Lessons of the COVID-19 Pandemic for the EU BioEconomy

This is a guest post from Susan Finston and Nigel Thompson

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of the innovative biopharmaceutical industry as country after country went into (repeated) lock-down without recourse to vaccines or safe and effective therapies. Now in 2021, the increasing availability of a number of novel COVID-19 vaccines give hope for potential exist from the COVID-19 pandemic, even while Europe and the world struggle to contain ongoing COVID-19 infections. 

Given the absence of American leadership, efforts of the EU and the UK to coordinate and encourage industry collaboration proved critical. Companies ranging from Fortune-100 to start-up answered the call.  Following early miss-steps and bureaucratic delays, within twelve months two vaccines were developed in Europe, through the Pfizer/Biontec partnership and AstraZenica. This is an amazing accomplishment. Over the course of the first year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the European Commission (EC) provided inclusive leadership, working as a team including EU member (national) officials, biopharmaceutical industry, NGOs, academic researchers and frontline health care personnel – acting with unprecedented cohesion. 

While the burdens of COVID-19 were felt within national borders, the Commission’s efforts to enhance transparency and cooperation proved critical in terms of assimilation and equitable distribution of healthcare solutions across Europe, e.g., including Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), diagnostic tests, repurposed as well as ongoing evaluation and commercialization of novel therapeutic interventions and vaccines:

The devastating impact of COVID-19 in a social, economic and human sense has underlined the critical importance of collaboration as a first principle for success for Europe’s biopharmaceutical industry and more broadly for the discovery, development, commercialization, and enhancement of equitable access to novel diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines to respond to global health threats as well as to respond to the EU’s unmet health threats and human needs.[1]

Through this collaborative effort, time-consuming regulatory processes were streamlined without sacrifice of public safety in the best interests of patients. COVID-19 not only showed what could be done, but what should be done to safeguard the health of Europeans. Looking ahead to a post-COVID world, the European Commission announcement of the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and accompanying supporting materials reaffirm the importance of incorporating the lessons of COVID-19. just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, time will tell whether this is indeed the case. 

In the meantime, my co-author Nigel Thompson and I have analyzed lessons learned from the global COVID-10 pandemic and the European experience in our recent article in the new Special Edition of Journal of Commercial Biotechnology on Building and Leveraging the Innovation Ecosystem and Clusters, in our article  A New Vision for Europe’s Bioeconomy in a Post-COVID World

[1] Recommendations, EU Health Coalition, October 2020, https://www.euhealthcoalition.eu/

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