If there is any good news coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that those of us who help people live longer, healthier lives are working faster and more collaboratively than ever before. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic in human history. It isn’t even the most lethal. But it is the first to grow from local to global in a matter of months. And with our ever-more populated and connected planet, it is not likely to be the last.
As I’ve watched institutions mobilize behind a singular mission for the greater good, it gives me great hope that we are setting a new standard for collaboration to innovate and make scientific progress. We are witnessing an unprecedented moonshot effort among companies, academia, regulatory bodies, and even individuals to defeat COVID-19.
This overwhelming collaborative effort has two key lessons for the future.
First, collaboration is allowing us to move at speeds previously unimaginable. The Food and Drug Administration has exercised its authority to shave years from normal timelines for research, treatment testing, and the approval of diagnostics tests. Manufacturers have shifted workloads to prepare to make billions of vaccine doses.
The biopharma industry and its research partners have added new drug development programs in a matter of weeks. For instance, under Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership aimed at fast-tracking COVID-19 treatments, the government is supporting five companies with the goal of having 100 million vaccine doses available by November—a project of scale and speed never seen in the life sciences industry.
Global biopharma leaders and smaller biotechs alike are scanning their portfolios to find and advance treatments that show even the slightest promise. Companies in our space are eagerly collaborating to support production of the most promising ones. For example, Sanofi is using technology developed by GlaxoSmithKline to accelerate experimental vaccine development. After only a few months, 228 potential COVID-19 treatments are under consideration and 160 vaccines are in development, according to the Milken Institute.
Second, the impressive collaborative response to the pandemic is also pushing the boundaries of improving health with technology. Scientists and the biotech industry are using gene sequence snippets to make new generations of vaccines that can be produced more rapidly and can potentially be more effective and less expensive than traditional ones.
I am hopeful that we can apply the lessons we are learning now to tackle other unmet medical needs more aggressively and effectively going forward.
As a medical doctor, I have a special appreciation for the life-changing impact that innovative medicines and collaborative care can have on patients. Deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS and some cancers have become manageable conditions, and some diseases like hepatitis C have been cured. Imagine moving at the pace we are today on other pressing public health issues like heart disease and cancer, the top two killers in America. At Bristol Myers Squibb, we make medicines that treat these conditions.
We must continue to approach clinical research with the level of collaboration we have witnessed in the past few months. Groundbreaking ideas, a wider array of resources, and numerous skill sets at the table have enabled us to move with new speed and broach new possibilities. For instance, companies like ours are partnering with wearable technology companies to accelerate the detection and diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.
U.S. health care may gain much more than medical insights from this effort. We will learn and remember the value of collaboration in health care more broadly—and in doing so, better meet the needs of our patients and communities. That would be a much-needed silver lining of this devastating pandemic.
Giovanni Caforio is chairman and CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb.