pfizer IncCourtesy of Pfizer.

The novel coronavirus is now a pandemic, and like any global problem, it’s going to take the partnership of many to solve. “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski sat down with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla to discuss the current situation: how companies and government can work together, progress with potential coronavirus vaccines and how we can be better prepared for future health crises.

MB: This novel coronavirus is brand new, so we still don’t know a lot about it. How, then, are pharma companies and others working to respond?

AB: That’s true. And that’s why many in the industry are working to test potential therapies and vaccines: cell-based assays, viral screening and other tools. We're making the tools we develop available on an open-source platform. We want to share data and what we learn with the broader scientific community —and other companies — in real time so that all of us can get therapies and vaccines to patients.

MB: What’s the latest on a potential vaccine?

AB: Gilead has an antiviral drug in late-stage development, and Moderna is set to begin testing the first novel coronavirus vaccine. We are working to advance our own potential antiviral therapies, and we’re also working with a company BioNTech on a potential mRNA coronavirus vaccine.

We’ve put our very best people to work on this — a “SWAT team” of our leading virologists, biologists, chemists, clinicians, epidemiologists, vaccine experts, pharmaceutical scientists and other key experts who are focusing solely on addressing coronavirus.

MB: But it won’t be a single company that solves the problem.

AB: Correct. For example, there are incredible smaller biotech companies that are testing new compounds or existing therapies for effectiveness against the virus. But they don’t have the experience that large companies like Pfizer do in late-stage development and navigating complex regulatory systems. And once a therapy or vaccine is approved it will need to be rapidly manufactured and sent around the world to put an end to this pandemic. At Pfizer we’re promising to use any of our excess manufacturing capacity, and potentially shift our production, to support others in getting these life-saving breakthroughs into the hands of patients as quickly as possible.

We need not only companies — and their scientists, clinicians and technicians — but also federal agencies including the NIH and CDC to all come together and build a cross-industry rapid response team. That kind of partnership will not only help protect us from this pandemic, but it will prepare us to respond better to future global health crises.

MB: Are you optimistic?

AB: Yes. In recent years we’ve seen huge medical breakthroughs, from cures for Hepatitis C, to cancer therapies that extend millions of lives, to novel gene therapies that are seeing cure-like outcomes for some the most devastating rare diseases. If we all commit to working together — large pharma companies, smaller biotechs, government agencies, academics — there is no health challenge that we cannot overcome.