COVID-19: A Double-edged Sword for the Pharmaceutical Industry

As of April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected millions and killed more than one hundred thousand people, requiring lockdowns and social distancing measures that, in turn, greatly hurt the profitability of many industries. The pharmaceutical industry is no exception to the economic downturn, despite its activities being more important than ever.

As the production of raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) has stalled, the pharmaceutical industry is experiencing a global supply chain disruption. The production of Chinese APIs slipped by 10% to 20% during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Even though the output is now recovering as the country is lifting its lockdown status, a bottleneck in API distribution is still occurring due to slow operations in ocean freight. Similarly, India, another leading API manufacturer, halted the export of 26 ingredients commonly used in pharmaceuticals. India, which is a leading exporter of generic drugs, depends on China for more than two-thirds of its bulk drug needs. India supplies almost half of the United States’ generic drug needs. With the exports halted, the US is experiencing a supply shortage, further diminishing the performance of the pharmaceutical market during this pandemic.

On the research side, the stay-at-home order also lowers research productivity due to operation cuts. Based on a recent survey by Bioinformatics conducted in mid-April 2020, only 12% of global research labs are currently fully operational. Half of the total labs are shut down while the rest are running at a reduced capacity. This survey also includes pharma and biotech labs, which are at the forefront of R&D for this industry. Therefore, many drug discovery processes are also hindered by the global outbreak.

Fortunately, the pharma industry has also received a stimulus during this hard time. A bill to encourage the manufacture of APIs in America was introduced in the US Senate. The Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet Act (SAM-C) expands the FDA’s Emerging Technology Program and authorizes $100 million to build centers of excellence for advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing to help therapeutic development and manufacturing in the US. Similarly, the Indian government has set aside Rs 10,000 Crore ($1.2 billion) for the pharmaceutical industry to shift the country away from its reliance on APIs produced in China.

Furthermore, the pandemic has triggered a global race to find a cure, and pharmaceutical companies are working hard on researching potential COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics. The FDA executed the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP), a public-private approach to bring coronavirus treatments to the market as fast as possible. The CTAP program will use every means the agency has to bring new therapies to sick patients. Meanwhile, the European Commission has been funding projects to develop vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics via grants from Horizon 2020 and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), which announced up to €45M ($49M) in public funding. The IMI expects pharma companies to pitch in more money to make a total investment of €90M ($98M).

With these massive investments, the pharma industry is boosting its research to find the holy grail amid this calamity. Currently, there are 155 medicines and 70 vaccines for the novel coronavirus in the development pipeline. Remdesivir by Gilead is one of the leading medications in development as animal testing and clinical trial data is showing promising results towards treating COVID-19. Meanwhile, Moderna/NIAID, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and CanSino Biological are at the forefront of vaccine development, as each company is entering clinical trials with different vaccine platforms. Genetic vaccine platforms using DNA/RNA manipulation seems to be leading this race. This type of vaccine can potentially be developed and produced more quickly than traditional vaccines.

All of these amazing discoveries in such a short amount of time are only made possible with advanced technologies behind them. Techniques such as PCR, sequencing, and ELISA are heavily employed in multiple facets of this research. Furthermore, organizations involved in drug development rely on multidisciplinary talent and a diverse array of instrumentation to efficiently elucidate disease targets, screen compounds and biological molecules, and determine the pharmacological properties and safety of these candidates before proceeding to clinical testing.

Analytical instrumentation is at the heart of every drug discovery and development process. The inherent need for precise and accurate analysis of pharmaceutical and biotherapeutic compounds, combined with strict regulatory environments, ensures that laboratory testing of these materials sits at the forefront of analytical science and innovation. The 2020 Pharmaceutical Market Opportunity Report evaluates the global analytical instrument market for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, covering 74 different analytical techniques, categorized into 10 technological segments. The goal of this report is to provide a strategic perspective on the current situation and projected market potential for instruments used in pharma and biotech, especially amid the coronavirus chaos.